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The Altering Dynamics Of Indo-Iran Relationship: China’s Assertiveness In The Middle East

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Indo- Iran Relationship: Perceiving It From The Prism Of The Past

The Indo-Iranian relationship has to be perceived from the lens of a changing world-dynamic, where the United States of America shared a bilateral relationship with Iran. The former had supplied military equipment in exchange for hard currency. This oil crisis that occurred due to the Arab-Israel War of 1973 paved the way for the development of economic ties with Tehran. India was not able to withstand the soaring prices of oil, her economy was deteriorating, Iran agreed to supply crude oil at a subsidized rate.

1969, therefore, has been termed as a watershed when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi visited New Delhi to establish an Indo-Iran Joint Commission for Trade, Economic as well as Technical Co-operation. It was the economic sphere that saw the crystallization of such a relationship with Indian exports soaring up to Rs.102 million in 1967-68 and Rs. 214.6 million during 1968-69. [1]

Iran President Hassan Rouhani and Indian PM Narendra Modi during BRICS Summit

However, in 1971, Iran emerged as a protector of the Persian Gulf littoral when she occupied Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tumbs with the United States strengthening her strategic linkage and reinforcing this deed. India developed a strategic relationship with the Soviet Union as she needed her support if Pakistan attacked that led India to take such a drastic move. India ‘s aspiration to become an Indian Ocean power counters Shah’s ambition of the same.

Relationships strained between New Delhi and Tehran as Pakistan propaganda talked of a looming Indian threat in the Pakistan residual state, increasing Iran’s anxiety about its vulnerability. Nonetheless, both Pakistan and Iran shared a Baluchi population, therefore any incitement to the Baluchi movement would have repercussions for Iran as well. As a result, the activities of the Baluchi insurgents was curbed as well as the National Awami Party were abolished. Nonetheless, Richard Nixon’s abutment of Pakistan in the 1971 war made India believe that Iran was not independent of its actions and was interpreted as a conduit for America’s own self-interests. [2]

The importance of the Tehran Declaration signed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Iran’s former President, Muhammad Khatami, laid the foundation for mutual cooperation between these two emerging global powers, focused mainly on energy and commercial concerns and the will and commitment to developing the North-South transport corridor for the movement of goods through Central Asia, Russia and Northern Europe.

It was in 2003 that the New Delhi Declaration was signed, which witnessed the development of the Chabahar route through Melak, Zaranj and Delaram, the key signatories being Afghanistan, Iran and India. This not only opened an alternate route for Afghanistan to the Iranian port but reduced the dependency of the former on Pakistan for trade. The Memorandums of Understanding signed in Tehran declared the construction of warship repair facilities at the port of Chabahar as well as consigning Indian engineers to Iran for the maintenance of T-72 Tanks. [3]

The repetition of a strenuous relationship between India and Iran occurred during 2005 when the former had voted against the latter at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The warship program deployed in the Persian Gulf was a turning point as India negotiated with Oman and UAE, retreating from the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Nonetheless, India held Iran accountable due to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), IAEA and United Nations Security Council guidelines, insisting Iran to address these significant issues for the satisfaction of the International community.

Her relationship with the world’s superpower, USA was well aware of the substantial gains in Iran, in terms of military ties, counter-terrorism and the defence trade that expounded to 3 billion worth.  The economic sanctions, on the other hand, would have its impact on the energy security and trade relations which makes India conscious of her equities in with Iran.

According to Jassep de Hoop, Iran has the prowess to handle Pakistan’s instability. India has cooperated with Iran on upgrading  Russia- supplied weapon system as well as in military equipment and spare parts, with Iran allowing India to access to its military bases in the event of war with Pakistan. This would indeed have implications in the alteration of regional relations in favour of India, as opined by Sujata Aishwarya Cheema.[4]

However, due to the changing contours of foreign policy after Donald Trump’s victory, has antagonized relations between both the USA and Iran. Trump continues to be a critique of the nuclear deal, accusing Iran of harming the former’s interests in the Middle East, opining her as a state that harnesses terrorism. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has ruthlessly been critiqued as it allowed Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability. The aim of signing the deal had been to restrict Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities. USA does not wish to renew the SRE(s), implying that India must stop buying oil from Iran.

It was in 2010 that the Foreign Secretary of India, Nirupama Rao in a speech stated the disapproval of New Delhi in the imposition of additional sanctions by individual countries against the Islamic Republic’s energy sector. Such a stance reasserted India’s intent of continuing her bilateral relations irrespective of the détente that USA and Iran possess. The visit of the Iranian Prime Minister, Javad Zarif to discuss with the External Foreign Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj is of immense significance as Iran aimed to convince India of the scope of continuing business with her. The USA-Iran relationship will also have its bearing on India as she oscillates between both these countries who are of strategic importance.[5]

Iran has decided to enter into an entente with China as the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership highlights.

Contestation In The Middle East: China and India

However, Iran has recently declared that it does not wish to engage with India anymore in the establishment of the Chabahar port that is a direct linkage to Afghanistan. It has been stated that India had invested an amount of $150 million in the Chabahar project in the last 10 years as she believed that the diplomatic relationship between her and Iran would flourish. Sino- Indian relationship has deteriorated after China violated the Line of Actual Control in Galwan Valley.

It has resulted in contestation for influence over the Middle East, whereby Iran has decided to enter into an entente with China as the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership highlights. This partnership can be regarded as a deal-breaker for China as she would now be able to receive oil from Iran. Her stronghold over Iran has only strengthened after the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the ground of which was laid in 2016 by President Xi Jinping.


India’s objective is to be recognized as a global power with a decisive voice in international affairs. To her, consolidating her presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia are necessary, with Tehran playing a pivotal role in this endeavour. Loss of hold over the Persian Gulf will only jeopardize New Delhi’s foreign policy in South-West Asia.


  1. Pant, Harsh. V. ‘India and Iran: An “Axis” In The Making? ‘, Asian Survey, Vol.44, No.3 (2004)
  2. Pant, Harsh. V. ‘India and Us-Iran Imbroglio: Difficult Choices Ahead’, Indian Journal Of Asian Affairs, Vol. 19, No.1 (2006)
  3. Rahman, Khalid. ‘India- Iran Relationship and Current Regional Dynamics’, Policy Perspectives,  Vol. 7, No.2 (2010)
  4. Cheema, Sujata Aishwarya. ‘Indo- Iran Relations: Progress, Challenges and Prospects’, India Quarterly, Vol. 66, No.4 (2010)
  5. Mumtaz, Kashif. ‘Changing Patterns of Iran- India Relations’, Strategic Studies, Vol.26, No.2 (2006)
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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