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Me and the Campaign on Vozara Street: A Laugh at a Chaotic Situation

Wednesday 29 August 2007


By: Raheleh Asgarizadeh

Translated by: SZ

When Lyda left, we were all quiet……. We were thinking about her ill-fated marriage and her silence in facing the separation…… When we passed Haft Hoz Bookstore, we saw the members of the security forces surrounded by a crowd of people. Ehsan told me jokingly: "They are going to arrest you now." I was wearing no make up and I was distressed, my mind still occupied with Lyda’s black eye. So, I laughed. A chador-clad policewoman came charging towards me and said: "Come with me for a few moments."

Further up, a man in civilian clothes was videotaping and passers-by, carrying cell phones, were taking photographs. I protested and said that I would not get into the van. The security forces member standing next to me said: "We won’t do you any harm; it’s just a warning."

I raised my voice a little and said: "If it’s just a warning, then you can give me the warning right here." The camera zoomed on me. I told the video taper to stop filming me. A tall man with a massive beard told the video taper in a commanding tone not to cause any trouble. The policewoman seized the opportunity and said: "Please cooperate. I am just doing my job; it’s not my fault. It’s gotten a little out of control around here today. These gentlemen are all generals and because of the presence of reporters they are being very strict. Please don’t make a scene. Get into the van and sign the form saying that you won’t do this again." I answered: "I won’t get into the van. Bring the form here and I will fill it out and sign it." A young tall police captain came towards me impatiently and asked: "Why don’t you get into the van?" The policewoman intervened and said: "I will resolve the situation, sir." She then told me: "Why don’t you get in? If you don’t get in, they will make you get in by using force. I don’t want to see any trouble. Do you think anything would change if you make a scene?" I replied: "You’ve said all you had to say, but I won’t board the van." She answered back: "Why?" I said: "I don’t trust you." She asked with surprise: "You don’t trust the police!?" I replied: "No! Would you trust the police if you were in my shoes?" She said: "Come along. Please do what I say. Just come with me so you won’t be in front of their cameras. I promise that nothing bad will happen."

I took a look around. Three policewomen…… A mob of spectators! Cameras in action……. The flash of a digital camera of a man passing by….. Video camera, about five non-commissioned officers in police uniforms, three soldiers, and most interesting of all, two tall huge men with massive beards and angry looks on their faces sent shivers to all passers-by. I boarded the van. Two other women boarded with me as well. I asked the woman who had asked me to board: "Well! What should I do now?"

- Call home so they can bring you an appropriate manteau.

- All my manteaus look like this.

- Why?

- Because it’s hot. It’s summer. Summer clothing should be like this.
The policewoman, who had reached the end of her rope with me, took a look outside and said: "I know what you mean. But your manteau is too short. Its sleeves are short, too. If I let you off here in front of the crowd, there will be trouble. Wait until we get to the other side of the plaza so that no one will notice."

The woman who was next to me was not in the police forces uniform. You could see traces of fear deep in her eyes. She kept insisting that I should not make a scene. Meanwhile, they made two other girls board the van. Both of them were wearing long manteaus and were covering their hair with maghnaehs (the standard Islamic Republic-approved headscarf). Their tired faces showed that they were coming from work. The policewoman asked: "Who arrested these two?"

The girl was shouting and yelling: "I didn’t go to school and study all these years just to be forced to board these vehicles like thieves and murderers in front of the people."

Her voice was heard outside the van and on the orders of one of the men in civilian clothes, the van driver took his seat behind the wheel. I asked: "Can you tell me what article of the law defines the standards for hejab? This is a matter of one’s taste. What is considered bad hejab in your view may not be so in someone else’s view." The man who was sitting in front of the van replied: "It is obvious, madam. It shouldn’t be too short and the fabric shouldn’t be too thin." I answered back: "But that is so general."

The girl started screaming again and the van took off, escorted by an Elegance police car. In protest, I asked the woman accompanying me: "Where are we going?"

