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On the Self-Immolation of Women Whose Names Were Not Recorded

By Elsa

Harasswatch⸻ I’m a woman born and raised in Zagros. More and more, I heard about a woman called Homa Darabi who protested against anti-women rules, such as the compulsory hijab, by self-immolation in February 1994. I heard of Sahar Khodayari, who also set herself aflame in September 2019. But I don’t even remember the name of the woman who set herself ablaze using petrol in a village close to ours. Despite that, I do remember what she went by.

I was in fourth grade. The year was 1997. Someone said, “Gaboo has set herself on fire”. My heart suddenly dropped: I remember her and her black locks that covered her face, her posture that always looked like she was half seated. I remember her red scarf with white dots that she kept fixing around her face. No one was too devastated or shocked; it was as if all the people of the village had secretly prayed for her death. The reason she let herself burn was the talk of the town until her Cheleh*. People would spread rumours, give bits of advice to others, ask for their own forgiveness from God, and move on.


               “She was pregnant.

               Her dad beat her up with the water hose.

               There was the smell of smoke in the air that night.

               We ran out of the house when we heard her mother’s scream.

               She was a ball of fire rolling around the farm.

               A man can get by all on his own, but what about a woman?

               After she set herself on fire, she did the same thing to the farm.

               No amount of water could put it out.”

I remember these garbled sentences. But Gaboo, 22-year-old Gaboo, was already buried in a small grave; a grave way smaller than her being. Her death wasn’t the end of anything but the loving breaths that she wanted to take for days to come; but here, they kill so that love doesn’t revolt.

This narrative was meant to paint a general picture of self-immolation as a protest against the social and political state. Homa Darabi’s protest gets plastered all over the media because she was an academic. She was a political activist who had risen against the compulsory hijab rule. After all, she had a place among social activists. Homa Darabi’s protest gains importance when it is brought from the home to the streets. She brings all she has read, seen, written, learned, taught, and lectured to the streets and stitches it into the fabric of the society. All of her burns but none of her is lost. Homa will always be the Iranian women.

Sahar Khodayari’s protest is also reflected in the media since she was a soccer fan, and a soccer fan can be anyone. She doesn’t want to see things through a middleman. She is observant. She is an explorer. She fights for her presence in forbidden places yet she is banned from living a free life. But not all of Sahar dies, Sahar remains possible in our dreams.

Nothing is ever heard of the women in Dishmok, Ilam, or South Khorasan who have committed self-immolation. When there is some reflection in the media of these women, it is limited only to rumors about their family feuds and personal matters. An image with a piece of sad music that only reminds people of the fright of living among the so-called barbarous.

               Now, remembering Gaboo.

               Why is she not remembered? Why did no one bring her a mirror?

Because where she set herself aflame, being honorable was everything. The commanders of Gaboo’s life were the headmen of the village, the elders, fathers, and brothers who had fed her. People who had brought her up and now she had to keep their honor. A group of people that believed a woman’s virginity, right up to her wedding night, is the very basis of their life and death. Now imagine the fruit of your love being fed in your womb. They went on to deny even this fragmentary reason for her death.

She didn’t set herself on fire because she was pregnant. She did it because she couldn’t tolerate the burden of this “sin”. She couldn’t bear the flogging, the constant reproach. As her family would say, she wouldn’t even have been able to walk to the garden without their permission after that. For years, law, as a connecting bridge between patriarchy and religion, has convicted Gaboo as a sinner, Homa as disobedient, and Sahar as unrestrained. Yet there was something different about Gaboo from Homa and Sahar: Gaboo never knew what great rebellion she had committed and how she had struck against a tyranny with her body. She didn’t want a mouth to even whisper her sin. She didn’t want her body caught in the dance of whips and lashes. Her sin was something that she couldn’t hide behind and so she wanted all of her burned.

She thought the whole world was just that small village and the names of the cities she had heard. With self-immolation, she wanted to set her mother, her father, her whole village, and finally the government free, by showing that Gaboo, the sinner, is dead. Gaboo never understood what fight she fought to regain her lost dignity. Her name was never mentioned anywhere in the media because people like Gaboo are denied from the streets, the bazaar, the library, and all non-familial gatherings. Because the only book Gaboos have is the story of their mothers, in which mothers can be replaced with daughters, the same torment, only different in their sense of solidarity.

However, one thing stands tall and in union in all three narratives:

Rebellion was made for the life that women were denied and freedom is a pallid word on the walls.

*Cheleh: A religious ceremony forty days after a person’s death.

The Burned Graveyard

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by Tanide