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An Analytical Study of the Iran Hijab Law: A Human Rights Perspective

Human Rights And Women

Human beings are said to be beings which have the rational ability to think and act and a by the virtue of being a human they possess certain basic and non-transferable rights which are often recognised as Human Rights. These rights are inherited by the human beings as a result of their existence rights from birth and are awarded to them irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, race, etc.

These rights are essential for a human being as they confer freedom, dignity and a basic righteous environment required for a human to survive peacefully. They focus on the moral upliftment and overall development of the human race. The rights are often acknowledged by various countries as Fundamental Rights, Birth Rights, Inherent Rights and Natural Rights.

Human Rights are said to be the rights which are elementary and imperative for a human being. In Maneka Gandhi v/s Union of India; Justice P.N. Bhagwati held that, "All those rights which are essential for the protection and maintenance of dignity of individuals and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest extent may be termed human rights,"[1]

International Human Rights law has been developing on a large scale since the formation of United Nations. It refers to the body of International law which is designed to promote and protect human rights at international, regional and national level. Human Rights are universal in nature and thus must be available to every human being internationally. It is the duty of the State to ensure that every individual within its territory is conferred with the basic human rights, however, when the state fails to assure realisation of human rights to the individuals within their jurisdiction, the international obligation arises.

Although human rights are for all humans, time and again it is seen that in different parts of the world, it has taken a significant amount of time for women to be acknowledged and given equal human rights as men. However, yet in some areas the women are not only deprived of these rights but also not treated as humans altogether. The following paper is about the critical analysis of the deprivation of the human rights of women in Iran since ages; the various protests held against it and the Hijab Law and the drawbacks of it.

History Of Iran And Iranian Revolution

Iran was ruled by various dynasties through the years, Safavid Dynasty (1501 - 1736), Qajar Dynasty (1785 - 1921), and Pahlavi Dynasty (1921-1979). Iran had seen immense development under the Pahlavi Dynasty led by Reza Shah. Reza was western approach oriented and supported women empowerment.

On 8th January, 1936 he put a ban on wearing Hijab after which for the first time the women including the princess of Iran appeared in public without a Hijab. This was a drastic step for the Iranian society as a whole and marked the start of freedom and development of the women.

Further Mohd. Reza Shah continued the approach and development started by his father and started the White Revolution and encouraged the industrial and economic development.

To bring out development on the social level various steps were taken such as:
  • Abolishing the practice of Polygamy
  • Making the minimum age of marriage as 18 years
  • Empowering women participation at various levels.
However, this situation was completely changed when there was Iranian Revolution in the year 1979 which also marked the end of the Pahlavi Dynasty. Iran was on the path of development but the Iranian Revolution lead to the downfall and backward journey of Iran.

Although Iran was moving towards development, it led to many problems such as pay cuts, threat of unemployment and discontent with the living conditions and so on as a result of which the Iranian people were filled with anger with the regime and started protests against it.

The government that replaced the monarchy as the result of protest was much more revolutionary in nature. The new Islamic Republic of Iran was based on the Khomeini's idea of Islamic government, a principle he called velayat-e faqih which meant that a Sharia Law scholar would have the ultimate authority, because he was more knowledgeable than anyone about law and justice.

There would be a Legislature, President and a Prime Minister, but any of their decisions could be overturned by the Supreme Ruler who from 1979 until his death was Khomeini. In his regime, he undid the various steps taken by the previous dynasty such as; 18 years was no longer the minimum age for marriage and was reduced to 13 years and in some cases 9 years and the ban on polygamy was lifted. One of the major change brought that was highly criticised was the mandatory Hijab Law.

Hijab Law And The Protests Against It

One of the major change was the compulsion of wearing Hijab in the public. In March 1979 rules were passed that women have to wear headscarves or Hijab compulsorily at their workplaces and in public. The women of Iran were highly disappointed by this decision and protested against it but to no avail.

In 1981, Iran passed the mandatory Hijab Law, mandating women to wear hijab in public and accordingly in 1996 to the Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code, added a prison sentence of 10 days to two months and 74 lashes for those not wearing the hijab properly or not wearing it at all.

Over the years there were various protests held by the people of Iran to shoe their discontent towards the mandatory Hijab and the dress code rules for women. Few of the major protests were as follows.

International Womens Day

The initial protest took place on the 8th of March, 1979 on the International Women's Day, the women held a march against the rules of dress code made for them. The demurral was not against the women who were wearing Hijab, but the mandatory provision of wearing it. The protest lasted six days with men and women participating in the number of thousands but were insulted by few women following the traditional rules.

The 2006 Protests
In the year 2006, the women activists held a campaign of one million signatures for the repeal of the discriminatory law against women in Iran.

