Five days after the Supreme Court restored their marriage, Hadiya and Shafin Jahan said they just want to live a peaceful life. “We faced plenty of difficulties before the Supreme Court reunited us on March 8,” Hadiya told Scroll.in in Kozhikode, Kerala, on Monday. “Now we want to show the society that our marriage was not a farce. We want to live a peaceful life.”
The Supreme Court last week set aside the Kerala High Court’s order annulling their marriage, ending the couple’s 15-month-long legal battle to earn the right to live as husband and wife.
Hadiya’s conversion to Islam and her marriage to Jahan had animated public discourse in Kerala for more than two years after some media reports alleged that it was a case of “love jihad”, the conspiracy theory pushed by Hindutva organisations that Muslim men woo Hindu women with the sole purpose of converting them to Islam.
Born in TV Puram village of Kottayam district, Hadiya, 25, was called Akhila Ashokan before her conversion two years ago. In 2011, she joined a college in Salem, Tamil Nadu, to study homeopathic medicine and surgery course. There, apparently influenced by her Muslim friends, she began to follow Islam. In January 2016, her father, Ashokan, filed a petition in the Kerala High Court alleging that she had been forcibly converted. The petition was dismissed after the young woman denied the allegation in the court.
In July 2016, she changed her name to Hadiya and obtained a certificate of conversion from Therbiayyathul Islam Sabha in Kozhikode, one of the two government-recognised centres for conversion to Islam in Kerala. The following month, her father again approached the High Court, this time alleging that some Muslim organisations were planning to take his daughter abroad to wage war for the Islamic State. While the case was being heard, Hadiya married Shafin Jahan on December 19, 2016. Two days later, the High Court sent her to a hostel. Six months later, on May 24, 2017, the court annulled the marriage and sent Hadiya back to her parents. Jahan appealed in the Supreme Court in August 2017. While hearing his plea on February 23 this year, the Supreme Court questioned whether the High Court could annul the marriage of consenting adults. On March 8, the apex court set aside the order and allowed Hadiya to live with her husband.
“I am feeling relieved now that I am with Shafin,” Hadiya said on Monday. “I am relishing the beautiful moments in my life. I want to live in peace and in happiness.”
She recounted the “physical and mental torture” she had to endure after the High Court sent her with her parents. “I was forced to listen to the sermons of people whom I didn’t like,” she said. “They were from Sangh Parivar outfits and they insisted that I come back to Hinduism. I mentioned in my affidavit filed on February 20, 2018 that they subjected me to horrendous torture. But media didn’t give enough attention to it.”
She said Rahul Easwar’s visit to her parent’s house in August 2016 was proof of Sangh Parivar’s role. “How could only Rahul Eswar meet me during that time?” she questioned. “Many others who wanted to visit me were denied permission to visit me. It showed the Sangh Parivar agenda.”
Easwar, an activist considered to be close to the Sangh Parivar, had recorded a video of Hadiya confronting her mother, Ponnamma, for keeping her confined to the house and trying to prevent her from offering prayers.
Hadiya said when the pressure became unbearable, she “focussed on prayer”. “Prayers gave me big relief,” she said.
Now, though, the “testing phase” of her life is over. “I consciously took the decision to change my religion,” she said. “So, I request everyone to end the controversies. I am 100% sure that what I did was correct. God helped me in my time of crisis.”
What pained her the most apart from the alleged torture, Hadiya said, was the curtailment of her civil rights. “I was pained that I was denied rights to marry a person and to embrace a religion of my choice,” she added.
Hadiya said she decided to marry Shafin after taking into account many factors. “I had posted my profile on an online matrimonial website seeking a groom,” she explained. “It was done with the help of my court-appointed guardian AS Sainaba. Among the responses we got, Shafin’s was the most genuine. He was ready to marry a woman converted to Islam. He had the support of his family. We decided to take his proposal forward after his mother spoke to me.”
‘Fight for all’
Jahan said he waged the long legal battle to ensure everybody’s civil rights, not just his own. “My fight was not just for upholding the validity of our marriage,” he said. “It was for all citizens of India. No couple, irrespective of their religion, should be denied their fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. I found it was my responsibility to fight for it. I am happy the Supreme Court upheld our marriage.”
He was always confident that the Supreme Court would rule in their favour, Jahan said. “I knew that truth would prevail at the end,” he added. “But I did not have any idea about how long it would take.”
He complained that some “mediapersons presented distorted stories” about their marriage and “created confusion in the society”. “But I am sure time will show that their versions were wrong,” he said. “I won’t blame the entire media for the misdeeds of a few persons.”
Now that they are together, Jahan said, life will throw up different challenges, but they will face them “with a positive frame of mind”. “Hadiya and I want to have a good family life.”
Jahan argued that the Supreme Court’s judgement upholding his marriage with Hadiya had exposed the bogey of love jihad. “I felt very sad when people said I had coerced Hadiya and forcibly converted to Islam,” he said. “People will now realise that the term love jihad was a farce.”