What I am going to tell you now falls in line with the recent displays of religious extremism we have come to witness in the country. I’ll try to locate the horror of Siva Sakthi Yoga Centre with the larger picture that has been flowing all this while.
Siva Sakthi Yoga Centre situated in Ernakulam, Kerala, has gained media traction in the past few days for converting Hindu women who have married people from other religions back to Hinduism. A yoga centre on the surface, Siva Sakthi is, in reality, an anti-conversion clinic for Hindu women to abandon their husbands of a different religion from theirs, and embrace their original religion, or to convert their husbands to Hinduism.
To bring light to the entire narrative, I’ll describe the experiences of Swetha, a Hindu woman, who was tortured by the centre for 22 days. The permission for which was granted by her family. They paid money with the motive to convert her husband, a Christian, to Hinduism. Swetha’s marriage to Rinto Isac wasn’t an easy meal to digest for her natal family. They tried to reason with her, failing which, they introduced the yoga centre as their aid, keeping Swetha under the impression that her sister wanted to join the centre.
In the “counselling” session, the doctor mentioned the ills of inter-caste marriages, following which he began the trail of pressuring Swetha to either get converted herself or get her husband to adopt Hindu practices; even going so far as to threaten her to leave her husband else he’ll get him killed. Attempts of running away proved futile since the centre convinced her parents of her long stay in the yoga centre to work their magic through meditation and ‘yogic practices’.
Swetha alleges that the inmates were made to sleep on floors, get up at 4.15 AM. Refusing which, staff members would insert water into their ears. The rest of the day would be spent in doing meditation and attending classes on religion. There were private sessions with the inmates, Swetha remembers, where the books of Quran and Bible were portrayed as demonic. The inmates weren’t allowed to interact with each other. The staff members did not allow counter-questions on their religious preachings or else they’d beat the ‘rebel’, and the centre did not have locks in the bathrooms to allegedly prevent girls from killing themselves.
Siva Sakthi is, an anti-conversion clinic for Hindu women to abandon their husbands of a different religion, or to convert their husbands to Hinduism.
Rinto on not receiving convincing replies for the whereabouts of his wife filed a petition on August 10. This wasn’t heard until September 26, when Swetha, who managed to convince the centre members of converting her husband, found an escape. She later filed an FIR against the conversion clinic and the director of the centre, Manoj, who along with four other people, have been convicted by the police.
What is interesting in the incident is the story of Athira, whom Swetha met at the centre, who had converted back to Hinduism from Islam in the Aarsha Vidya Samajam Centre. She denies that the centre indulged in harmful practices for forced conversion of Hindu women, and instead claimed that the centre acted with love and care, in the self-interest of women.
This reminds of a recent case of marriage of a Hindu woman who converted to Islam after marrying Shafin Jahan, a Muslim man from Kerala. Hadiya (name after conversion) alleges that her father held her in illegal confinement after the marriage was annulled this year in May, claiming it to be a case of Love Jihad: a term coined by Hindutva fringe groups to protest against the alleged forced marriages between young Hindu women with Muslim men, to allegedly serve the community’s interest. Hadiya’s father claims Jahan to be a criminal for polluting the mind of his daughter, whereas Jahan doesn’t consider his voluntary marriage a case of Love Jihad.
Where do we actually place this hold of religion in our lives? Above everything, even ourselves? This incident of conversion coming in the light of religious figures like Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh being convicted of rape, does scream a narrative of the extremism religions have come to embody through people. The right to practice one’s religion has been guaranteed by the Indian constitution, but correct me if I am wrong, if anywhere it has justified the abhorring length to which the religious bodies extend themselves in asserting their dominance over others.
These recent instances of domination in name of protecting religion point to a series of complexities. These are not singular narratives but interlinked. We need a critical analysis of history and relate it to our reality to understand how in our preservation of religious interests, we are losing out on other selves.
Featured Image Credit: World Watch Monitor