Published: 20th September 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: What happened to 22-year-old Mahsa Amini? Why are there hijab-related protests in Iran now?
Protests broke out in Iran after a 22-year-old woman died in the custody of Iran’s "morality" police who enforce a strict dress code. Women were seen staging protests by burning their veils
In Iran, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman was detained by the police forces for defying the dress code imposed on women by Iranian laws. Soon after she had to be admitted to the hospital where she went into a coma and later died. This created an uproar across the nation and in a rare case scenario, hundreds of women took to the street to stage a protest.
On Tuesday, September 13, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman was detained on her way to her relative’s place in Tehran for allegedly disregarding Iran’s laws related to the dress code for women in the country. It sparked a storm of rage throughout the country on Friday, when she was declared dead after three days of slipping into a coma following her arrest.
Videos and photos of a bruised and unconscious Amini in a hospital bed made rounds on social media. It stirred a public outcry against the moral policing and primitive laws of the country that it imposes on its female citizens. Thousands of women took to the streets and protested by removing their hijab, burning it and raising slogans against the government. A lot of women also left their note of dissent by posting videos of them chopping their hair and burning their veils.
How did Mahsa Amini die?
As per the reports of local media, Amini’s brother who was there during her detention, heard screaming noises while the interrogation was on, thus, alleging custodial torture that eventually resulted in her death. However, the authorities contest it saying she suddenly collapsed from a heart attack during her “re-education” session on hijab laws. They further released a video of a woman collapsing while speaking to an officer in the detention centre, but the authenticity of the video has been questioned by many.
Other videos of Iranian "moral" police manhandling and assaulting women on the streets of Iran have gone viral on the internet. Several accounts of torture during detention have also surfaced and the Iranian women seem to be tired of the repressive laws of the country and Amini’s death was the tipping point for them.
Why are Iranian women protesting?
The hijab in Iran has come to represent the repressive structure of the country for the women there. It is a symbol of their lack of freedom and rights, and Iranian women have been resisting these restrictions at every step although the punitive crackdowns have become stricter. As per the reports by The Guardian, from September 5, 2022, Iranian authorities are planning to use facial recognition technology to identify women who are defying the hijab laws. The regime has a totalitarian-like control over its citizens and many women who dared to defy the laws in the past had to pay with dire consequences. Despite the suppression and subjugation, Iranian women have refused to bow down.
The custodial death of Amini and the official’s refusal to take responsibility for the same led women to speak out in mass against the everyday harassment related to dress code laws. The Guardian reported that protesters gathered around the Governor’s house in Saqez, Amini’s hometown in Kurdistan province where her funeral was organised. In Tehran, protesters marched down the HIjab street to denounce the "morality" police, reports the ISNA News Agency. A few protests turned violent as the police made arrests and fired tear gas in Saqez where around 500 people protested.
The Fine Arts faculty of Tehran University also staged peaceful protests and many renowned figures including artists, athletes and religious figures took to social media to express their grief, anger and solidarity.
How did the Iranian Law come into play?
Since the theocratic revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran restricted women’s clothing and imposed compulsory hijab for women in public places. It also bans tight pants, high heels and clothes that expose the knees. The "morality" police enforce these laws and detain anyone who they consider improper. The struggle against these laws has been on for years and more women are seen to be risking detentions for violating these laws.
What are other hijab-related controversies that have happened in other countries?
The world has witnessed hijab-related controversies everywhere. The headscarf has taken different meanings at different places. Countries like France banned hijab to remove religious symbolism in public spaces. This was followed by protests by Muslim women who wore the hijab by choice and considered the law as an infringement of personal liberty. Turkey also witnessed a decade-long hijab ban that was later restored by the Erdogan government. In India, the Karnataka High Court upheld the ban on the hijab in educational institutions of the State and the Supreme Court is currently hearing the appeals against the Karnataka High Court’s order.