By Nidhi Kinhal
Women in public places are threatening to a system that loves to lock them up in homes or other “safe” places. Which is why it’s exhilarating to see women break out of these boundaries. Remember ‘Why Loiter’, a movement that reclaimed public spaces by defining loitering as resistance, in India?
Most recently, it’s the stories of Iranian women’s rebellion that are coming to the fore. Iran has a compulsory Hijab rule for women, in public places, since 1979. Women have been protesting this rule by wearing white headscarves on Wednesdays, and men have sometimes shown solidarity against this policing. Now, several women have been refusing to wear the hijab in cars, while driving, which naturally is infuriating some.
The police have tried to stop them, levied fines on them, and temporarily seized their vehicles, but in the light of a new debate, their attempts have not been too successful. It seems like Iranian women have set foot on grey areas; people are now debating whether a car is a public space, subject to the hijab policy, or a private space where women can dress freely.
Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran, thinks that people’s private spaces should be left to them. He had spoken up against the crackdown of women who refused to wear the hijab, in 2015, “The police can’t do something and say I’m doing this because God said so. That’s not a police [officer]’s business.” Other authorities interpret the car differently. Hadi Sadeghi, the deputy head of Iran’s judiciary chief, even had a unique, unparalleled solution to this confusion: “The invisible part of the car, such as the trunk, is a private space, but this does not apply to the visible parts of the car.” Clearly a lot of thought has gone into that one. Yahya Kamalpour, a member of the Parliament, on the other hand, said, “The space within people’s cars is a private space and the police has no right to enter that space without a judicial order.”
The whole pandemonium is making us crack up — it reveals how fragile and vague these policing terms sometimes are. I’m reminded of ridiculous primetime debates on TV inviting people to answer polls via text messages, and boy gangs musing over how women are so ‘mysterious’. Now that there’s some boot-room, thanks to ambiguity, the Iranian women can let their hair down once and for all.