In solidarity with the Iranian people fighting for democracy and justice: Ayesha Kidwai & Nivedita Menon

This post is jointly written by AYESHA KIDWAI AND NIVEDITA MENON

On this international day of solidarity with the Iranian people, two feminists from India send you our greetings, in complete awe of your courage, your creativity, your solidarity with one another, your relentless resistance in the face of cruel and brutal repression.

Watching the panel discussion on Jadaliyya on the ongoing struggle of the Iranian people against the authoritarian regime, we were struck by the complexity of the arguments being made. The struggle is not against Islam, and it is not about hijab everywhere and at all times. What we are witnessing in Iran is reflected all over the world wherever there is resistance to the gendered ways in which all states control populations – whether by compulsory conscription in wars the people have no interest in, or by making the hijab central to the reason of state – in Iran by compulsory veiling, in France and in India by compulsory unveiling of the Muslim woman; or in the USA by denying autonomy over their bodies to women by criminalizing abortion.

That the struggle in Iran is far wider than for bodily autonomy (and nowhere are struggles over the body only about bodily autonomy) is evident from the range of journalists, students, film makers and writers in prison over the last decade. for expressing dissent against different aspects of the authoritarian regime.

Writing as we do from India where a Brahminical Hindu supremacist, masculinist regime ruthlessly destroys Muslim and Dalit lives and livelihoods; has subverted almost every democratic institution; criminalised dissent and free expression in universities; tries to eliminate practices of minority cultures; violently attempts to control women’s right to choose their romantic partners; unleashes mob violence against non-compliant women; appropriates the resources and lands of the people in the interests of corporate capital; and imprisons without trial hundreds of voices raised in opposition to these policies – we say to you, our sisters and brothers in Iran, that everywhere in India, the stories of your militant, powerful struggle against dictatorship are being shared.

Your extraordinary courage gives us all strength.

The beauty of your protest actions moves us to tears.

The inclusiveness of your protest gives us hope.

The words you chant – Zan, Zindagi, Azaadi – are beloved and familiar, belonging to the lexicon of some of our many languages.

In our struggle for justice in India we take heart from the lines of the poet Faiz, written originally in Urdu:

That day, too, we shall see…
When the dark clouds of torment and oppression
Are blown away like wisps of cotton,
And the pounding of our indigent feet
Causes the earth to pulsate at its core.
And upon the heads of our rulers
Lightning will crackle and strike…

This poem has been an anthem of resistance across borders on the Indian subcontinent, from 1979 when it was written, to the 21st century.

We send it to you all – with love, in solidarity, in hope.

3 thoughts on “In solidarity with the Iranian people fighting for democracy and justice: Ayesha Kidwai & Nivedita Menon”

  1. This is a wonderful post and very, very timely, and I can’t tell you how much!

    This is the second year that I am teaching a credit course (compulsory for 2nd year students) titled ‘The Dynamics of Performance’ – a two-semester course in a college for women that begins and ends with staging one or two plays for the college and a larger audience of other schools, college and the general public. No postmodernist fiddle-faddle as old timers say, just shaking up real performance. I desist of course from naming the college, or which city it is located in – in case the ABVP goons show up with their snarls, shouts, sticks and stones. Two hundred goons with orange scarves and paan-stained teeth, terrorizing twenty-four young women (the number in my class) with the guts and gumption to come on stage and open the eyes of audiences…

    Last year the course was a disaster. Of the twenty-eight members in the course, I never ever got a full complement of students. The excuses for missing classes were wonderful. I had at least four girls who had period pains twice in the month; grand-parents dying; dogs giving birth to puppies and, lest I forget, covid confining young women to enforced quarantine. The main problem was that I never ever got ALL THE ACTORS in one place at the same time. This made things very difficult if the play being staged required a smoothly orchestrated ensemble. The biggest problem was that they took their grades first (a college requirement) before telling me that none of them wanted to stage the plays!

    Pity really, because this was all happening when the right-wing, supremacist governments in some parts of the country (You known, which ones, right?) were banning women from wearing the hijab when they walked into school or college! Pity too that there were four Muslim girls signed up for the course, one in a burkha, two in a hijab, one in ordinary clothes showing her hair. Pity that the course ended with no play being staged in a larger environment. The decision not to do the play was facilitated by a Whatsapp message to me…

    What lesson do you learn from this? You’ll have to wait till you cross seventy years of age, when you realize that Indian students in the 2nd year of college are very good Marxists – that they all want high ‘Marks’ (grades) and when they get them they’ll take off and keep the theatre for the birds. Yeah, even they didn’t think it was funny…

    Am I a cynic? No. Have I given up? No. Do I intend giving up? No. Do I think the right-wing, supremacists will take over this country? NO! What hurts most is that the performances to be staged last year were the four monologues on communal violence writing by Manjula Padmanabhan, written after the riots in Bombay and later Gujarat, and today still as powerful as they were then.

    Maybe it’s like my late mother never got tired telling me, ‘God is Great!’. Maybe she had a point there. This year my students are still twenty-eight. I have four Christians, one Buddhist, Hindus, and three Muslims, one in ordinary clothes showing her hair, one in Hijab and one in burkha. They loved Manjula’s monologues decrying communal violence and urging the quality of compassion. I meet them, as I did the last batch of students, every Saturday between 2 pm and 5pm in the college auditorium. Nobody has complained to me about period pains. One girl missed a class due to a scooter accident but hobbled in the next week. Those who have missed class due to a genuine reason can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Do I have a smoothly ensemble in place? YES!

    I am a very old friend of Kafila. If their site is in my inbox I will read it. The performance has it’s first dress rehearsal on 18th October, open and willing to onlookers. On the 19th and 20th, there are two performances a day for the college and visiting schools, 11th and 12th Students from girls’ schools. On the 21st the show is for the parents and the general public. Friends of Kafila may please email Nivedita Menon for more details so we can keep the ABVP out of the loop. Hindutva is not good for children and other living beings.

    Thanks to me, my students are also good friends of Kafila. The suggestion came from them that they do, next semester, an adaptation for the stage, ‘A Letter from a Prostitute’, Ayesha Kidwai’s brilliant translation of Krishen Chander’s powerfully evocative story.

    Friends of Kafila are welcome for that too…


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