The protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl by the infamous morality police in Iran have entered into eighth day. Iran appears to be on the cusp of history-making if unprecedented protests against the religious establishment and for women’s rights are anything to go by.
The images coming from Iran are extremely moving. Despite the strict crackdown by the authorities, groups of women, marching on the streets, making bonfires of the hijabs and cutting their hair standing on raised platforms in a manner of protest, under the full glare of hundreds of approving and applauding men give goosebumps.
The authorities too have mobilized counter-demonstrations. In the violence that ensued, at least 50 people have been killed by security forces. The figure published by Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based organization, is more than three times the official death count of 17.
The violence has spread to 80 towns and cities so far. In various neighborhoods, the militia confronted the protestors. The government was swift in banning the internet in an attempt to gag the spread of revolution from reaching other untouched areas and also the outside world.
In defiance of the Iranian government banning the internet, interestingly, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has come in support of the protests by announcing that he will deploy his satellite internet system Starlink in Iran. Musk twitted ‘Activating Starlink ….’ while replying to an announcement of expressing solidarity with the people of Iran by US State Secretary Antony Blinken.
Amid protests against the forced veil, thousands also came in support of the hijab at counter rallies in Tehran and other cities. The State television also broadcast pro-hijab demonstrations where mostly men but some women clad in black chadors were seen.
Anti-Hijab protests are all over Iran, including Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tabriz. Things have gone to the extent of demonstrators setting ablaze a large image of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, In the city of Babol, in northern Mazandaran province – unimaginable so far.
Iran’s protests should be understood in the context of the killing over the last week of the young, vivacious modern women Mahsa Amini, Ghazale Chelavi, Hanane Kia and Mahsa Mogoi by the administration
held captive by deeply traditional old men.
Ruling since 1989, 83-year-old Khamenei is the only leader the young generation has seen. Iran, which had a much more modern outlook and progressive social set-up is under a fundamentalist regime after religious clerics took over the reign, deposing the Shah, hereditary ruler of Iran. Another state apparatus, the Guardian Council, composed of 12 Khamenei men, is headed by 95-year-old Ayatollah Jannati. The council can veto all parliamentary legislation.
Iran’s most powerful military body, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is led by commander-in-chief 61-year-old Hossein Salami. The IRGC is made of around 190,000 men who oversee the bassij (morality police) that enforce the female dress code.
A former judge who oversaw the execution of thousands in the early years of the Islamic revolution, President Ebrahim Raisi is Khamenei’s yes-man.
The protest in Iran, juxtaposed against the recent hijab raw in India offers a disturbing outlook on the traditional men’s control over the freedom of choice for women. It has been rightly pointed out that, the Hijab controversy, started in a Karnataka school where the girls were barred from wearing hijab, and the protests in Iran where girls do not want to wear hijab, essentially make the same point – the personal choice of a woman as an independent individual in terms of what to wear and what to not.
It remains to be seen if this fresh wave of protest shall bring a new dawn to the Iranian people or wither away like the earlier hopes such as the Arab Spring in Egypt of 2011.