Posted by Heba Ahmed
Dr Hadiya has been in the news for several months. Her conversion to Islam and her marriage to Shafin Jahan have provided much fodder to a controversy-generating media. Her individual act of conversion has given rise to much speculation: is she a victim of love jihad? Was she converted by her husband in order to recruit her to ISIS? Was she brainwashed into converting and then marrying a Muslim man? Why should she leave her parents’ home?
The way we perceive Hadiya’s life has been shaped by the many narratives that circulate about her. Hadiya’s individual subjectivity has been neglected and almost forgotten in the din of screeching headlines.
Hadiya’s Conversion and Marriage
In a recently released documentary titled ‘I am Hadiya’, Hadiya’s testimony is clearly portrayed. “My name is Hadiya. I did the BHMS course and am now practicing in a private clinic. My home is in Kottayam district. I embraced Islam on my own. No one forced me to convert. My belief in idol worship ended once I converted. Once I reached the path of Islam. I understood the truth and worth of monotheism.”
Hadiya converted to Islam in 2013, during her college days in Salem. Her journey towards conversion was facilitated by the company of her friends Jaseela and Faseena Aboobacker. As reported, Hadiya (then called Akhila) was intrigued by their namaaz and later also borrowed a Quran from them. In course of time, Hadiya imbibed Islamic learning from her friends and distanced herself from Hindu rituals performed by her family. When conflict with her family became irresolvable, she decided to leave home in January 2016.
Hadiya’s conversion involved state and parental surveillance right from the outset. The first time that she wore a headscarf to college, one of her classmates informed Ashokan, her father. Ashokan then registered a case at a local police station and also filed a habeas corpus petition at the Kerala High Court since Hadiya had already left her home by then.
Her friends’ father, Aboobacker was arrested and jailed for two days because Hadiya had been visiting him to seek guidance regarding conversion. At this stage, Hadiya wanted to attend an institute for formal learning of Islam.
After getting an affidavit which attested to the fact that she had embraced Islam out of her own volition, she enrolled herself for a two-month course at the Markazul Hidaya of Manjeri in Malappuram district, commonly known as Satya Sarani. It is the only institute in Kerala that offers a residential programme for new converts to Islam.
Satya Sarani describes itself as a Da’wa institute, as an educational and charitable trust. In its organisational aim, it is stated that “the parochialism, lack of unity and organizational narrow mindedness hamper the propagation of the message of Islam to those who seek the truth. It is difficult for an outsider to understand the real Islamic message in the midst of the mayhem created by different segments among Muslims. Besides, the fascist and militant forces emerging among the Hindus create hindrance in the way of the people entering the right faith”. After enrolling herself at the Satya Sarani, and entrusting herself to the guidance of A S Zainab, President of National Women’s Front, Hadiya also got herself registered on a matrimonial website.
Shafin Jahan was chosen by Hadiya as her husband because he met all the criteria that she specified. Shafin himself was in search of a partner who had recently embraced Islam. After getting permission from both there respective mosques, their nikah was solemnised on 19th December 2016. Shafin gave Hadiya a ring as a token of Mahar.
Hadiya’s life has been narrativised by her father, the judiciary, the Sangh Parivar, the state. Each of them have conspired to denude her autonomy and individuality.
But when Hadiya and Shafin applied to the Othukkungal Panchayat for registration of their marriage, Hadiya received a call from her advocate asking her to go to the Kerala High Court. The Court ordered investigation into the marriage and instructed Hadiya to relocate to a hostel and live separately from her husband. Even after the annulment of their marriage, Shafin said, “We started loving after marriage. Even now we are deeply in love. I trust the Indian judicial system. Eventually, truth triumphs. I believe Hadiya and I will unite soon.”
Hadiya’s individual journey of conversion, her quest for spiritual solace, her pursuit of Islamic knowledge and her agency of choosing a husband have been discredited by patriarchy and Islamophobia. She has been labelled as a victim of love jihad, of ‘forced’ or ‘lured’ conversion, of indoctrination. Her subjectivity as a Muslim woman has been constantly misrecognised.
Hadiya as a ‘Victim’ of ‘Love Jihad’
In 2009, a judicial bench of the Kerala High Court headed by Justice K. T. Sankaran passed a ruling in the Shahan Sha A vs State of Kerala which dismissed anticipatory bail applications by two accused. The accused men, Shahan Sha and Sirajuddeen were accused of luring Hindu women by sexual overtures and compelling them into converting to Islam.
