Mandating the removal of the hijab is as problematic as making it mandatory to wear it, and it needs to be condemned.
The death of the 22-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, after being in the custody of the ‘morality police’, allegedly for not wearing the hijab “properly”, has led to an eruption of protests across Iran against the current regime. Videos are making rounds on social media where a large number of people are taking over the streets, while women being at the forefronts are burning their hijabs and chopping off their hair publicly in protest.
Although this is not the first time a woman has been beaten up for not covering her head, the rage displayed this time sparked by the death of Amini has led to a public reaction, one that is unprecedented in magnitude.
The protestors have met with brutality of the state as the police have been trying to disperse the crowd through releasing tear gas, baton charge, and direct firing which has led to several casualties, while the state outright denied carrying out any of these actions. Despite the state’s brutal response, the protests have only grown in number. The protestors are defying the riot police in the face of death and standing firm. Intense anger is being exhibited against the regime as Iran is abuzz with chants like “death to the dictator” and “justice, liberty, no to mandatory hijab”. The demonstration against the hijab law and autocratic rule of the Iranian regime have extended from the capital and western Iran to all across the country.
The narrative being promoted by the western and Indian media about these protests being “anti-hijab” is misleading and uninformed since the protests are not against the hijab itself but against the forced obligation to wear it, which is an invasion of the freedom of citizens to exercise their will.
The large-scale protests in Iran depict the frustration of the public ripening over the years due to the autocratic policies of the regime. Ironically, the authoritarian government in Iran had also been brought into power first through a bloody Iranian revolution in 1979. The current demonstrations are also of the essence for a revolution to get rid of the regime or at least the draconian laws which reek of authoritarianism and dictatorship. The defiance of Iranians is indicative of their urge to protect their freedom, liberty and enforcement of their rights at every cost.
Earlier this year, a row over hijab was also witnessed in India after the Karnataka high court upheld the ban on hijab in colleges, a verdict which has been challenged in the supreme court. The right wing’s support for the hijab ban also clamp downs on an individual’s freedom of choice.
Be it Iran or India, forcing women to wear hijab or forcefully asking them to remove it ultimately becomes an issue of freedom of exercising personal choice, which is evidently taken away due to the state’s interference and intervention in these cases. Mandating the removal of the hijab is as problematic as making it mandatory to wear it, and it needs to be condemned. Yet, the protests in Iran cannot only be viewed solely in terms of pertaining to hijab; rather, they should widely be seen as the public’s resistance to the authoritarian laws and brutal treatment of the citizens.
The people of Iran have stood up against the regime and aim to overturn it to restore their liberty. The state is using its power to suppress the protestors which is only aggravating the situation by further enraging the citizens. Even if the protests fail to achieve a substantial end, the setback it has and will cause for the regime and the religious clergy would remain significant. The protests also suggest the loosening of the state’s grip over its citizens. Therefore, in the days to come, it will be important to see how far these protests will go as with every passing day, the momentum and strength continues to swell. The Iranian protests may or may not end in a revolution but can definitely be a step towards it.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk