Our Codename is Jina
On September 13, Mahsa Zhina Amini was arrested by Iran's morality police for wearing her veil the wrong way. On September 16, she died under suspicious circumstances. This was the start of the protest wave that is now seen in Iran and all over the world. The Royal Dramatic Theatre, Sweden's national theatre and PEN/Opp organized a program dedicated to Iranian poets and writers, as well as free speech on October 22. The program consisted of readings of texts from Iran, panel discussions and singing. The texts that were read are newly written and up-to-date, specially prepared for this event. PEN/Opp publishes these texts under the name "Women's Life Freedom - Voices from a Rebellion". All the texts we publish have been written in the last two months.
Today is Monday. Jina is already buried, and her name has become our codename. Every fibre in my body longs to get out into the streets. But you have locked the door and will not allow me to go. You are afraid I won’t come back.
I cry; I shout.
F phones me: “We kicked him and threw him in a ditch.”
We take the footbridge to reach the street on the other side where our friends have built fires. It is ten o’clock on this Saturday night. Never have we felt such tangible power in our hands. With some help from the boys, we move the concrete blocks to the middle of the street; we need to block the street so that their motorbikes cannot pass through.
We wrap our headscarves around our waists, which helps to strengthen us. This is something I learnt from the Kurdish carriers who illegally transport food over the mountainous areas between Iran and Iraq.
The smoke from the fires sweeps around our billowing hair. I am checking on T so that she won’t do anything foolhardy.
We are under attack. We are running. I must make sure not to lose my friends. We need to stay together. I am fighting for the freedom of each of my friends.
They attack again. We run faster. We are holding on to one another.
“Are you still alive?”
“We are fine. We are merely severely bruised.”
I am five years old. They have given me a present for having begun to wear a headscarf before the others. I am playing with the boys when she takes me aside and says:
“Now that you are wearing a headscarf you need to think more about how you behave”.
Hereby my childhood is denied me and hurled right into the centre of her worldview.
Teargas. We run towards the car. The air in the car suffocates me. I climb out again. With frightened but determined steps I zigzag my way among the cars in the street. We are waving our scarves in the air and shouting: “Woman. Life. Freedom.”
“Raha, turn around!” M shouts.
As I do so I see that there are many more people joining us. They are shooting at us from the footbridge. Shouting is heard. One of our friends has been shot in the head.
“It’s fine. I am ok. Keep moving.”
I am nine years old. Since a few days back mother has been busy with some preparations. I have never seen her this happy. My Uncle the baker has come home to us and is singing.
Knock, knock. On the front door.
“Need I wear my scarf or not?”
I am now a big girl; I now think before I rush off and do things.
I am eleven. I have just started my periods. I am surrounded by female relatives.
“You are unclean for seven days. You are unclean.”
I am fourteen.
“Take off your earrings; they have an arousing effect.”
“But I am wearing them under my scarf.”
I am fifteen.
“Pull your head scarf forward, button the lower buttons of your coat.”
I am sixteen.
When mother is not there I dance with my grandfather. I dance and I go astray among the flowers on my headscarf. I dance and am intoxicated by my mother’s stern look. Since that day until today—until “Woman. Life. Freedom” - no wine in the world has managed to intoxicate me in the same way.
I am eighteen. They won’t let me in on the university campus since my coat is too short. I am forced to sign a paper where I promise that it will never happen again.
I am twenty. I shout out my human rights in silence. They put me in handcuffs. They hang a name sign around my neck and photograph me.
“You are now in our register. Next time you will not get away with this.”
They push me down the stairs. I lose my balance. My body shakes at the thought of S who is only sixteen and whom they have thrown into isolation.”
Now on Valiasr Square. There are security forces everywhere. We have gathered in a corner. They approach us and want to drive us away.
“Don’t be afraid! Join us! Don’t be afraid,” I hear from several people.
With our headscarves - our only weapon - in our hands, we walk right past them. One of the boys holds out a box of chewing gum and says:
“Take one; it is a symbolic gesture.”
“Is it supposed to represent the cup of martyrdom?” I banter.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says.
