Kashf-e hijab (Persian: کشف حجاب Unveiling) is an era in Iran's history. On 8 January 1936, pro-Western autocratic ruler Rezā Shāh issued a decree banning all veils (headscarf and chador) abruptly, swiftly and forcefully. The government also banned many types of male traditional clothing, claiming that "Westerners now wouldn’t laugh at us".
To enforce this decree, the police were ordered to physically remove the veil from any woman who wore it in public. Women were beaten, their headscarves and chadors torn off, and their homes forcibly searched. Until Reza Shah's abdication in 1941, many women simply chose not leave their houses in order to avoid such embarrassing confrontations, and a few even committed suicide. A far larger escalation of violence occurred in the summer of 1935 when Reza Shah ordered all men to wear European-style bowler hats, which was Western par excellence. This provoked massive non-violent demonstrations in July in the city of Mashhad, which were brutally suppressed by the army, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100 to 5,000 people (including women and children).
Western historians state that this would have been a progressive step if women had indeed chosen to do it themselves, but instead this ban humiliated and alienated many Iranian women, since its effect was comparable to a hypothetical situation in which European women were suddenly ordered to go out topless into the street. Historians often point that Reza Shah’s ban on veiling and his policies are unseen even in Atatürk's Turkey, and some scholars state that it is very difficult to imagine that even Hitler's or Stalin's regime would do something similar. The arbitrary decree by Reza Shah was criticized even by British consul in Tehran:
Next to their daily bread, what affects the people most widely is what touches the code of social habit that, in Islam, is endorsed by religion. Among Muslims the Iranians are not a fanatical people. The unveiling of women inaugurated in the preceding year attacks the people’s social conservatism as much as their religious prejudice. Above all, like conscription, it symbolizes the steady penetration into their daily lives of an influence that brings with it more outside interference, more taxation. But one can easily exaggerate the popular effect of unveiling; it is a revolution for the well-to-do of the towns, but lower down the scale, where women perform outdoor manual labour, its effects both on habit and on the family budget diminish until among the tribal folk of all degrees they are comparatively slight. Hence resistance among the greater part of the people has been passive, and, where existing, has manifested itself in reluctance of the older generation to go abroad in the streets. It is one thing to forbid women to veil; it is another thing to make them mingle freely with men
Later, official measures relaxed slightly under next ruler Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and wearing of the headscarf or chador was no longer an offence, but for his regime it became a significant hindrance to climbing the social ladder as it was considered a badge of backwardness and an indicator of being a member of the lower class. Discrimination against the women wearing the headscarf or chador was still widespread with public institutions actively discouraging their use, and some eating establishments refusing to admit women who wore them. This period is characterized by the dichotomy between a small minority who considered wearing the headscarf as a sign of backwardness and the vast majority who considered it progressive. Despite all legal pressures, obstacles and discriminations, the largest proportion of the Iranian women continued to wear headscarves or chadors, contrary to the widespread opposite claims. Earlier in the mid-1930s, only four thousand out of 6.5 million Iranian women ventured into public places without veils, almost all in Tehran and consisting mainly of Western-educated daughters of the upper class, foreign wives of recent returnees from Europe, and middle-class women from the minorities.
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