IRAN: Mothers in prison suffer with separation from children
Mansoureh Shojaee – WNN Opinion
(WNN) Tehran, IRAN: It was in November 2011 when I called Mehraveh on her birthday. What I wanted to ask was if she has found a chance to talk to her mother in private and have a conversation about the matters that girls entering their adolescence crave to talk about, but instead I told her if she needs some vitamins, she should let me know.
A few times in the course of our short conversations I had an urge to tell her that once in a night filled with solitude and strange feeling of crossing a border at the threshold of the menopause, I was thinking of her and her feeling of entering womanhood, but instead I uttered something quite irrelevant and asked of her past. Her answers were not still feminine enough.
It was One night in early summer 2010, I went to Iran-Mehr Hospital to visit my friend Nargess Mohammadi. She was lying half conscious in bed. It seemed she wanted to say something . I went closer and bent to hear her better. She could hardly speak. “I gave birth to Kiana through caesarean section. I had plenty of stitches over my belly, but when I had her in my arms, the warmth of her little body was a soothing balm on my wounds.
But when she has surgery and we brought her home from hospital with so many stitches on her little belly, I could not stay near her and soothe her wounds. That night, I was arrested. I had to leave my little girl alone and leave for prison …” Before she became totally unconscious, she repeated a few times: “I was inconsiderate.” I wanted to tell her that she was not heedless, we had many “Khoullies (a word used to describe a child murderer)” in our stories, but I said something else and tried to calm her and soothe her by expressing my love and admiration for her. My affectionate words did not suffice to calm her wounded and disturbed soul, but made my own tears run!
Prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh
A lonely adolescent girl and her need for safety found in her mother ‘s bosom full of love and compassion.
In this tableau we see the picture of plenty of children such as Mehraveh who are left along, barred from having the motherly love they need.
From an ideological point of view, this separation is not so saddening. It may even be considered honourable. Most of the times aunts, uncles and other relatives fill up the emptiness created by their absence and try to make up for it by their extra care and attention. But what is violated is the children’s right to the unconditional safety and security of the presence of mothers in their life. But what could make up for the missing womanly talks of mothers for the young girls at verge of entering their womanhood?
However sincere and loving these attentions may be, they may not be of great help. Family and friends are expressing their love and care, Mehraveh may need something beyond that, something like discipline and words of advice too. Indeed too much of this love and compassion may cause confusion as well.
I do not appear so well in this tableau, either. Feeling down already by being away from my own family and circle of friends, I hurriedly asked Mehraveh scattered question. I felt embarrassed when she responded to all of them so demurely and even-tempered.
However, what is the most bothersome is the judgement made about these mothers in prison. “A mother who was always in a glass room,” said Guita, one of the children whose mother was in prison during the horrifying period of the eighties. Oddly enough, some of these judgments are the result of mild and sometimes even humorous comments by friends and relatives who meant to alleviate the burden of sadness.
The irony is that when the prisoner is the father and he resorts to a hunger strike to gain his basic rights, society never emphasises his fatherly role or his responsibilities towards his family. It has never been the case to ask him to break end his strike just for the sake of his family obligations. But when it comes to women prisoners, they are always reminded that they have other duties and obligations besides their political cause.
When Nasrin Sotoodeh resorted to a hunger strike or when she refused to use his visiting rights just to protest against the violations done to her even as a prisoner, the roar of judgments rose to remind her of her motherly role and its priority over her political and human rights struggle.
Even though Mehraveh was under the care and educations of parents such as Nasrin Sotoodeh and Reza Khandan, she was neither too young not to be affected by these judgments and nor old enough to arrive at an analysis of her own. I wonder what would happen to children like Mehraveh. How would she feel when she hears these kinds of criticism of her mother who did not give up her rights for her daughter’s sake.
The personality of Nasrin Sotoodeh, both as a mother and as an activist, is unique in its lofty valour. Only those equipped with the virtues of tolerance, ethics, and love of freedom could recognize and appreciate her true value. But in this unjust society, where mother and child are both equally ignored, are the children of Nasrin entitled to any children rights given to them under the convention of children’s rights? To what degree could the institutions that defend children’s right have supported the Nasrins and Mehraves in their hardship? Should not these institutions have protested Nasrin’s imprisonment as a sort of violation against her children’s rights? And shouldn’t they start a serious movement to prevent such violations?
Prisoner Narges Mohammadi
The tragic separation of Narges Mohammadi from her sick child, her severe unidentified illness, her feelings of guilt caused by the cruelty of security forces, was driving her to verge of madness.
A mother who is forced to leave her sick child and go to prison, a mother who has to spend dark and dreadful nights in the loneliness of her solitary confinement worrying for her daughter, has to use all her resources just to bear the burden of all these pressure. Though the body could not tolerate the massive weight of all these pressures. Such pictures could be only imagined when the cruel hunters who have no pity for the frightened lonely gazelle when trapping the mother deer. How could the advocate of children’s rights stand by and witness such hunting scene unaffected?
When Nargess was returned home, she was totally ill in body and soul. How could they have separated her from her sick child, the most sensitive time for both of them?
Children’s rights aside, what has happened to Nargass in this picture? Being separated for her children, in addition to the regular pressures one has to endure in prison, exacerbated by the unfair comments and judgements thrown at her, are so sickening that after being released form the prison what is left of her is a trembling body and a crushed soul. Now she has to fulfill her motherly and family obligations along with all her humanitarian and social commitments.
A Difficult Road
For years, women and mothers who seek equality, entangled in a web of “heedlessness” walk in a difficult road towards a “heedful world,” bearing the cross of womanhood, motherhood, and activism single-handedly over their fragile shoulders, calmly and patiently. And it is for years that the children of the women in prison in a constant struggle against the hostile propaganda, aiming to destroy their picture of their mothers, try to depict the picture of their own mothers for their own. That resembles the picture of a “ little sad pariah” the each night, with her kind kiss is sent to sleep so in the labyrinths of her tales to reach the same difficult road, and in each little step relive the experience of their mothers just a little further and make their own world.
(Special note: Mehraveh and Nima are Nasrin Sotoudeh’s children. Ali and Kiana are Nasges Mohammadi’s children).
Mansoureh Shojaee is a leading activist and human rights defender in Iran as well as a scholar, translator and one of the founding members of the One Million Signatures Campaign; a campaign that went door to door throughout Tehran to gather one million signatures from people who still believe in human rights and women’s rights in Iran. Shojaee also helped to create the Iran Women’s Museum with Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Women’s Cultural Centre Iran and the Sediqeh Dowlatabadi Library. Arrested numerous times for her work in speaking out about human rights abuse in Iran, Shojaee has not been allowed to leave the Iran for the last 3 years.
This text has been translated by Mina Siegel.
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