We start walking in the same direction but keep our distance. They attack us. We run. They shoot teargas. Our eyes smart. Ra-ta-ta-ta. “Come on friends, don’t be afraid.”
I am twenty-one. I have taken off my headscarf. My grandfather is no longer smiling the way he usually does. Instead, he slaps my face.
“In this house we are modest.”
This is the same grandfather who used to hug us.
So, I decide that my grandfather is now dead to me.
We are behind the Sharif University.
“Don’t go near the university; stay here friends.”
There are many of us. Really many. The cars are tooting continuously. We move towards the middle of the street waving our weapons (our headscarves) and shouting: “Woman. Life. Freedom.”
An older woman takes off her scarf and brandishes it in the air. She is like a mother to us all. The security forces arrive. Ra-ta-ta-ta. We run into a small alley. The shop owners tell us it is a cul-de-sac. Everyone knows that the route to freedom goes via the streets and not via a cul-de-sac.
We reunite again a few blocks further along and shout: “Woman. Life. Freedom.” But now we find ourselves face to face with the security forces. And instead of waving our scarves we have stones in our hands. The older ones have gathered stones for us to use. Several capsules of tear gas find their way in amongst us. The boys pick them up and throw them back at the police. We are moving in on them step by step. They are running while shooting teargas at us. F is breathing heavily and is helped by two others who take her along to a medical clinic. M has been hit by several plastic bullets - in the head. S’s hands are full of stones. She wants to defend herself when the police go to attack. T can hardly breathe and is squeezing my hand hard. She has been looking out for me all day and says over and over:
“I can’t imagine even a second of freedom without you.”
Our friends have built small fires here and there along the street. All over people are setting the rubbish bins alight and provoking the police who finally go to attack. Our stones hurtle through the air. The birds are hit by their plastic bullets. I see one bird plummet to the ground. I move in on it. Stone dead. The name of the bird becomes our codename.
November 13, 2019. I am thirty years old. It is snowing in Teheran. Lightly and slowly. They are killing our brothers in the streets, brutally and unscrupulously. Our brothers’ blood has been shed in Southern Iran. “Fields of reeds” is our codename.
I am still thirty. They have killed 176 members of our group. Mumbling “Don’t shoot” and “Why?” I seek relief in nature and in pills. Every day at least one of us is killed, someone whose name becomes a codename.
I am thirty-three. I have been out in the streets for a week. I blast my horn. They are attacking us, and they shoot one of us in the temple. He sinks down onto the ground in front of my car and before I can catch my breath a few by-passers stop to help. I press the horn and cry. Further up the road a war is going on. The street is full of scattered stones. Stones are number two on our list of weapons. I toot and shout:
“Woman. Life. Freedom.”
I ride home and keep shouting our slogan through the window. Our neighbours, who have also had enough of this regime, join me in the shouting.
Now on Enghelab Street (Revolution Street). Nobody is wearing their headscarves. We are all free. The police abound, but we outnumber them. Freedom - of the bitterest and most wonderful kind - can be discerned in our eyes and in our smiles that we share with one another.
We gather around a busker. A few older women begin to dance. We clap our hands and shout:
“Woman. Life. Freedom.”
The security forces attack us and shoot into the crowd. Ra-ta-ta-ta. We run and although we don’t know each other we grasp each other’s hands. We keep running in protest of everything that has been forbidden all these years.
In Daneshjo Park (the Students’ Park) near the City Theatre, we split up. The park symbolizes all these years of state prohibition: forbidden voices, forbidden images, forbidden clothes, and forbidden thoughts.
We are running and keep shouting: “Woman. Life. Freedom.”
The loud noise of the gunshots follows us. The sharp smell of gunpowder and smoke.
I am not feeling well; I am tired … I am full of hope.
Suddenly a sharp sting from a plastic bullet. I am hopeful: it cannot hurt, I must manage to walk, I must get ahead, I feel nauseous … I am hopeful.
I need to be prepared for the events on Saturday.
We have our weapons in our hands, we smile and try to inspire courage in our friends.
Friends, I am home …
I feel great …
I promised you I would not die - and I am still alive.