The Bench observed that ‘There are indications that several similar instances took place in the State of Kerala. It is stated that there is a movement or project which is called “Romeo Jihad” or “Love Jihad” conceived by a section of the Muslims. The idea appears to be to convert girls belonging to other religions to Islam. It is stated that Muslim boys are directed to pretend love to girls of other religion and get them converted to Islam. A lot of money is available for executing the project. There are men whose help is available at any time. Organisations are also there to implement the project.’ It is evident that this case was used as an excuse to impose a surveillance on Muslims and Muslim organisations, linking the latter to terrorist and criminal activities.
This is revealed amply by the following instructions given by Justice Sankaran:
‘The Director General of Police shall file a statement within a period of three weeks from today, touching upon the following aspects: (1) Whether there is a movement called “Romeo Jihad” or “Love Jihad” working in the State of Kerala? (2) If so, what are their plans and projects? (3) Which organisations are involved in such activities? (4) Where does the money come from for all these activities? (5) How many school and college students and youngsters were thus converted into Islam during the last three years? (6) Does the alleged project involve an all India basis and magnitude? (7) Has it got financial support from abroad? (8) Is there any connection between the “Love Jihad” movement and counterfeiting, smuggling, drug trafficking and terrorist activities?’
Needless to say, this judgement has been quoted extensively in Hindutva websites to further intensify Islamophobia and spread anti-Muslim invective. This judgement has been used to give teeth to Hindutva efforts to prevent inter-religious relationships and to stereotype every endeavour to convert to Islam as love jihad.
For example, a Hindutva website from Kerala describes the elopement of a nineteen-year-old girl with her Muslim lover in 2012 as a case of love jihad. Although conversion can have many patterns, for example, from Christianity to Islam, from Hinduism to Christianity or from Hinduism to Islam, and the process of conversion itself can be undertaken by either men or women, the fear of love jihad has been raised to invoke only one specific binary of victim-culprit: the Hindu woman, who must be protected from the Muslim man.
The Hindu woman is imagined as containing the honour, the izzat of the Hindu community and the Hindu nation, and must be shielded from the Muslim man who is imagined as the invader and sexual predator. All agents of state and society participate in ‘protecting’ the Hindu woman: the patriarchal family, Hindu organisations in the form of the Sangh Parivar, and even the state.
The fear of love jihad is constructed to maintain the purity of the Hindu community by preventing miscegenation between Hindus and Muslims. It is also intended to bolster the population of Hindus by compelling Hindu women to raise only Hindu children.
It is quite disheartening to note that the judiciary itself has enunciated what love jihad is. One would expect the judiciary to rise above Islamophobia and not give teeth to Hindutva notions of majoritarian victimhood. With respect to Hadiya, Adv. S. Suresh, the Thiruvananthapuram District President of BJP has said that “Victims of love jihad must get greater protection than victims of rape.” The notion of love jihad has been invoked to deliberately tarnish Hadiya’s agency of converting to Islam and by portraying her as a victim of Muslim men.
Hadiya as the Locus of Anti-Terror regimes
Since the outset of Hadiya’s conversion to another faith, her father and other individuals have insisted that Hadiya has been forcibly converted to Islam in order to recruit her to ISIS. The ISIS phenomenon is frequently invoked by the Indian state, in order to demonise Muslims as terrorists. This was seen in the case of the enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmad, a Muslim student, from JNU in October 2016. There has been a media-generated rumour that Najeeb has escaped to join ISIS.
Suspicions of Hadiya joining ISIS have been deliberately invoked in order to erode her individual persona and connect her to terrorist outfits instead. This fits well with the security state paradigm that exists in India today, and which is also connected to the global programme of War on Terror.
The War on Terror programme is built on a carefully regimented agenda of increasing Islamophobia, which portrays Muslim men as terrorists and Muslim women their as helpless victims. Counter-terrorism is the agenda of right-wing governments whether in the US or India, because it helps to bolster a profitable war machinery, and give credibility to the right-wing government itself. Anti-terror regimes seek legitimacy by claiming to ‘save’ Muslim women from the patriarchy of Muslim men.
Hadiya’s conversion to Islam is sought to be vilified by insisting that there is a ploy to induct her into ISIS. In this way, Hadiya’s subjective and spiritual reasons for embracing Islam are dismissed. Moreover, Shafin Jahan is easily demonised as the man instrumental for recruiting Hadiya for ISIS.
The fact that the Supreme Court asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to conduct an investigation into the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin illustrates the state’s overreach. In the last hearing of Hadiya’s case, the NIA stated that Hadiya had undergone ‘psychological kidnapping’. The NIA also cited two criminal cases registered against Shafin to persuade the court to not give credibility to Hadiya’s statement.
Hadiya as her Parents’ Daughter
In the documentary ‘I am Hadiya’, Rahul Easwar, a right-wing activist in Kerala insists that “Hadiya is still the daughter of Ashokan chettan and Ponnamma chechi.” A recent video release shows Hadiya pleading, “I want to escape from this place. I may be killed within two or three days. My father is angry with me and he is trying to attack me.”
