No 'Love Jihad': Hadiya and the Freedom to Marry in Kerala

Source : SIFY
By : Varun Sukumar
Last Updated: Fri, Nov 03, 2017 09:57 hrs

A 24 year old, now named Hadiya is the latest to be the centre of attention on the topic of ‘love jihad’. Formerly Akhila, she converted to Islam after being introduced to the religion through two of her friends. The only child of parents K.M. Ashokan and Ponnamma, Akhila, at the time joined a programme in homoeopathic medicine at Salem in Tamil Nadu in 2010.

In early 2016, she arrived at her college wearing a hijab. An attempt to intervene by her father after some friends had alerted him roved in vain as she vanished. She later appeared in court with A.S. Zainaba, president of the National Women’s Front who the court allowed her to stay with.

The main crux of the issue is if a 24 year old is mature enough to make her own life decisions including choosing to marry. The apex court will now hear Hadiya’s side of the story on November 27. In an op-ed for The Indian Express, Tahir Mahmood, the former chair of the National Minorities Commission and member, Law Commission of India, writes on the fundamental right to freedom to marry irrespective of faith –

“Neither the Constitution nor any central or state law places any restraint on interfaith marriages. The Special Marriage Act, 1954, enables persons professing different faiths to become life-partners retaining their respective religious beliefs and practices, and yet one of them is often persuaded — or otherwise left with no choice — to embrace the other party’s religion”.

“Conversion for the sake of marriage only is repugnant to Islamic teachings. I would even recommend outlawing this practice. However, I fully agree with the apex court’s afore-mentioned Lata Singh verdict that interfaith marriages (without conversion) should be encouraged”.

Around this time was when she changed her name to Hadiya. In December of last year, upon arriving at a court hearing, she was married to Shefin Jehan; much to the courts ire. Journalist with India Today TV in a column explains how this case is deeply rooted in misogyny –

“What's interesting is that this case isn't even a classic example of the so-called "love jihad". The woman converted much earlier and got married years later. The court came to the conclusion that the woman is not fit to make a decision for herself and has been brainwashed”.

The case had reached the Supreme Court where an NIA investigation was ordered; the report stated that various organizations are recruiting and radicalizing people for the purposes of joining and fighting for ISIS.

“The most problematic aspect of this case has been that the woman who is legally an adult was sent to the "custody of her parents". The NIA conceded in the Supreme Court yesterday, that "custody" for a major girl is a problematic word in law”.

“Even if all the allegations of the NIA are to be believed and taken at face value that the girl was in fact radicalized and there is a concerted effort and a "well-oiled machinery that targets women", is locking up Hadiya the solution of it”?

“In the 21st century, though women are given full and equal rights, their bodies and sexuality remain the battleground for a political and cultural war. The case of Hadiya is a classic 21st century example when the law gives in to a political narrative, sidelines individual rights and women take the status of chattels and property”.

The NIA report isn’t all wrong. An India Today investigation looked into Kerala's Popular Front of India (PFI), which the right leaning magazine website Swarajya calls “an Islamic fundamentalist organization”. The PFI has maintained that it championed diversity and equality and has denied accusation of religious conversions, hawala funding, murderous assaults and any terror links.

The PFI is a non-profit organization. The organization is under NIA investigation not just related to the Hadiya case. A.S. Zainaba, the head of the groups’ women wing and also with whom Hadiya is living, denied the allegations that the group engages in brainwashing and converting women to Islam, saying the allegations are baseless. She insists the marriage between Hadiya and Shefin Jehan was arranged and not a case of love jihad.

However, according to the investigative report, Zainaba had shared some of the inner working of the group with undercover reporters saying, “In that institute of ours...around 5,000 people have converted to Islam over the past 10 years now. We don't have to officially declare it to be a conversion centre. It's an educational institute”.

Swarajya in a report calls the issue of love jihad a national security threat citing the initial NIA probe which the CPI (M) rejected –

“While no one questions the competence of the Kerala police who have had to deal with a large number of cases related to Islamic radicalization in the state, it is unwise for the government of Kerala to question the court’s directive, especially when it involves India’s counter-terrorism intelligence”.

“It is clear that this issue is not the sole concern of Hindus but a collective problem faced by numerous communities in the state. Unfortunately, the government in the current political discourse seems to be ignoring this crucial development, which also runs the risk of being ignored by the police for the sake of political correctness”.

Specific to the case of Hadiya, activist Rahul Eashwar met with Hadiya to hear her side of the story, which she is mandated to do after the Supreme Court has summoned her to speak on November 27, where the court stated that her consent as an adult is important and to hear her version of how and why she married a Muslim man in Kerala last year.

Rahul, released videos of his meeting where Hadiya says she fears or her life and is afraid of her father saying, “Get me out of here. Today or tomorrow, I am going to die. I am sure about this. My father is getting angry, I can make out. He pushes me”. This signals that she could be kept there against her will. The India arm of Amnesty International stated that while they welcome the apex court order, her confinement is unlawful.

The lawyer who represented Hadiya’s husband in the Supreme Court argued that Hadiya has the right to love and marry whoever she wants. She writes about this in an op-ed for the Hindustan Times –

“Kerala offers very famous cases of Hindus who have converted to Islam, including the late poet and writer Kamala Das. What was so strange about Hadiya’s conversion, when she herself appeared in court and stated that her conversion was voluntary?”

“We have a constitution which guarantees freedom of religion which includes the right to convert to any religion. Why then must she be denied agency to convert? And why must she be prevented from marrying a man of her choice?”

“No one prevents the State from investigating threats to national security, but to say that an adult woman must not be allowed to convert to Islam or marry the man she loves violates her right to personal liberty and her right to freely practice the religion of her choice.”


More columns by Varun Sukumar