Women, veils, religion and the bravest 13 year old in the world

najmia.jpgVidya sent me a link to a fabulous video at YouTube. It’s a part of a documentary called “A stranger in her city” by Khadija Al-Salami. al-Salami’s documentary follows a fabulous, spunky 13 year old girl – Najmia in Yemen. Najmia refuses to wear the veil, despite it being a social compulsion. She is laughed at, hears taunts all day. But the kid has a mind of her own. Her responses to the documentary maker and people have such clarity. As the blurb for the video at YouTube says – she’s the bravest 13 year old in the world.

I found only one part of three on YouTube, but here’s another snippet of the same documentary at Wholphin DVD. A group of young boys and men shoot verbal missiles. Some of their statements include –

“(if she were my sister) I’d shake her hard and hang her up there by an electric cord.”
” If you were my sister, I’d hang you by the feet with your head swinging in the air.”
” Before God and the Law, women are deficient in religion, deficient in inheritance and deficient in intelligence.”
” Women are a disgrace.”
” Women in general are flawed from start to finish.”
” She has to be accompanied by a man whenever she goes out.”

Interestingly, I just finished this wonderful book “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. It maybe a memoir in books. But this interaction with books is an intensely personal journey. It makes them question everything – the wearing of veils, to the standards used to judge women and university politics. Set in that turbulent time in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s, when the monarchy was overthrown and Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The freedom that women had under the reign of the Shah of Iran was quickly snatched by the antics of Ayotollah Khomeini. Women, as always became the lambs of the revolution. While for many, the veil was a political symbol before the actual fall of the Shah, the government diktats that women MUST wear the veil took the choice out of their hands.

persepolis.jpgThe other amazing read is Marjane Satrapi‘s autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis : The Story of a Childhood. Persepolis is a reflection on changing times through the eyes of a young girl. While it is autobiographical in nature, it is such an incredible insight into the minds of those whose childhoods were grabbed during those years. I just found eight pages of the cartoons online at the Iranian.com which has this curious tagline “Nothing is Sacred” – Pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Screen3.jpgAs Azar Nafisi in the course of the book Reading Lolita In Tehran mentions time and again – the adults who lived through the revolution could be nostalgic and remember better times. They knew what they had lost. But the children, those who grew up without the memory of the days of freedom, had no idea what they had lost to the revolution. They didn’t know freedom. They could only idealize it and think of it as a romantic figment of imagination. There’s such deep and dark sarcasm in Persepolis that it just yanks your gut out in the open. Sample this cartoon for instance. That keeping a few strands of hair would stand for defying an entire regime seems so out of place. But women’s bodies, when they begin to belong to “the other” instead of “the self”, the loudest statements appear to made in these seemingly quiet and trivial ways.

Perhaps the oldest civilizations in the world suffer from too much memory. So everything is neatly divided into piles of new and old. The newer ones, they are free to construct what they want. There is nothing to demolish.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Culture, Gender, Politics, Rights

3 Responses to Women, veils, religion and the bravest 13 year old in the world

  1. dipali

    Wonderful clip. ‘Reading Lolita in Teheran’ was also an amazing book- one realises what tremendous freedom we are fortunate enough to take for granted. Excellent post, Neha.

  2. Great post.

    If this post gets published somewhere widely, then am sure that you will end up facing a lot of criticism for speaking against something that is a religious matter.

    In Iran, it is a question of time as to how long the quest for enforcing such rules can continue.

  3. One brave girl.. isn’t she! It would be interesting to listen to her parents viewpoint.
    The Qoran does not impose the wearing of the veil or the segregation of the women, and its very disturbing to hear how the men talk openly about beating up their daughters if they behave like Najmia.