Despite this testimony given by Hadiya, Ashokan’s claims upon his daughter’s life and liberty remains unchallenged. Ashokan has kept Hadiya in house arrest for several months now. Hadiya’s house arrest infringes her rights to life and personal liberty (guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution) and her right to freedom of movement (guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution).
It is to be noted that Ashokan’s imprisonment of Hadiya is actually legitimised by the judgement of the High Court itself. The Court stated that Hadiya is incapable of living by herself and instructed her to return to her father’s house.
The wording of the judgement reveals the sheer infantilisation of Hadiya: ‘A girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways. This court exercising parens patriae jurisdiction is concerned with the welfare of a girl of her age. The duty of this court to ensure the safety of at least the girls who are brought before it can be discharged only by ensuring that Akhila is in safe hands.’
the fear of love jihad has been raised to invoke only one specific binary of victim-culprit: the Hindu woman, who must be protected from the Muslim man.
Moreover, the Court did not take any cognisance of the potential harm that Ashokan could cause Hadiya. Instead, it upheld a moral right of Ashokan, as Hadiya’s father, to take her into his custody. ‘The forces operating from behind the curtain have succeeded in creating a hostility in the mind of Akhila towards her parents. During our interactions, we have seen the anguish and sorrow of the father, who was pleading with his daughter to return home. The petitioner has in his reply stated that he has no objection in Akhila carrying on worship and following religious practices in accordance with her Islamic beliefs. He has also stated that he would afford necessary facilities for her to perform all the rituals of Islam in her house. Therefore, Akhila can have no complaint against her parents.’
These words of the judgement were proven false by Hadiya’s personal testimony, recorded in a video by Rahul Easwar, that her parents were not allowing her to pray during her house arrest. The Court further stated, ‘It is clear that Akhila has no consistent stand or a clear idea about her life or future. It is also clear that she is in a situation where she is acting on the diktats of some others who are bent upon taking her away from her parents.’
Not only did the Kerala High Court refuse to address Hadiya by her changed name, but they also refused to allow her to exercise her autonomy vis-a-vis a patriarchal household. Hadiya is seen only as her parents’ daughter in the eyes of the Kerala High Court. Accordingly, she is expected to put up with any violence that her father may inflict upon her.
It may be noted that parens patriae is ‘the inherent power and authority of a State to provide protection to the person and property of persons such as minor, insane, and incompetent persons. Today, this term is used to designate the State referring to its sovereign power of guardianship over persons under disability.’ If the Court invokes parens patriae to impose house arrest on a woman in full possession of her faculties, the wisdom of the Court itself is rendered questionable.
Conclusion: Hadiya and Secular Anxiety
Hadiya’s life has been narrativised by her father, the judiciary, the Sangh Parivar, the state. Each of them have conspired to denude her autonomy and individuality. In common perception, Hadiya is perceived through the many narratives that have been constructed about her. She is denied the freedom to represent herself. Even common individuals have been complicit in this misrepresentation and misrecognition that Hadiya is going through.
Social media has seen many speculations about both Hadiya and Shafin. The basic premise of Hadiya’s conversion has incited immense secular anxiety. Why should any woman choose to convert to any religion, since all religions encourage patriarchy? Why did Hadiya marry a man who has connections with a ‘fundamentalist’ organisation such as the Popular Front of India? Why did Hadiya have to convert before getting married, isn’t this a loss of autonomy?
All these speculations come in the way of giving solidarity to Hadiya. Owing to secular idiosyncrasies, we are unable to comprehend Hadiya’s act of conversion and the consequent cruelty being meted out to Hadiya by her father and even the Indian state. We are unable to fathom why a woman would choose to convert to another religion, especially a religion as vilified as Islam.
On November 6, the National Women’s Commission (NCW) visited Hadiya. But the NCW chief, Rekha Sharma, stated that Hadiya is ‘smiling and safe’. The NCW chief’s statement flies in the face of Hadiya’s own testimony of undergoing torture at her parents’ house. But Hadiya’s own words are not given credibility.
This is a classic case of what Miranda Fricker calls ‘testimonial injustice’, wherein ‘a speaker receives an unfair deficit of credibility from a hearer owing to prejudice on the hearer’s part.’ Hadiya has not yet been allowed to give a statement in the Supreme Court where her case is being heard. The Supreme Court has ordered that Hadiya be produced in Court in November 27.
We hope that Hadiya will assume the full authority to represent her own life in her own words on that day and that the many li(v)es concocted about her will be laid to rest.
Heba Ahmed is a PhD Research Scholar at the Centre for Political Studies in JNU. She can be followed on Facebook.
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