My Stealthy Freedom
This campaign was held in 2014 wherein Iranian women shared their photos and videos on the social media publically violating the Hijab Law. They chopped off their hair and were burning the hijab to show a sign of freedom and their discontent towards the law.

National Hijab Day
In 2018 on the National Hijab Day widespread protests were seen with supporters in high number, including celebrities and prominent personalities. Many protestors were sent to jail including Farhad Meysami, a medical doctor, has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against Hijab Law.

Another protest started by Masih Alinejad, wherein women wear a white piece of clothing on every Wednesday as a sign of protest and upload their photos and videos on the social media to show support for the protest.

Girls Of Revolution Street
These protests started after the arrest of Vida Movahed, on 27th December, 2017 after her photo went viral where she was waving her Hijab in the air while standing on the Tehran's Enghelab Street. And the protests started by women by coming on the Enghelab Street against this arrest is known as 'Girls of Revolution Street'. (Enghelab is translated as Revolution in English).

Mentioned above are just a few of the pool of protests held in Iran. After the mandate of compulsory hijab various protests were held on different scales for the abolishment of the same. Women were seen chopping off their hair, violating the hijab law and standing for their rights and freedom. The slogans of these protestors were 'death to the dictator' and 'freedom of women'

Mahsa Amini Case
For every cold war there is one fine event that works as a striking point for the commencement of the actual war. In the case of Iran's Hijab Law protest, the death of Mahsa Amini was the trigger point for people of Iran.

On 13th of September, 2022 Mahsa Amini was travelling from Kurdistan region to Tehran which was the capital of Iran with her family after meeting their relatives. While returning in the evening their car was halted by the morality police.

Morality police was a special police force in Iran which is appointed with the sole purpose of keeping the dress code of Iran in check, i.e majorly whether:
  • The women are wearing hijab (headscarf) or not in the public;
  • The hijab worn by women is proper or not;
  • Whether the women are properly dressed or not.
In cases of violation, women were taken into custody and given re-education classes wherein they were made to attend lectures that talked about how to wear their hijab properly, the importance of the dress code and compulsion to wear it in the public. It seems too ridicule to say that the women are kept in such strict and upsetting conditions that even their dress code is inspected and a special force of police is kept for it for the sole object of scrutinizing their dress code.

When Amini's car was stopped, it was seen that she was not wearing her hijab (headscarf) properly. According to the statement given by her family, Amini was ruthlessly dragged out of the car by the morality police, and when her brother, Kiarash tried to act as a peacemaker and rescue his sister, the police twisted his arm behind his back and later stated that they were taking Amini for 1 hour of re-education class. The family of Amini contacted the Human Rights Activists through the Iranwire Website to seek help.

Later Amini was taken into the Detention Centre for further interrogation where her brother, Kiarash was also present. The local media reports state that, Kiarash claims that he heard screams of her sister from the detention room and after sometime an ambulance had been called at the detention centre. Amini was covertly taken to the Kasra Hospital.

Here the police took the stance that Amini had suffered a heart attack, but the suspicious thing is that Amini was merely 22 years old and a healthy woman who had sparse chances of having a heart attack. She was admitted in the Hospital, and later Kiarash was informed that she was now in Coma.

After 2 days that is on 15th of September, 2022 the Tehran Police released an official statement wherein they mentioned that "Amini suddenly collapsed and suffered a heart attack while receiving educational training on hijab rules".[2]

To which Kiarash replied that there was a time gap of only 2 hours between Amini being detained and taken to the hospital, and she was completely fine before her detention.

Unfortunately on the next day, that is 16th of September, 2022 Mahsa Amini passed away and her death worked as the trigger point of the various protests in Iran.

An eyewitness present there stated to the journalist that Amini was beaten inside the morality police van while taking her to the detention centre and her Father stated, he is definite that Amini was beaten during her detention. However, the police and government declined all such accusations.

In order to bring the truth to highlight, a group of hacker activists leaked a few medical documents including the CT scan of her skull which showed signs of brain fracture, haemorrhage and brain oedema which made it clear that her brain tissues were crushed by multiple blows to the head.

While the government appointed neurologist claimed that they show psychological stress from brain operation in the past the truth of those scans was actually disclosed by a brave doctor, Dr Hossain Karampour, who was a top medical officer in the Southern Province of Iran.

He published photos of Amini when she was admitted in the hospital which depicted symptoms such as bleeding which should not have been there in the first place if it was a case of heart attack. He also wrote a letter to Mr. Mohammad Raeiszadeh, the president of Iranian Medical Council, asking him to act honestly and courageously to clarify and reveal the truth.

