The spontaneous outburst of anger over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman while being in the custody of Iran’s ‘Morality Police’ has barreled into the third week now. And the flames of protests look like they are here to stay.
The guidance patrols or Gasht-e-Ershad, commonly known as the ’Morality Police’ of Iran, detained Amini on September 13 for flouting the country’s dress code for women as she apparently was wearing an ‘improper head covering’.
After enjoying a little leniency in the Hijab rule during the more reformist Hassan Rouhani’s regime, women in Iran again were made to abide by stringent restrictions on clothing once the hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi took over the post in 2021.
According to Islamic Republic’s present advisory, women are advised to cover up in public by wearing a “hijab” or headscarf that is supposed to completely hide the hair.
Authorities claimed that Mahsa succumbed to death on September 16 owing to a cardiac failure three days after falling into a coma while her family, rejecting the possibility of any underlying medical condition to be the cause of her death, firmly pointed towards custodial brutality and asserted that she was beaten.
‘She was tortured, according to eyewitnesses’, said Amini’s cousin Erfan Mortazaei, as per media reports.
“She was tortured in the van after her arrest, then tortured at the police station for half an hour, then hit on her head and she collapsed”, he added.
The protests that were ignited by her death in Tehran are now raging across 40 provinces of the nation. The unrest is believed to have killed over seventy people so far while countless people got arrested. The authorities have imposed stringent restrictions on internet services and clamped down on protesters. Access to social media platforms and messaging applications has also been curtailed.
A protest that mirrors women’s discontent, anger and plight
Despite strict embargoes on usage of internet in Iran, the social media feeds across the globe are flooded with sporadic videos of women vehemently protesting in solidarity with Amini. From chopping hair to burning hijabs and shouting, ‘Women, life, freedom’- the protest has seen it all.
“We want to show them that we don’t care about their standards, their definition of beauty or what they think that we should look like,” said 36-year-old Faezeh Afshan, an Iranian chemical engineer living in Bologna, Italy, who was filmed shaving off her hair.
“It is to show that we are angry.”
According to their cultural practices, cutting off hair is a symbol of both mourning and protesting.
“Women cutting their hair is an ancient Persian tradition… when the fury is stronger than the power of the oppressor,” tweeted Wales-based writer and translator Shara Atashi. “The moment we have been waiting for has come. Politics fueled by poetry.”
Several videos are getting circulated on social media where women are seen waving their hijabs in the air and chanting, "No to the headscarf, no to the turban, yes to freedom and equality!"
Galvanized by the intensity of the unrest reflective of suppression, inequality and patriarchy, many cut their hair off while being filmed, as a sign of solidarity.
Stemming from the angst triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death, the anti-government protest has now taken the shape of a massive outcry against the repressive regime of the ‘supreme leader’ Ayatollah Khamenei. The unrest has given thousands of people a platform to raise their voices against several other pressing issues as well including inflation, unemployment, violation of international laws and sanctions.
How the Iranian government has reacted so far
Since the very onset of the protest, the theocratic regime of Iran has firmly believed that foreign powers were acting as the impetus behind it with a clear objective of destabilizing the country.
Almost after a fortnight into the nationwide unrest, Iran’s 83-year-old ‘Supreme Leader’ Ayatollah Khamenei officially showed reaction and held US and Israel accountable for the entire chaos.
“I say clearly that these riots and the insecurity were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime [Israel], as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” Khamenei was quoted by the BBC as saying.
As per media reports, on September 28, President Ebrahim Raisi said that while Amini’s death was saddening for sure, “chaos” would not be accepted.
“We all are saddened by this tragic incident. (However) Chaos is unacceptable. The government’s red line is our people’s security … One cannot allow people to disturb the peace of society through riots,”
While being at the frontline of the massive protest and facing tear gas, bullets and batons, countless activists and journalists have been arrested or detained.
In a bid to counter the mounting dissent and unrest across the nation, several pro-government rallies have taken place in several cities across Iran where marchers openly called for the execution of the anti-government protesters.
“Death to America” and “Death to Israel” were the common slogans echoing on the streets while the protesters were labeled as ‘Soldiers of Israel’
Citing the prevalence of foreign influence behind their anti-government maneuvers, the Iranian judiciary has also directed the courts to take tough action on the protesters - a familiar course of action for the Iranian regime to deal with dissent.