By Sharanya Gopinathan
The truly baffling case of Hadiya Jahan will perhaps reach its most important pinnacle today. Hadiya will finally appear before the Supreme Court to present her side of the story in the case of her arbitrarily annulled marriage.
Hadiya (nee Akhila) is a 24-year-old homeopathy student who converted to Islam and married a man named Shafin Jahan against the wishes of her parents in December 2016. In May 2017, the Kerala High Court shockingly annulled the marriage in a move that seemed to have no legal foundation. The court returned the adult Hadiya to the “custody” of her parents. Responding to the annulment, Shafin filed an appeal to the SC in August, and the court called for an NIA probe into allegations of “love jihad” in this case. In the months since, we’ve seen videos of Hadiya pleading for help, saying that she’s at risk in her parents’ house in Kottayam, as well as videos of her father Ashokan allegedly physically abusing her. Ashokan has denied the police, human rights groups and even (briefly) the State Women’s Commission access to Hadiya. However, activists in Kerala report that representatives of Hindu “reconversion centres” have been allowed to meet with her, at times for even three hours at a stretch.
Now that Hadiya will finally have her day in Court, here’s a quick rundown of what you really need to know.
People Hadiya’s father has objected to her living with so far
1. Faseena-Jaseena: While pursuing her Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery degree in Salem, Hadiya was living with two sisters named Faseena and Jaseena. On 6 January 2016, Hadiya’s parents filed a habeas corpus petition in the Kerala HC and accused Aboobacker (F and J’s father) of taking Hadiya (then Akhila) away.
2. Sathya Sarini/Sainaba: Hadiya responded to Ashokan’s habeas corpus petition in court on 19 January and said that she had converted to Islam and adopted a new name. After this response, Hadiya contacted Sathya Sarini, a religious organisation, for help. They sent her Sainaba, a social worker and member of the Popular Front of India. Hadiya began living with Sainaba and Ashokan immediately alleged that Sathya Sarini was involved with illegal conversions, and that his daughter shouldn’t live with their representatives.
3. Shafin Jahan: In the midst of all these habeas corpus petitions, both the Kerala HC and Ashokan took grave objection to Hadiya marrying Shafin Jahan. The Kerala HC seemed to believe Ashokan’s allegation that Hadiya was a victim of “love jihad” and was being married to a Muslim man so she could be smuggled out of the country. They annulled the marriage based on Ashokan’s plea on 24 May, saying that Hadiya must return to the custody of her parents.
What the courts have said
1. Kerala High Court: Newspapers report that Kerala HC judges were “livid” when Hadiya decided to marry Shafin Jahan on 19 December 2016, the same day that the court instructed her to live in a hostel and continue her education. When they decided to annul the marriage in May, they cited that it was unclear whether the marriage was a device to spirit her out of the country, and pointed out that the court was not aware of the identity of her husband. Of course, while there’s no proof to show that this is what happened in Hadiya’s case, a marriage to a person who wants to spirit you out of the country is still valid. So is a marriage in which the Kerala High Court is not immediately aware of the identity of the husband. The court cited that she was at a vulnerable age and, thus, a prime target of brainwashing (24), and that “as per the Indian tradition, the custody of an unmarried daughter is with her parents, until she is properly married off.” We’d highlight all the things wrong with that sentence, but then it would all be yellow.
2. Supreme Court: On 16 August, the SC ordered an NIA investigation into the allegations of forced conversion and “love jihad”, a move the Kerala government said was unnecessary. The investigation proved nothing as news reports of sheepish admissions from the NIA show every day. On 3 October, the SC questioned the Kerala HC’s order to annul her marriage, and also seemed to momentarily regret its own decision to continue to confine Hadiya to her parents’ custody. That momentary crisis of conscience did not translate to anything meaningful, as Hadiya continues to remain with her parents. In fact, as she was being transported yesterday from Kochi to New Delhi to appear before the SC, she desperately yelled to waiting reporters that she was not forcibly converted, wants to live with her husband and that she needs justice.
Ways Ashokan has tried to thwart Hadiya’s testimony today
1. On 23 November, Ashokan tried to badger the Supreme Court into saying that Hadiya’s testimony would be held in-camera or in private instead of open court, as “extremist elements” may attack her or her family. The SC said the decision on this matter would be taken on the day she appears in court – today.
2. Yesterday, her family decided to pull a creative fast one. It tried to get the court to either dismiss her testimony totally, or push the court to appoint loco parentis (“in the place of a parent”) in her case on the basis that she doesn’t have an independent sound mind and is the victim of a “mental kidnapping”. Yes, we are all just allowed to make up terms like “love jihad” and “mental kidnapping” now.
This case has been before the Supreme Court for over three months. Since 24 May, 24-year-old Hadiya has been held captive in her abusive parents’ house with legal mandates. Today, when Hadiya finally speaks in court, everyone who’s been making decisions about and for this adult woman will finally face her opinions about her own life. I bet she’s got quite a speech prepared.
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