The Big Story: About Hadiya
On November 27, more than three months after it ordered the National Investigation Agency to inquire into her case, the Supreme Court will hear out Hadiya Shafin, who was earlier known as Akhila Ashokan. The 25-year-old homoeopathic trainee has been in the centre of a media storm since she converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. Both decisions were contested by her father, KM Ashokan, who claims she was forced into them. Ahead of the hearing, Ashokan has told the press that his daughter “does not have an independent mind” as she has been “mentally kidnapped”, so no heed should be paid what she says. The question that hangs in the balance today is this: how much free will do our courts ascribe to women?
Through the course of the Hadiya case so far, the judiciary has largely failed to recognise her choices as her own. The Kerala High Court aligned with her father as it kept her confined to a women’s hostel under surveillance, annulled her marriage to Shafin Jahan and bundled her off to her parents’ house, without actually asking Hadiya whether she had been coerced into the marriage. When Hadiya was not the wayward girl who needed to be policed back into order under the watchful eye of her parents and the court, her choices fit into a more sinister script.
Her conversion and marriage were seen as a deliberate strategy by extremist groups, a prelude to whisking her off to the battlefields of Syria or Afghanistan. She was the victim of love jihad, a campaign that right-wing groups claim is being waged by Muslim men lure away Hindu women. It was coercion, it was obstinacy, it was indoctrination, subterfuge and a terror plot, it was anything but an adult woman deciding to adopt a new faith and marrying the man of her choice. As Deepak Misra took over as the new chief justice of India, the Supreme Court’s position changed, and it questioned the annulment of Haidya’s marriage as well as the National Investigation Agency inquiry. In an October ruling, it also resolved to hear Hadiya herself, placing her consent at the centre of the case. This was a welcome development, but the court still allowed her forced confinement at her parents’ house to continue.
As for Hadiya herself, her voice is only heard in snatches through videos and TV footage, ranging from defiance to fear to a declaration of her free will. In August, a day after the Supreme Court ordered the National Investigation Agency inquiry, a local activist was interviewing her mother when Hadiya burst into the scene, demanding “is keeping me like this enough?” In October, the same activist released a video of her pleading to be rescued from her parents’ house, claiming her father could kill her. This weekend, she left her parents’ house for the first time in four months, accompanied by them. At the airport, she spoke directly to the television cameras, above the scrum of security and despite the restraining hands of her chaperones. She said she had not been forced to convert and wanted to be with her husband. Will the courts believe her?
The Big Scroll
Shoaib Daniyal and Sruthisagar Yamunan dissect the love jihad bogey.
TA Ameerudheen on the case that has roiled Kerala.
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