It’s the Choice that matters
Oppression, anger and hate seem pervasive. Like weeds growing in a garden, they find ways to take root one way or another. It makes it just a little harder to believe that the world can ever be a just, equal place.
The death of Iranian Mahsa Amini on the 16th of September 2022 while in police custody sparked outrage all over the world. Amini was detained by the Iranian morality police, ‘Gasht-e-Ershad’ for wearing her hijab in an ‘improper way’. She was taken to a ‘re-education centre’ where she died allegedly of a heart attack after being in custody for 3 days.
Violent protests erupted in Iran, with Amini’s family claiming that she was harrassed and tortured in police custody. Thousands took to the streets demanding justice and accountability for this inhumane act. Women across the country burnt their hijabs and cut off their hair, as a way of protesting against the laws that strictly control women’s clothing choices everywhere in the public. Women led anti-hijab protests rocked the country in a fight to end violence and discrimination against women in the country. Hundreds of people were arrested and around 76 killed according to the media sources as of 28th September 2022. Iran’s President vowed to take decisive action against the protesters, unwilling to relent to the demands for equal rights by the women.
The world condemned this shocking incident, with politicians and celebrities alike coming out in support of the protestors. Meanwhile, India dealt with a different problem.
2022 In India ended on a sombre note. Muslim students in Karnataka’s Udupi district were denied entry into their college while wearing a hijab. They were notified that a hijab does not fit into the dress code of the college and thus, entry was to be barred. It did not take long for this to escalate into a full blown religious squabble. Protests erupted statewide, with Muslim women demanding a right to wear hijab in the classroom and their counterparts protesting against it. Petitions were filed and the matter soon reached the courts. Over the course of 8-9 months the issue evolved into something much more serious. It was now a scarily familiar scene, with two religious communities standing against each other once again.
Tensions run high, with the SC’s verdict expected to come out before October 16, 2022.
Two events. Two groups of women fighting over the same piece of clothing, demanding the opposite things. One protesting against the garment forced to be worn on the head while the other protests for the garment to not be taken away from them. Opposite, yet so similar. Two sides of the same coin.
Iran’s strict moral policing is based on the state’s authoritarian beliefs- honourable and righteous women should be dressed a certain way. Karnataka, on the other hand, is hell bent on removing this symbol of oppression, making way for a more ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’ state. In both these places, those in charge couldn’t care less about the progress or safety of women. It is a way of oppressing and controlling women, these women under the guise of progress and religion. These are men controlling women’s bodies, making their choices for them.
A simple headscarf by itself does not become oppressive. Coercion by the patriarchy to wear it or not wear it, thereby stifling women’s choice is what makes it oppressive. In the failure to understand that it is the choice that matters, society ends up overlooking these women who are fighting for their basic rights. Absence of choice denies women the right to bodily autonomy and ultimately, their right to freedom.
A woman’s clothes are always a matter of political and religious debate. Millions of women around the world are fighting tooth and nail, spilling blood, getting beaten and broken again and again by a patriarchy that refuses them the freedom to make their own choices and decisions. Be it the Americans fighting against the ban on abortions or be it Iranians and Indians fighting for their clothing choices, ‘My Body, My Choice’ is a movement in for a long run.
The women in Udupi want to wear the hijab. Those in Iran don’t. It’s the 21st century, and debates are still going on over what women should wear and not wear. It is simply a matter of choice. Shouldn’t they be the one to choose? But alas, choices of these women seem to be long forgotten, lost between the hazy clouds of power and politics.