The first thing that I notice on return from Iran is a friend request from my Neyshabour friend Malihe. Facebook is prohibited in Iran! In no country have I seen such widespread and random use of proxy servers. I wonder though, isn’t the regime watching? Foe sure it is. The number of people thrown in jail in Iran for ‘un-Islamic’ activities is worrisomely high. Then? Well, there comes Mehdi’s telling words: Yes they can, but we can as well.
That’s one side of the canvas. Chance gives me an opportunity to experience that as well. By mistake I mistype my gmail password. To my utter horror I find that Google wouldn’t let me enter my mailbox by retyping the correct password. In India, or elsewhere, seven out of 10 times I mistype my password at the first attempt. That’s simply because I am unable to handle this password-ridden life! Since the 1990s my whole existence seems to have turned increasingly into a password dictated labyrinth. Indeed I feel like a slave to passwords. Hence often I confuse my various passwords, typing wrong ones. But never before have I been blocked from entering my mailbox by Google just for mistyping the password once. But I have my Mashad to Tehran flight ticket locked there, and I need to enter into my mailbox for a million other reasons. Finally, I call up, Baisakhi, who surprisingly can easily get into my mailbox from India by typing the same password. She then changes it to a new one, texts it to me, and I finally succeed in getting access to my conversations, which are strictly my private exchanges. Or are they? I realize how intimately net-corporate bodies follow our virtual existence. Someone must have handed over to Google a Red List of countries, and Iran is in that list, I realize. Who is that someone? Who might have such control over so powerful a corporate entity as Google? The same ones who doesn’t allow any, not one, international electronic economic transaction to and from Iran, making any international debit or credit card unusable in that country? I can only hazard a guess.
Shima on her part never hides her disdain for the Islamic regime. So I confront her with some hard information. Well, I tell her, the country I come from doesn’t force her women to cover their heads, they are free to participate in any kind of sport they choose to, they can set the stage on fire dancing and singing, alone or with their male partners. In Hind we do not have a moral police to determine women’s behavior (I must hasten to add here that when I was having this conversation with Shima, the Hindutva brigade emboldened by the protection of the Narendra Modi cult of politics hadn’t let loose its hoodlums, the self titled anti-Romeo Squads, to enforce almost similar codes across vast stretches of North India in a visceral attack on the spirit of India).
It was not like this a hundred years ago, but Indian women have achieved this in a courageous struggle almost at every sphere of life. But in the same Hind 35 per cent of the women can’t even sign their names, let alone going to schools. In Iran 98.5 percent of women aged between 15 and 24 are literate. According to the World Bank’s 2014 report 56.50 per cent of women in Iran have a salaried job, in India that percentage is 14.5. How was this success achieved? Here’s what two researchers into the issue, Roksana Baharmitash of Montreal University and Hadi Salehi Esfahani of Illinois University, have to say in their joint paper, “Notably, the social and political environment after the Revolution was apparently consistent with the rapid extension of education beyond the modern middle and upper classes. Availability of substantial resource rents and the disposition of the government to distribute resources more equally have further supported the expansion of education and have helped drastically change the structure of women’s labor force and the nature of the jobs available to them in Iran. The result has been an accelerated rise in the share of adult women in total employment…” Indeed they are talking about the Islamic Revolution.
As I write this today, a snapshot flashes in my mind.
Much after this conversation with Shima. I am roaming around the streets of Varzaneh, a village near Isfahan, aimlessly early in the morning. That’s a must for me at any new place: to watch the place wake up into life and get on with its life of yesterday today and tomorrow. It gives me a strange romantic thrill! Here in Varzaneh I suddenly come face to face with a group of boys going to school: a universal sight. The same boisterous children making the most out of the time between the walls of discipline, from home to school. But what catches my eyes is not universal: beside them are quietly walking two little girls, top to bottom in hijab, but dragging the school bags along.
I take a snap. That for me is the snap of my whole Iran trip.
Given my penchant for travel, a friend once asked me what was the most heart-warming sight I had ever seen. I didn’t exaggerate when I told him, it was batches of little girls traversing across vast agricultural fields to go to their school, perhaps the most common sight in India from a train-window. I have not the least doubt in my mind the nation which has sent all its girl children to school has taken care of itself. The rest will fall in place in time.
I tell of my conviction to Shima and ask her, “Now you tell me if you were to choose between India and Iran which one would you choose?”
She remains quiet for a long time and then flashes her large bright eyes straight into those of mine and says, “Hind.”
I do not stretch the argument. I have always felt there is something elementarily male in statistics, to which women often don’t give two hoots. It can be a disaster to guess women’s probable choices depending on statistics!