Hadiya debate: the pattern is in the politics

Hadiya debate: the pattern is in the politics
Earlier this week, a day after the Hadiya case descended into a sparring match between lawyers in the Supreme Court over the politics of ‘love jihad’, the Kerala High Court made a significant observation. The court, while hearing another case, objected to the blanket use of the term ‘love jihad’ to describe any and every inter-faith marriage.

Since the Hadiya case emerged, ‘love jihad’ – coined by right-wing Hindu groups to describe what they allege to be a phenomenon of muslim men luring hindu women into love affairs and then forcing them to convert to Islam – is steering an increasingly polarised debate. The courts may have started to step in for damage control but the politics around the issue is playing out shrill and brazen.

On May 24, the Kerala HC annulled the marriage of 24-year-old Hadiya (Akhila Ashokan before she converted to Islam) to Shafin Jahan (27). The HC order has left Hadiya, a homoeopathy graduate, in the custody of her parents at her home in Vaikom, in Kottayam district. The order, followed by Shafin’s challenge to it in the Supreme Court, has triggered a series of developments around the case.

The SC directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe whether Akhila had been forcibly converted to Hadiya before the marriage. The Kerala Women’s Commission approached the apex court seeking permission to probe alleged violations of Hadiya’s rights as a citizen.

In another case, Bindu Sampath, the mother of Thiruvananthapuram native Nimisha (now Fatima), allegedly recruited to the ISIS after she converted to Islam at the behest of her husband, approached the SC to implead herself in the case. K M Ashokan, Hadiya’s father, approached the SC seeking protection for his family from radical Muslim outfits. Now, the apex court has itself questioned the legality of the HC decision to send an adult woman into her father’s custody.

Things may have come full circle in the Hadiya case, but in less than five months since the HC called the marriage a “sham”, concerns over the denial of her rights and interpretations of her marriage have morphed into a broader narrative. It’s a narrative increasingly pegged to the political will to deal with allegations of ‘love jihad’, to separate the real from the perceived.

“Love jihad is a reality in Kerala and Karnataka. The High Court and the Supreme Court have raised concerns over it. Now, the governments of these states must act,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said on the sidelines of the BJP’s Janaraksha Yatra. The yatra is a state-wide rally organised against “jihadi and Leftist terror” in Kerala. Adityanath’s statement, made on a political platform, was the trigger to the lawyers’ face-off at the SC.

Hadiya was pursuing her graduation in Homeopathic Medicine in Salem, when she came under the “influence” of friends Jaseena and Faseena, and their father Aboobacker. After she went missing from Aboobacker’s home in Malappuram on January 7, 2016, Ashokan filed a habeas corpus petition before the high court. On January 19, Hadiya was produced before the court by A S Sainaba, later identified as president of the National Women’s Front, the women’s wing of the radical outfit Popular Front of India (PFI).

Scope for NIA probe

After completing a course at Sathya Sarani, an educational and charitable organisation in Malappuram that propagates Islam among non-muslims, Hadiya continued to live with Sainaba. Her wedding to Shafin was held according to muslim rites on December 19, 2016. Hadiya has said that she got acquainted with Shafin through a matrimonial site. The HC, while annulling Hadiya’s marriage and ordering a police probe, also directed the police to investigate a case registered in Cherpulassery in Palakkad district, of one Athira who was allegedly lured into an inter-faith marriage. Reports have since emerged that Sainaba was involved in the Athira case, too.

The NIA probe also has in reference the case involving 22 people from Kasaragod and Palakkad who left the country to join the terrorist group Islamic State. Even as the debate around forced religious conversions and their alleged links to terror recruiters gets more intense, the state government has maintained that the Hadiya case did not have scope for a NIA probe. “The investigation conducted so far by Kerala police has not revealed any incident relating to commission of any Scheduled Offences to make a report to the central government under Section 6 of the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008”, an affidavit filed by the additional chief secretary (Home) in the SC said.

The state government’s take on the matter is based on police investigation into various aspects of the case. The probe covered Hadiya’s conversion to Islam, institutions she enrolled in for Islamic studies, antecedents of Shafin Jahan and circumstances that led to, and the people involved in, the marriage. The police also investigated Ashokan’s allegation that the marriage came with a plan to relocate his daughter out of the country. That the government doesn’t see a terror angle in all this is evident in its affidavit.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is among the BJP leaders who have criticised the state government over its opposition to the NIA probe. Prasad, like Adityanath, was participating in the Janaraksha Yatra when he spoke on the CPM-led government’s “soft stance” on terror. It’s against the backdrop of this criticism that the state government has reportedly handed over to the NIA about 90 cases of inter-faith marriages solemnised over the past two years. Despite the alleged role of organisations including the PFI in some of these marriages, there has been no official word on a pattern conclusively linking these cases to terrorism.

The High Court’s objection to the random use of ‘love jihad’ was raised, interestingly, in connection with a case involving a yoga centre near Kochi. At the centre, Hindu women were allegedly tortured and forced to walk out of their marriages with men practising other religions. It’s the kind of twist that further raises the decibel level in this rancorous debate. But until the ongoing investigation establishes a pattern of organised coercion in these inter-faith marriages, a shouting match without a moderator will do more harm than good.

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