- Vozara Street!

- But you told me that you’d let me off on the other side of the plaza!

- I know. We always trick people into boarding the van by saying this. I am new to this unit, too. I swear to God I was an administrative staff. I have a degree in psychology. Can’t you see I’m not wearing a uniform? I didn’t know they were going to take you to Vozara Street."

I took a look at the crowd…….. I used to say that if they ever arrest me I’ll shout and scream. But a strange sense of indifference had taken over me. I was thinking that screaming would do no good and it would only wreck my nerves. On the other hand, contact with my friends who are always present on the scene, had made me so engaged in this issue that the only thing I was thinking about was that I would finally get to see the inside of the notorious Vozara Street headquarters.

On the way to Vozara, we saw two young girls waiting for a taxi. The girl who had been screaming shouted: "Go ahead and arrest these two girls if you dare! I challenge you!"

The driver slammed on the brakes and they all got off. I held the hand of the woman sitting next to me and said: "Why are you so mean? What wrong have they done to you? Leave them alone." The woman looked at me and suddenly turned around and told the girl who was screaming: "Get off! Be quick! Get off before my colleagues bother you."
The girl shouted: "That would be the last thing I’d do; getting off the police van on the street. Do you think I am a street-walker?"

I said: "Come on, dear! Go ahead and get off. Do you want to go all the way to Vozara?"

The girl’s friend started pushing her and tried to make her get off. Meanwhile, the officer who was riding in the Elegance forced the two girls who had been waiting for a taxi to board the van. The van driver pulled out.

I asked the two women sitting next to me: "Do they search the purses at the Vozara headquarters?"

- No. What have you got?

- Forms. The forms used to gather signatures.

One of the women asked: "The form that you used to collect one million signatures?"

- It hasn’t reached one million yet.

- Can you let me read one?

I looked at the woman. Something inside told me not to be careless. But an evil thought crossed my mind for a moment. What would be better than getting rid of the forms and the booklets before reaching Vozara?

I gave her a signed form. She kept reading and from time to time she would show something to her colleague. She asked: "Is it true what they say that Mr. Khomeini’s granddaughter supports this?"

- Yes! Even regarding issues such as blood money (diah), Ayatollah Fazel Maybodi is in agreement with us.

- The issues of blood money (diah) and inheritance are really important. Why didn’t you have a demonstration this year?

I was confused. I didn’t know what to answer. The incessant screaming of the girls on the van had messed up my mind.

- Well, anyhow, we are reaching for a goal. What’s important is changing these laws. One method is not always the answer. We have to try different ways.

- My cousins had gone to Laleh Park in Esfand (February) this year, but they said nothing was happening. Now, can you give me a blank form so that I can collect signatures?

I took back the signed form from her and gave her a blank form and a booklet.

- Can you give me your phone number, too?

- No!

- Why? Who should I give the completed forms to?

- Because you lied to me and I don’t trust you anymore. You can send the forms to the P.O. Box listed at the bottom of the page.

She smiled reluctantly and put her head down. Her colleague who was a petite woman said calmly: "They won’t bother you there. This is a continuation of the campaign against bad hejab. They’ll ask you to sign a letter stating that you’ll observe appropriate hejab and then they’ll let you go.

When I saw the gate of the parking of Vozara headquarters, I was reminded of last Esfand (February) and the 33 people who had been brought here because of their shared belief and taking collective action. Things were in a state of chaos in the courtyard of Vozara headquarters. They had arrested a few people before us and had sent them to the amphitheater. The woman who had been talking to me on the van took me aside and said: "Call home to ask them to bring you a manteau so that you can get out before it gets crowded here.

Meanwhile, a few other vans arrived. About 15 girls with manteaus and ordinary simple scarves were added to our crowd. Stress and worry……. Crying……. Protest and supplication…… And the yelling of the tall angry man who every so often would turn to one of the girls and say things like: "Who gave you permission to wear such a tight manteau? Well, you have to buy a larger size. Or…….. At least tuck the part of your hair that’s showing under your scarf. And then call your mother or father to come here. And……"

We were being called into the "consultation" room one by one. Three psychologists who were in the consultation room would consult with us by asking strange questions such as our profession, our level of income, our place of residence, and why we had chosen to dress the way we had!

