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Women, Life, Freedom - ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’

It has been over two months since 22 -year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody. Despite severe restrictions, sporadic protests continue to take place in Iran. ‘Zan, Zendegi, Azadi’ – the Kurdish slogan which translates to ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ is one of the many slogans born out of Mahsa’s death. And it continues to reverberate across the world.

Chanting continues in the streets of Tehran- “We’ll fight! We’ll die! We’ll take back Iran!”

On day 58, since her death, Iran issued the first death sentence over protests that have mounted a fierce challenge to four decades of hard-line clerical rule. Human Rights groups warn that a wave of executions may follow as leaders try to end the sustained nationwide dissent. Over 300 people have been killed so far in demonstrations and thousands have been detained. But the chanting continues in the streets of Tehran- “We’ll fight! We’ll die! We’ll take back Iran!”


Iran has failed to quell protestors who took to the streets following the morality police killing of Mahsa in mid-September. Her crime – she was wearing her headscarf ‘incorrectly’ and needed to be taken, by force, to a ‘re-education center’ for lessons in modesty. The price she paid- her life.


Women across the world came out in support of the women in Iran who have been at the forefront of protests and are demanding their basic freedoms and an end to the mandatory headscarf. The Iranian authorities continue using brutal force to quell the demonstrators.


While the defiant hijab burning by the brave Iranian women standing up against the repressive state machinery inspires me, my heart aches for the young Hijab-wearing girls who are barred from entering their classes in Udupi, Karnataka in India since December 2021. The conflict grew into a national issue and in February 2022, the state government passed a government order that effectively barred students from wearing headscarves. The case eventually made its way to the Karnataka high court, which upheld the government order in March, ruling that hijab does not constitute “essential religious practice” in Islam. The verdict was then appealed and went to the Supreme Court of India. In October, a two-judge bench of the top court delivered a split verdict and referred the case to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to issue appropriate directions.


In this entire row- the party which loses the most are the young girls who now face a bleak academic future. Conditioned to feel ‘protected’ while wearing Hijab, they now opt to study in private colleges. Those who cannot afford it may have to give up on their dreams of studying further and becoming financially independent.


This dichotomy is confusing but simply put, what triggers the two protests is a challenge to a woman’s right to freedom of personal choice. The women in Iran and Karnataka are making noise against men – against the State – against the authorities, who are telling women what they can, or cannot, wear.


Finally, the bravest of all protestors coming out in support of the women in Iran are those from Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover last year, Afghan women have been demonstrating their right to education and employment. When women in Iran took to the streets, their Afghan sisters immediately began monitoring the protests across the border. As mourners in Iran gathered at Amini’s grave to mark the 40-day mourning period, Afghan women are hoping for a spillover effect. Since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, they have issued various edicts restricting women's freedom – banning them from government jobs, secondary education, traveling far without a male guardian, and more recently bringing back the face veil.


I was shocked that there was no public outrage – as the Taliban stripped women of their rights, but am glad more and more people are speaking up for the rights of women and their choice- be it to take off the Hijab or to wear it. Women in Iran, India, Afghanistan, and across the world should be able to live their lives on their own terms and free of fear.

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