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IRAN: The Veiled Nation

A 22-year-old, Mahsa Amini, was arrested in Tehran, Iran, for “improperly” wearing her hijab. She was placed in detention where she was beaten into a coma and died three days later on 16th September,2022. Since then, the women and men of Iran have come together to protest against her death. The Iranian Government claimed that she died from a heart attack, but her post mortem reports clearly state that it was a result of a skull fracture due to heavy blows to her head. The women of Iran are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in public to fight against the compulsory hijab rule of the Islamic Republic ruling since 1979.

Iran has always been a rather conservative society with very little space for women’s rights and their opinions for almost every social question, from what they choose to wear to how much they earn, everything is according to the decision of men in the society and their Supreme Leader. But has Iran always been this way?

This article will elaborate on the history of hijab in Iran, its unveiling(kashf-e-hijab) and re-veiling to the present time.

Was Iran always a nation of veiled women?

The veiling of women in Iran was not initially a compulsion, but was forced on women and then eventually became a law. The concept of Hijab in Iran kept changing with the evolution of the government, with the coming of new political parties, and the demise of monarchy.

Under the reign of Reza Shah, the Ruler of Iran during the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979) the Iranian women were forced to remove their hijab in public which is also known as kashf-e-hijab. This decree was not well-received by the public. The women who wanted to wear a hijab were stripped of the right to do so, and even if they did not want to wear it, the police forcefully removing it from their heads was the equivalent of disrespecting them. The public unveiling of the hijab was not appreciated by the religious class as they considered it contrary to the teachings of the Quran and Islamic ethics. Many early feminists considered kashf-e-hijab as a misogynistic step by the monarch.

Prior to the unveiling or kashf-e-hijab, the women used to wear a conservative garment called chador or chaghchor which was supposed to cover their bodies from head to toe leaving only their eyes to be exposed.

While unveiling was a step towards the modernization and liberalization of Iran, it had a not so good a consequence for the girls belonging to the conservative families or the religious families. While the government was busy unveiling the women, the ulama of the religious class were propounding on the importance of veiling according to the Islamic religion and its teachings. But what followed after the reign of Reza Shah was much more comfortable for the women.

Mohammed Shah, the son of Reza Shah, and his successor, left the decision upto the women - whether they wish to wear the hijab or not. His reign brought an era of choice, where in a crowd you could see women dressed in the conventional style with the hijab and the others dressed in the western ways. With this ideology came the evolution of Iran, or the westernization wherein the women had a lot of favoritism towards the western style of clothing and started expanding their horizon of fashion. Some girls who belonged to the conservative or religious families left home with a hijab and took it off once they were out of their house. But history says that the revolution at the time of Shah, the efforts that were put forth by him were too swift and forward for their time, and thus came the downfall of the Pahlavi Dynasty and the not-so-sudden origin of the Islamic republic which had been predicted for a quite some time.

With the rise of the Islamic republic (1979-present) and the dominion of the Supreme leader, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, came the rule of the compulsory hijab, the rights which were given in the time of the Shah’s were instantly taken away. The Gasht-e-ershaad, or the morality police in Iran which was concerned with the style of dressing of the women, started publicly calling out the “improperly” dressed women, and even started making arrests.

After many years of dealing with the above mentioned discrimination, women started to stand up for their choice and their rights with movements like one million signatures for the repeal of discriminatory was a campaign started by the Iranian women in 2006, as a way to raise their voices. It was an initiative to collect one million signatures against the discrimination, and was to be presented before the government but unfortunately, the members of this campaign were arrested and were kept under surveillance and monitored even in their houses. This campaign gave a kick start to many others like White Wednesdays where the women and men took a white scarf or hijab and waved it in the air showing a solemn sign of protest against the compulsory hijab law.

After White Wednesdays came My Stealthy Freedom Campaign (2014), which prompted every woman to stand up for their community by posting a picture of themselves without a hijab, if they did not want to reveal their identity they could just show their backs to the camera with their hair open in the air. It was created by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, who said, “I call it ‘my stealthy freedom’ which means that you can create freedom in secret”. When the Iranian government banned facebook and twitter, Alinejad copied the voice notes and pictures which were received by her on these social media platforms.

And so the Iranian women kept on fighting, and are still fighting for a place in a world where their opinions and choices carry a very little weight while patriarchy flourishes and dominates. .

What is happening in Iran right about now?

Choice has never been the woman's in the Iranian society, neither on their clothing nor on their basic rights and therefore, it's time for us to view their condition as it is and to help them in any possible way. Today the Iranian women and men are still fighting till their last breath . It has been a little over a month since the death of Amini, and the protests are still actively going on, and have spread to the vast regions of the world. Women in Iran are playing with their lives, while many are sacrificing theirs for a future where their daughters would have the autonomy they missed out on. They are fighting for that 16-year-old protester who was raped, and then killed and for that 16 year old girl who is sitting in her house too scared to go out without a veil covering the dreams in her eyes.

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