Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman was allegedly killed in the custody of the country's stringent and draconian morality police, following which nationwide protests broke out, not only in angst of what happened with Amini but took on a larger meaning against the compulsory hijab enforced by the state.
Incidentally, around the same time, far away from Iran, the Supreme Court of India was listening to the arguments against the hijab ban imposed in educational institutions of Karnataka. Many marveled at the 'irony' while others pointed out that there isn't any.
In The Quint’s News and Views Podcast, we were joined by senior journalist Saba Naqvi and Supreme Court lawyer Nabeela Jamil, to discuss what the hijab means in a place like Iran versus what it is means for the students of Karnataka, and where ‘choice’ features in all this.
Women in Iran
Saba Naqvi has been to Iran multiple times, and has had varied experiences with the women of the country.
“Iran is one of the most fascinating places in the world, the situation of women there is very different to what you would see in the Arab speaking region,” Saba Naqvi said.
While in Iran, Naqvi went for a trek, and was pleasantly surprised.
“I went for a trek, I found women who were trekking up and down, they were very modern... independent. So the idea of the male escort always being there is not necessary in the way the Iranians are perceived. There are also counter-arguments that the revolution and the chador also enabled rural women to come out of their homes and join the workforce. I'm not an expert on that. But what I can say is that women there are visible, but they have to wear the chador,” Naqvi said.
Naqvi also said that the morality police has become stricter with time, and that women should have the choice to wear what they want.
“The data that I have is that Iranian women are among the most educated in that region. They are part of the workforce. So imagine you're empowered, you're earning, you're doing everything. And you're told you have to cover yourself all the time. That's the only way to be,” said Naqvi.
Being a Hijabi Lawyer
Nabeela Jamil, who is a lawyer in the SC as well as the Delhi High court, wears a hijab. She spoke about being a hijabi Muslim lawyer while the proceedings on the Karnataka hijab ban were ongoing in the SC.
“My experience of being a hijabi in the court during the hijab proceedings has been very overwhelming, it has been very empowering. It has also been very difficult, because people see you as 'the hijabi'. But you are there as a lawyer. So that's a difficult position to be in. That was just an incidental thing. But then you're confined to what you're wearing.”– Nabeela Jamil
She added, “A lot of people ask me to go and stand in front (during hijab ban proceedings) so that the judges can see you. And if media is there, media can see you. And I used to tell them politely: see, that's the problem. You can't confine people to be mere props. We are more than that.”
Jamil also said that it’s not fair to draw any sort of between the hijab ban in Karnataka’s educational institutions, and the anti-hijab protests in Iran.
“It's about choice. Women in Karnataka want to wear it. And many women in Iran don't want to wear it. So, it's as easy as that. Now it's not a very difficult thing to understand. And even if after everything...after all the unlearning, if somebody is not able to understand this, then I think that person has chosen not to understand it,” she said.
Both the guests also discussed how difficult it is to put forth a nuanced point on social media, especially as Muslim women, without being trolled.
“If you have a Muslim name, today there is an entire army just waiting to target you. And if you're a Muslim woman... the possibility of an intelligent intervention is not there. What you could do is write something and then post it there and then get out of that space,” Naqvi said.
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