Hadiya case tests SC on rights

Few cases have tested Indian judiciary's capacity to practice what it preaches as that of the conversion and subsequent marriage of 25-year-old Hadiya, born Akhila Ashokan to Hindu parents in Kerala. She converted to Islam in 2015 and married a Muslim man, Shafin Jahan, in December 2016. Acting on a petition filed by her father, the Kerala High Court confined her for more than a year, first in a women's hostel and then in her parents' home. In May this year, the court even dissolved her marriage, citing the undue influence of Muslim organisations, ignoring the fact that the Constitution allowed every adult citizen the right to marry anyone of her or his choice and to practice any faith. The verdict not only went against the choices of two consenting adults  but made a mockery of the unanimous verdict of a nine-member Supreme Court bench that held that the right to personal autonomy and freedom of choice are fundamental rights.

On appeal  by Shafin Jahan, Hadiya's husband, the Supreme Court, too, ignored the illegality staring it in the face in the Kerala High Court order and widened the scope of the wild-goose chase by setting the National Investigation Agency (NIA) loose in this matter. Its attempt at giving an impression of neutrality by having the investigation overseen by a retired Supreme Court judge came a cropper when the judge refused  this responsibility. However, the court allowed the  NIA to continue its investigation unsupervised despite having no authority in law to do so. Last week, the Supreme Court heard Hadiya out and she maintained that both her conversion and marriage were of her own free will and she wanted to re-unite with her husband. It was hoped that the Supreme Court would restore her autonomy that it had so eloquently set out  as the constitutional birthright of every Indian.

Unfortunately, the court merely transferred her custody from the parents to the authorities of a college in Salem, where she was studying.  Further hearings on the annulment of her marriage and other matters will be held in January. One hopes the Supreme Court sees the grievous wrongs committed so far and moves to rectify them. Complete justice in the matter requires the overturning of the Kerala High Court judgement, allowing Hadiya to be free to choose whom she wants to live with and ending the NIA's communally-tinged witch-hunt. It is for the court to choose whether it wants to be an unwitting proxy for the divisive agenda being peddled by communal and patriarchal forces or stand for the rights of citizens to make their life choices.

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