It is said that social institutions are dynamic in nature. They are conditioned by various internal and external forces. No country is immune to these changes. Religion and social customs are especially subject to change and rightly so, but if the changes are deliberately resisted by the state then it risks causing societal upheavals with catastrophic consequences for institutions and people alike. This appears exactly to be the case with Iran. The death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the Iranian regime’s morality police for loosely wearing a hijab and her subsequent death caused by horrible injuries as a result of being beaten by the police has sparked a massive anti-hijab movement in Iran.
The movement has become intermeshed with other issues such as unemployment, corruption and strict religious laws in the country.
Whenever a regime that has been in power due to the sheer exercise of force and lacks popular legitimacy faces a credibility test and people begin questioning it, the regime responds with disproportionate use of force.
The Iranian government is doing exactly the same. Security forces in Iran have arrested scores of protestors including college students, doctors, academics, film personalities, and activists. If this wasn’t enough, they have opened firing on unarmed crowds; Since September when the first protests broke out, hundreds of people have been killed in the crackdown.
The regime’s security forces have not even spared children who are also on the list of individuals who have died. Further, people who have been incarcerated have been done so on the basis of frivolous charges such as “conspiracy to overthrow the Iranian government”, “collaborating with Iran’s enemies” and even “committing blasphemy”.
Regime of contradictions
The crackdown and the ensuing brutality are not really new since 1979 following the Islamic revolution in Iran. The governments headed by the Supreme leaders Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and Ali Khamenei have stayed in power through a mechanism of exercising coercion on the population in the name of strict implementation of Islam. The regime has failed to take notice of the fact that in this post-industrial age where the world has to grapple with the inevitable phenomenon of modernism and globalisation no country can remain insular. A country run by a religious establishment with a lack of technocratic specialisation is pushing the country into the labyrinth.
The regime fails to comprehend that the youth of Iran are global in their thinking, aspirations and objectives. They favour more liberty and not constraints, that too sanctioned by the establishment. Religion is absolutely essential to lead a good quality life, but if it gets in the way of one’s basic liberties and rights in this modern era and if the principles are sought to be enforced by an iron fist manifesting itself in the form of state power, it is bound to cause a backlash. The Iranian government has failed to understand this basic idea.
It can no longer rule by sheer domination and use of state coercion, it needs to assuage the concerns of young Iranians in particular and the global community in general.
Taking a stand
India, the largest democracy in the world, enjoys excellent bilateral ties with Iran; India has followed a time-tested policy of not commenting on the “internal issues” of other countries. However, as a democracy, India has a moral duty, and this duty is standing with the people of Iran.
The realists and pragmatists will argue that there is no need for New Delhi to wade needlessly into an issue that is currently an internal matter of Iran, but it is imperative that India speaks out. The hijab debate has also been raging in India with India’s highest court of law having intervened on this issue and having made it clear that wearing hijab is a matter of individual matter.
As the world’s largest democracy, India must talk with the Iranian government. New Delhi must immediately call on Iran to halt its crackdown and use dialogue and conciliation to resolve this issue. India must persuade Iran that the use of force must be extremely restrained and that Iran must adhere to the rights and conditions enshrined in the UN charter and international law. India cannot remain a silent spectator as the Iranian people continue to lose their lives while protesting against repressive laws.
– The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda