The Day Choice Was Killed

The Hadiya verdict negates several freedoms, including to marry a terrorist

Inthe ‘love jihad’ case involving the conversion of a Hindu girl to Islam, the Supreme Court should not just rescind the judgement of the Kerala High Court, but slam it. The apex court should instruct all courts to ensure that individual freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are sacrosanct, and not subverted by traditional notions that parents have overriding rights over an adult woman.

My own outrage flows from my family history. My mother, a devout Hindu, ended her days as a sannyasin at the Sivanand Ashram in Rishikesh. She hoped that her children would have traditional marriages to Tamil Brahmins, but in vain. I married a Parsi. My elder brother married a Sikh. My younger brother married a Christian. And my aunt married a Muslim.

I’m My Own Swami

Some Hindu organisations, some courts, and even the National Investigative Agency (NIA) might view this as clear evidence of a Hindu family being targeted by nefarious non-Hindu institutions. My mother would have castigated this as unadulterated rubbish. It’s outrageous to invent sociopolitical conspiracy theories to explain away matters of the heart, as the NIA seems to have done in the Hadiya case.

If the NIA really wants to nail my family, it can look beyond my siblings to my children. My son Shekhar has married a German Christian. My daughter Pallavi has married a Spanish Christian. The evidence of an alien conspiracy looks stronger in my case than in Hadiya’s. Yet, it adds up to nothing.

Hadiya, the 25-year-old daughter of a Hindu family, was schooled in Kerala, and left for Tamil Nadu for a college course in homoeopathy. She made Muslim friends and converted to Islam. Her father moved the courts saying his daughter had been trapped by a“well-oiled mechanism” for Islamic radicalisation. While the hearings were on, the girl married Shafin Jahan, who allegedly has links with radical outfits like the Islamic State (IS).

The Kerala High Court held that Hadiya was a “weak and vulnerable girl capable of being exploited”, who had been indoctrinated by radicals. It annulled her marriage and placed her in the custody of her parents, saying this was the Hindu tradition for an adult, unmarried woman.

This judgement negated several freedoms: those to choose one’s religion, one’s husband, one’s ideology, and one’s own future over parental objections. The Supreme Court would have done well to strike this down forthwith. Instead, it asked the NIA to investigate whether there was a wider pattern of conversions by radical Islamic groups. The Kerala government has categorically denied the existence of any such conspiracy.

Even if Islamic groups are indoctrinating and attracting new adherents, how can this override the right of a woman to choose her own ideology, or husband? An adult woman has the right to vote, to join the police and fight criminals, to join the armed forces and face death on the battlefield. Surely, she also has the right to indoctrinate, and be indoctrinated?

What’s new or so terrible about indoctrination? Marxist professors and other ideologues have indoctrinated students for decades. Marxism openly advocates the mass slaughter of class enemies to spur a proletarian revolution, something that actually happened in Russia and China. Yet, indoctrination by the CPI(M), Ananda Marga, tantric gurus or other shadowy groups is entirely legal.

Till Court Do Us Part

In a free society, people must be free to express and listen to doctrines of all sorts. The line is crossed only when indoctrinators plan or commit crimes. Merely spreading a doctrine is not criminal, even if in theory it advocates mass killing in the name of the proletariat or anything else.

Icannot understand how the Kerala High Court could annul Hadiya’s marriage. Marriages under the personal law of any religion provide for internal religious procedures for annulment. A Catholic marriage can be annulled by the Church, but a court should have no jurisdiction in this. Annulment of a civil marriage under the Special Marriages Act may fall under a court’s jurisdiction, but surely not a marriage, like Hadiya’s, under Muslim law.

Hadiya’s husband, Shafin Jahan, is suspected of having links with radical Islamic groups. But he has not been charged with any crime, let alone found guilty. When the bedrock principle of law is that every person must be presumed innocent till proven guilty, how can mere suspicion about Jahan be a reason to kill his marriage?

Finally, which law says you cannot marry a criminal or terrorist? I would hate my daughter to marry a terrorist. But I have no right to stop her. Even if Shafin Jahan is one day proved to be a criminal, how does that affect any woman’s right to marry him?

I hope the Supreme Court will let Hadiya join her husband as soon as possible, regardless of his doctrines or criminal record, whether he is an accused or a free man. It recently struck down instant triple talaq as violating the fundamental rights of women. The same logic should surely apply to women’s rights to follow their hearts and minds in marriage and ideology.

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