One of them asked: "Why are you wearing this kind of manteau?"

- Because it looks nice! I like it. It’s cool. It’s just a matter of taste. For example, if you don’t take it as an insult, I don’t like your manteau.

She answered: "Well, you are not wearing a manteau like mine anyway."

- Well, I think it just doesn’t look nice!

- But it is not in line with the norms of the society.

- On the contrary, it is.

She wrote down something and then said: "We’ve run out of forms. Go to the door and tell Mr. Zamani to let you go. I went to the door. The person in charge of the door was annoyed and was yelling in objection as to why the girls with bad hejab were scattered all over the hall and no one was controlling them. On the other hand, as soon as he took notice of me he yelled again: "And who arrested this one?!" I laughed. I told him: "Never mind that now; I just want to leave." He answered: "Very well. Where is the copy of the form letter promising that you’ll never dress inappropriately again?" I replied: "I don’t have one. They ran out of forms." The staff was hurriedly going from one room to another. They seemed to have lost their patience. The officer in charge of answering the concerns of the families, because he was incapable of providing any answers, asked everyone to sit down. He announced: "There is no problem. We’ve run out of forms." A girl wearing a chador, sounding worried, told the young man behind the desk: "I am …..’s roommate in the dorm. I’ve come to pick her up." The official in charge told the officer at the door: "It’s OK. Let her go. See what’s happening here. Call her dorm and if she is telling the truth, let her go."

And then he went back to the rest of the worried and nervous families.

I took a look at the wall. A poster issued by the Ideological-Political Division of the Police Forces was hanging on the wall. The writing on the poster began with the sentence "When God bestows his kindness upon one of his subjects, he will put people’s needs in his hands."

An hour has passed. Everyone is tired. Some are crying quietly and others are recounting how they were arrested. And I am still waiting for the form. There was a piece of paper taped on the wall of the amphitheater that warned everyone that according to Article 638 of the law, having bad hejab is a crime and the punishment for not having the canonical hejab is 10 days to 2 months of imprisonment or a monetary fine ranging from 50,000-500,000 Rls (roughly $6-$60).

Finally, one of the women in a green uniform comes to the amphitheater and puts the pledge forms in front of me. I start writing my first name, last name, time of arrest, etc. ….. There is now a power outage. We are led to the "religious guidance" room and the religious guidance "experts" are wondering who to talk to. They decide to make it easy for themselves and announce: "Those who haven’t received religious guidance yet, stay on this side of the table; others go to the other side of the table." I couldn’t help letting out a nervous laugh in the midst of all this chaos and noise. The wasted time, being insulted for wearing what I had chosen to wear, and worst of all, lack of any semblance of coordination in this place……. A female official passes by me and abruptly asks: "Did you get yourself arrested on purpose?"

- No. Do you think I have such a sick mind to do that to myself?

She looks at me incredulously and says: "Well, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with your hejab and appearance. And you keep taking notes and seem to be relaxed!"

I laugh again. I am reminded of the good old days in college and our general math instructor who used to call me the "laughing girl" because of my badly timed laughing outbursts in class.

I don’t know whether it was because of the crowdedness or because of my simple and somewhat disheveled appearance that they called me without having to wait for my turn. And without requiring the presence of the family, they put a sheet of paper in front of me and told me to put my fingerprint on it and go!

When I was leaving the Vozara headquarters, I was thinking about a 20-21 year old girl who was wearing a long baggy jean skirt and tennis shoes and was wearing no makeup. Having lost her temper, she was saying: "I was arrested as soon as I walked out of the gate of the Saad Abad Museum. I could not understand at all what happened that caused me to end up here."

Read the article in its original Farsi

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