In a major victory for the Iranian people, the authoritarian regime has announced the abolition of the morality police blamed for the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, held by them for supposedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. After months of protests, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people, the authorities have finally paid heed to the people’s sentiments. Their unrelenting campaign, despite a brutal crackdown by the police, resonated worldwide, with women everywhere taking a stand in solidarity with Iranian women. The demonstrations on Iranian streets by defiant men and women proved to be one of the greatest challenges faced by the Islamic nation’s leadership as women openly flouted the dress code by removing their hijab and cutting their hair in public.
The morality police known as the Gasht-e-Ershad, which includes both men and women, is part of the police force overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It came into being in the 1990s after the war with Iraq and its excesses have only increased over the years. Women’s rights in Iran have always been a tricky subject. While the hijab was actually banned during the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pehlavi, after the Islamic revolution, the head covering was strictly imposed and women’s liberties were curtailed with alarming speed. Women were not even allowed to enter sports stadiums and it was only under pressure from FIFA and other international bodies that a handful of women were allowed to watch selected events. In 2022, they were actually allowed to watch a league football match, albeit strictly segregated from the men.
The international ramifications of the Iranian protests of the last few months were felt even in Qatar during the ongoing FIFA World Cup when the Iranian team made a powerful political statement by refusing to sing the national anthem ahead of their first match. That took a great deal of courage for the players who will no doubt face the wrath of the authorities when they return. In the stands, Iranian spectators chanted slogans in support of the demonstrators. The turn of events in Iran makes it clear that people’s voices cannot be suppressed forever. Dissent is a legitimate form of registering one’s opinion and it cannot be wished away however authoritarian a government is. There are many lessons to be learnt from Iran for totalitarian regimes the world over.
Some cheer on MMR front
In some good news on the health front, India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) has dropped from 130 per lakh live births in 2014-16 to 97 per lakh live births in 2018-20, according to the Registrar General of India which issued a special bulletin last week. In another heartening development, eight states have surpassed the target set by the United Nations under the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 which aims at reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 1,00,000 live births. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have all surpassed this target. The Registrar General’s survey, however, also highlighted wide discrepancies in maternal mortality across the length and breadth of India. While MMR is lowest in Kerala at 19 per lakh live births, it is the highest in Assam at 195 per lakh live births. Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh also have high MMR. Under the National Rural Health Mission the government categorised states into three groups – Empowered Acton Group (EAG), southern states and ‘other’ states. EAG states comprise Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and Assam. The southern states are Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the ‘other’ states category covers the remaining states and Union territories.
India has witnessed a steady decline in MMR over the last two decades. This can largely be attributed to multiple government initiatives instituted over the past several years such as the Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram (JSSK) and more recently the Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan (PMSMA). The role of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) cannot be understated. Their wide network has ensured outreach to every pregnant woman to ensure her well-being. The proactive role of community health professionals in detecting high risk pregnancies has proved to be a boon in helping India reach a significant milestone in its journey towards good health for all citizens.
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