Campaign: Love Letter from a Friend - by Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
Dear World Pulse Friends,
The oppression of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran is significant to share the struggles met by women after the fall of the monarchy. The fundamentalists have created a regime of gender apartheid: a woman is nothing less then a shadow existing in society - her beliefs, intellect, freedom, association and expression, political belief, confidence and reliance are denounced by a patriarchal society - the best of human qualities are compromised, even, annihilated.
In the letter, I share expressions of a woman who refused to submit to social injustice, who pierced the precinct of patriarchal-religious subordination, seeking a right to live as a woman, a mortal. Her crime? She chose to 'speak' after the tongue's blood had dried from years of silence - incarceration is her narration - for those of us who walk liberally, unchained - are we to remain 'spectators' to the many massacres "fated" to women, or, are we to choose to be 'participants' and ignite dialogue to no longer accept being vilified for being a woman and claiming op-positional space, for resisting physical and psychological torture, of denigration for being a woman?
This letter ,from a woman in Tehran, Iran - a political prisoner is a fiction although its content is real . Names have been changed ,yet the existence of the characters are real.
- Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
Zendan Evin (Evin Prison)
4th day of December, 2013
My Dearest Shaheen-joon,
I hope you were able to finally get my diary in which I have been penning since my incarceration, some of my writings you may not be able to read clearly due to my health conditions at the time. Nevertheless, I am grateful that Taha, our dear friend from school days, came and visited me for ten minutes. After almost five months of not being permitted any visitors, he found a way to see me - guess he is a "man", after all, thus, much freedom.
Shaheen joon, on many vacant and empty nights, I think of our school days together - we were full of ideals and a great desire for education. You were amongst the fortunate ones to have left Isfahan and migrated abroad. I had no choice then to shift to Tehran, where I thought teaching would be a lucrative career for me. Little did I know what was awaiting for me. You must forgive my inarticulate thoughts for now -- I am nursing a very painful infection in my foot, which is in bad shape and no medicine has been administered to me for last two weeks.
I did get employment at the University of Tehran. That same year I got engaged to Jamsheed. Life was forming as I had fancied. One spring afternoon, a car pulled by where I was walking to the University - two men forced me into the jeep and interrogated me. They accused me of trying to "liberate" my students. Apparently, after an hour of driving, I was taken to a cell. A pasdar (guard) grabbed my arm and shouts to undress in-front of him. I resisted.
"Fine! Don't undress today, you will soon! You're here for a long time, you monafeq (non-believer) teaching your students to be courageous and to oppose violence! You will please not only me, but, many pasdars!"
The next day, is but a history I live and re-live each day in this cell. I was asked to pledge that I would never teach again if I wanted my freedom. I chose to stand by my beliefs. Shaheen-joon, that night was the longest day of my life....the chief prison guard dragged me to a dingy room, blindfolded me. I was beaten and raped by more then one man. Every night a woman is raped at this prison. Many a times they stare at me, searching my face for answers to their questions. And, silent friendships are formed, after all, it is the abode for the lonely, disconsolate souls, observing metamorphosis - our individual scars become our collective Aazaadi (freedom).
That night....the blood was not only mine, but, of the many women. In my wall to wall cell, I lay by a dull lamp. I think of my late mother and how much I wish she to be alive. I wonder if my father and bother back at Esfahan know what has been done to me? I wonder if my landlord has been notified? Apropos Jamsheed....he left me upon discovering that I did not surrender to the radicals and their ideology.
The blanket has a horrible stench, yet, I wrap myself in it. My eyes notices the writings on the blood-stained walls of my cell - I try to read but my body gives up from dehydration. Many days go by in this placid condition. Each day they call me for interrogation. They want information about other professors at the University. I say nothing.
This is the beginning of my diary, Shaheen-joon. After you read the entire journal, I hope, for the sake of our friendship of many years, that, you would stand by me in solidarity - to transcend the lines of my writings to every woman who may or may have not expressed the angry echo of death - death of a country, of a soul, of a body, of the tiniest breath, of subjugation evoking its horrors, its every emotion, its every vertebra. Shaheen-joon, by portraying a collective consciousness, together we can transmit the hopeful collective reconstruction of our lives stolen by patriarchal subjugation. I live only, only to demonstrate immense courage and survival, honour and dignity; I am a woman - this is my only beautiful reality. I am incarcerated because I chose to be the voice of countless women. Yes, exiled melancholy and profound wounds reign through my raw and ripe nerves, but, one of my most remarkable traits is my resilient self -- that in this small wall-to-wall cell, I am still 'free', for, I have a voice, a pen - at this hour transfiguring blood into ink; and, one day I shall be able to add a single syllable to this existence. A woman knows her strength....
My full diary records the time spent in this cell. I await our meeting, my dear Shaheen-joon. May we be united in good times soon. Ensha-allah. (God-willing!).
your 'exiled' friend (sounds right!),
note: joon meaning - Persian endearing / honourable word used in addressing a closed one.