Looking at this commotion the government released a CCTV footage showing a young women falling to the ground in the police station stating the woman collapsing was Mahsa Amini. But there was a question raised on the authenticity of the video as it could not clearly be seen that the woman was Mahsa Amini and the video was only from one CCTV camera while the detention centre had many of them and even upon being demanded by Amini's father the footage from other cameras were not provided.

On 18th September, 2022, Iran's President, Ebrahim Raisi, contacted the family of Amini and assured them that a proper investigation would be held in this matter to reveal the truth. However by this time, Amini's death had already made an issue to the United Nations Organisation, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif called for an independent investigation of the death and also spoke about the atrocities created on women by the hijab law.

The protests in regards to Amini's case had started the day when Amini was hospitalised but as and when the condition deteriorated and the truth being revealed these protest became widespread throughout the nation in various cities and many other surviving victims of similar treatment by the morality police too came upfront to demand justice.

Recent Advancements Regarding The Hijab Law
Inspite of the various protests, the government of Iran and the Supreme Leader have yet not taken any steps to satisfy the people of Iran. Infact, they are planning to make the provisions of the Hijab law more stringent and heavy penalties for the violation for it.

Amongst the decades of protests and amendments in the law, the Hijab and Chastity Bill is becoming the most drastic step to be taken to make the Law more stringent. The draft of the bill consists of seventy (70) articles and its object is to make the punishments more rigorous and strict for the violations of the rules laid down in it. The essence of the bill lays in rising the amount of fines and jail time as well as the introducing the use of Artificial Intelligence to record any form of violation of the law.

By the poll taken 13 of August, 2023 for the vote of Hijab and Chastity Bill in the Parliament of Iran the results were seen as; out of the 224 members that participated in it, 175 members voted in the favour of it, while only 49 votes were against it.[3] Thus if the Guardian Council of Iran which is the unelected body of the government approves the bill, the law will get validity for the next three to five years following which it can be later incorporated within the permanent law.

Few highlighting provisions of the new bill are:
  • Women not wearing the Hijab or wearing it improperly will be imposed a fine of 50,000 to 5,00,000 Iranian rials or 10 days of imprisonment that can extend up to two months.
  • Wearing improper hijab is a crime punishable with an imprisonment of five to ten years and a fine that goes as high as 360 million Iranian rials.
  • The bill also provides for heavy penalties and punishments for the celebrities and esteemed members of the society joining or supporting the protests in any way.

Moreover, the Government is using Article 85 of the Iran's Constitution in order to speed up the acceptance of this bill as they already have knowledge that such a bill won't obtain the public support. Article 85 of the Iranian Constitution is a provision that enables the parliament to pass a bill without public debate.

Analysis And Conclusion

B.R. Ambedkar quotes:
"I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which Women have achieved".

If we look deeply at the current conflict in hand, the actual issue of 'The Mandatory provisions of Hijab Law' is not whether 'Women should or should not wear a Hijab' but the 'Freedom of Choice whether to wear a hijab or not' that has been taken away from the women.

A women would wear a hijab or not should solely be a matter of her choice and any of them should not face discrimination on the basis of it. The Iranian revolution had taken place to remove the dominance of western culture and to uphold the Islamic culture, however this has resulted into atrocity for the women of Iran.

Women being humans have a right to live in a safe and free environment without any discrimination. The Hijab law curbs the women's right to freedom of choice, right to dignity and many more. Although there are various protests ongoing in Iran, but the Iranian women are still living in fear. One small violation of the dress code and they will become the subject of morality police and nobody knows what can happen after that, the fear that they might turn out to be the next Mahsa Amini and have to lose their life for such a trivial matter.

It is astonishing to see that where women are put into so many restrictions and responsibilities, the men of Iran have no such law for any dress code nor are they a subject of the morality police which displays discrimination even on the basis of gender. Apart from mandatory hijab, the women rights in family and inheritance have also substantially reduced and the women are prohibited from wearing heels and stockings and had to mandatorily cover their head, shoulders and neck.

It is depressing to see that even in the 21th Century and modernisation spread worldwide, women in parts of the world still have to face such atrocities in their daily life. Even, in India women in Kerala have been seen fighting for their right to wear Hijab. Thus the real question is not whether wearing hijab should be sanctioned or not, but the real issue is women not having their freedom to choose whether they want to wear a hijab or not.

  1. Maneka Gandhi v/s Union of India, A.I.R 1978, SC p.597
  2. The Indian Express Article � Why death of 22- year old Mahsa Amini sparked protests in Iran.
  3. BBC News; Poll Results
Written By: Nistha Savar, 5th Year Law Student

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