The Big Story: In bad faith
Consider this. The Supreme Court has directed the National Investigation Agency to probe the alleged conversion of a Hindu woman in Kerala. Twenty four-year-old Akhila Ashokan, also known as Hadiya Shefin, a homoeopathic trainee, was allegedly forced to convert to Islam before getting married to a Muslim man called Shefin Jahan. Her father, Ashokan KM, a retired military man, reportedly claimed his daughter had been trapped by a “well-oiled systematic mechanism” for conversion and Islamic radicalisation. Earlier, the Kerala High Court had annulled the marriage.
The circumstances of the case – whether the marriage and the conversion were forced, the nature of the organisation that was involved – are not yet clear and will be established, no doubt, through investigations. But there is something troubling about the way the case has been handled so far.
First, why exactly is the National Investigation Agency, a counter-terror organisation, involved in probing an inter-religious marriage? The Supreme Court had earlier directed the police to share details of the case with the agency, which then claimed that this was not an isolated case, there was a “growing pattern” of Hindu women being converted to Islam. Does it suggest that religious conversions, which may have been voluntary, should automatically be viewed as part of a script that includes terror and violence?
Handing over the case to the agency, at least at this stage, gives weight to that favourite bugbear of the Hindu right, “love jihad”. For the last few years, Hindutva groups have thrived on this lurid plot, of Muslim men “luring” away women away from the Hindu fold by trapping them in marriage, part of a so-called Islamist conspiracy. It was in Kerala that the term, “love jihad” first gained in popularity and, in a 2009 case, the Kerala high court said there were indications of a “concerted effort” to convert women. The current case appears to further that notion in so far as an inter-faith marriage is already being equated with threats to national security in some circles. It could have far reaching effects on the ground, especially for inter-religious couples who must already battle a hostile social climate.
Finally, a glaring absence in court so far has been the woman herself. She is not a minor, and has claimed so far that all her actions were voluntary. The high court passed over her testimonies for those of her father and directed her back into her parents’ custody. The Supreme Court has assured the defendant’s lawyer, Kapil Sibal, that it will hear her out before issuing a final order. That it has not done so till now, in a matter that concerns her faith and her marriage, reflects a depressing paternalism.
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Sianthuam Guite and Menaka Rao report on how fever patients in a district in Manipur have to wade, walk and ride 80 kilometres for treatment:
By mid-June, the block coordinator first informed the district health department about a fever outbreak in Hingkom village. On June 22, a medical team including an epidemiologist, doctors and nurses went to the village. Thirty one patients who complained of upper respiratory tract infections, fever, indigestion and diarrhoea were examined.
On July 2, there was a similar outbreak affecting 61 people was reported in Pansang village. Two tested positive for dengue, and two for Japanese encephalitis. On July 10, 131 patients complaining of acute gastroenteritis, loose motions, nausea, fever, cough and headache were examined in Santing L village. Eight cases were positive for dengue and five for Japanese encephalitis.
On July 11, two remote villages Najang and Dungmol, nearly 110 kms away reported fever outbreaks. Doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, and an epidemiologist was sent on a jeep and a Bolero. The car could drive only about 30-40 kms. The road then had to be cleared by bulldozers. “We walked for more than four-five hours to reach the villages,” said John Baite, the district epidemiologist.