Women rebellion in Iran defying the state repression

 Iranian young women have shown unprecedented courage and determination in this protest movement

The women protests triggered by the killing of a 22 years old young woman Mahsa Amini in police custody entered into second week. The repressive measures and tactics have failed to quell the protests. The young women are coming out on the streets to protest against the brutality of morality police. The women protests have so far shaken the conservative regime.   

At the crux of the latest demonstrations are Iran’s morality police, which are tasked with enforcing strict codes around dress and public behaviour. The men and other sections of the society are also participating in the protests. The protests spread all over the country.

The security forces have killed more than 75 protestors and injured many more. More than 900 people have been arrested so far. The regime has launched massive crackdown against the protestors. The protests might recede in coming days but these protests have once again proved that there is widespread anger against the regime. The people are not happy with the deeply religious and conservative regime.

The morality police arrested Mahsa Amini earlier this month on the allegation that she was wearing her hijab too loosely. She subsequently died. Her family alleged that she was died as the result of police torture but Iranian government and police denying this allegation.

Whatever transpired, the Amini case has triggered a ground swelling of public anger around the behaviour of the morality police, with protesters demanding women be given the right to choose what to wear.

The anger this diverse group feels over government interference in people’s personal decisions has found a fitting platform in the present protests. Since the early 1980s, when the ruling clergy consolidated power by eliminating opposition groups, social regulation and strict rules around lifestyle have formed the crux of their policies.

Government meddling in the private lives of its citizens was once far more pervasive, extensive, and stringent. For example, homes were searched for VCRs and satellite dishes.

In time, such restrictions were relaxed (to some degree). For women, however, the rules remain highly discriminatory. Government dos and don’ts are still heavily enforced. The Iranian government persists in denying women their fundamental rights; the debate over the headscarf and women’s dress is just one visible manifestation of this.

Apart from being demeaning and degrading, these regulations make day-to-day living extremely difficult for a great number of women who do not agree with the clergy. Today, it’s hard to find someone in Iran who hasn’t been harassed at least once by the ruling clergy in some way.

 That is why; compared to previous demonstrations in Iran, the number of people who support the current protests appears quite high and widespread. Protests are underway in cities large and small, neighborhoods rich and poor.

Unlike previous protests in Iran, women are at the forefront of these protests. Women and especially young women have lost fear of the regime and they are openly defying the regime.  Women’s rights are at the centre of these protests, while previous protests have focused more on economic or broader political issues.

The government’s intrusion into citizens especially women citizen’s private lives is the source of the demonstrations this time around. It has proved difficult so far, for the government to explain their policies in a way that is convincing for many people.

All protest comes at enormous personal risk in Iran. But these latest protesters have done some unusually brave things. The courage shown by protesters is unprecedented. Some women have removed their headscarves in the street or set them on fire.  Some have cut their hair in public.

Many videos appear to show anti-riot police failing to disperse the crowd, and even protesters occasionally pushing back police.

The Iranian leadership may fear appeasing protesters would just encourage further demands and may even trigger their downfall. And while the latest demonstrations are widespread, they are also dispersed.

There is no guarantee the different demonstrations underway in various cities will be able to coalesce around a single, coherent movement. The demonstrations are also hampered by the absence of a cohesive leadership and, it would seem, any kind of methodical organisation.

                                                                    Rukhsana Manzoor deputy editor

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