Above: Doubts are being raised as to why Akhila converted to Islam and married Shafin Jahan. Photos: shafinjahan.s/facebook
With the Supreme Court handing over the case to NIA, there are larger implications to national security and the disappearance of women from Kerala to areas controlled by the IS
~By Naveen Nair in Thiruvananthapuram
The case of Hadiya, a 24-year-old Hindu girl who converted to Islam and married Shafin Jahan, a Muslim man, without the knowledge of her parents, has taken on larger implications. As the marriage was annulled by the Kerala High Court in May, Jahan went to the Supreme Court.
And on August 16, the apex court handed over the probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), thereby converting the right of a woman to live with a man into one of national security. A bench compromising Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud said: “To ensure that the investigation carried out by the National Investigation Agency is fair, we consider it just and appropriate to direct, that the NIA shall carry out the said investigation under the guidance of a retired Judge,” the judgment said.
The NIA probe will be supervised by former Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran. The Court order comes as a slap on the face of the Kerala government, whose police had been claiming that the case was nothing but conversion of a Hindu girl Akhila to Hadiya, her adopted Muslim name.
On August 10, when the Supreme Court directed the Kerala police to share probe details with the NIA, it was perhaps sending a signal that the marriage that was annulled by the Kerala High Court cannot be seen in isolation as news of other conversions of Hindu and Christian girls to Islam and their sudden disappearance to Syria was a cause of deep worry. The bench told the lawyer of Jahan: “The NIA is only a government agency and not an external agency which you can doubt. It is just like a coin. No one can see each other and we are here to decide on this.” With the NIA taking up the case now, it will take on larger proportions.
Hadiya was a homeopathy student in Malappuram before she married Jahan. After her father Ashokan went to the Kerala High Court with a habeas corpus, she was produced in court by an organisation named Sathya Sarani, based in Manjeri. On May 25, a divisional bench of the High Court delivered a judgment annulling the marriage and calling it a “sham”. The Court also directed her to return home to her parents.
The Court’s decision has been decried by rights activists and a section of the judiciary who labeled it as a clear deviation of a major girl’s right to life and marriage.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi, speaking to news agency ANI, said: “There is a huge debate going on in the country—women in Islam are not given the right to take independent decisions. Where are these voices now? You have a Muslim woman, who is an adult, who has taken a decision, what happens to that independent decision? If tomorrow someone converts to Islam or any religion, will that become a national security issue.”
Kavitha Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) told India Legal: “This is an instance where the institution of judiciary is surrendering to a variant of fascism. This is completely shocking. It is a girl’s choice what she will wear, what she will eat, how she will live her life and who she likes and who she will marry. In our patriarchal society, women of all communities change their names, homes and faith also after marriage. Ordering a woman to stay in the custody of her parents or a nari niketan is unacceptable and appalling. It’s tantamount to imprisonment. This is a murder of free will.”
Legal experts say that the Court took such a strong stand as it felt that the marriage was solemnised at the last moment to make a case for her to remain a Muslim by a well-organised group.
The Kerala High Court order said: “Akhila had no contact with Jahan in the past and the marriage has been brought about through a matrimonial site. Her name was registered at the site by the 7th respondent in the case. All the above facts point to the existence of an organizational set-up functioning behind the scenes. It is clear that Shafin Jahan is only a stooge who has been assigned to play the role of going through a marriage ceremony.”
The antecedents of Jahan did not help their cause a bit. Jahan was a close associate of Mansi Buraq, an IS operative arrested by the NIA in October 2016. The organisation, Sathya Sarani, has cases against it in the High Court and complaints from parents with the State Human Rights Commission. The parents allege that their wards had been converted to Islam by the organisation, who then use Muslim boys as alibis to propagate their cause.
Ashokan said: “This is an organised racket’s attempt to convert young girls to Islam and take them somewhere else and my daughter is a hapless victim. She has been indoctrinated using some terrible psychological measures. Look at the background of the boy. How can I allow my girl to go with him?”
There are others who say that the Court had enough apprehensions to bring the NIA into the picture. “If you read the initial verdict of the High Court, you will know there is a definite reason for it to take such a stand against a marriage even though it is not the normal practice. This is not a simple case, but involves many external characters whose role needs to be probed further. More such strategical marriages are taking place in Kerala, an indication that there is an organised agenda behind it,’’ said Kerala High Court lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj to the media.
Meanwhile, what could be a silver lining for Jahan is that the Supreme Court has decided to listen to Hadiya before it takes a final decision on the matter. There would be an in-camera session after the NIA probe is completed and that could decide the final outcome.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG?
Reports from the Kerala High Court suggest that Hadiya’s case is not an exception. In fact, senior lawyers confirm that on an average, the Court has been receiving close to 100 writ petitions a month over the last few years about youngsters disappearing and an IS hand in it.
It was news of the disappearance of 21 youngsters from Kerala in July 2016 and later confirmation that they were in IS-controlled Syria that blew the lid of such cases. Nimisha was a student of Century Dental College in Kasaragod, where, allegedly under the influence of a fellow Muslim student, she converted to Islam. She then went on to marry Issa, who was a Christian converted to Islam. The police believe both of them were part of the 21 who went missing.
Nimisha’s mother K Bindhu is inconsolable today. As she stays in Thiruvananthapuram in southern Kerala and Nimisha studied at Kasaragod, a northern part, she never had the slightest inclination of what was going on. “I gave a police complaint after my daughter went missing in November 2015 but nothing has happened. Now they say she is in Syria. Let her marry anyone, adopt any religion she wants. But why should she be taken away to Syria?” asked a sobbing Bindhu. She is startled that Nimisha married someone just four days after meeting him. The police believe that the same organisation which was behind the conversion of Hadiya is involved in this case too.
Another case is that of Aparna Vijayan, 29, who, while studying Aeronautical Engineering at Jewel Education Trust in Ernakulam, went missing for 15 days. When her mother Mini finally found her, she was in Sathya Sarani where she was reportedly taken by another student to convert her to Islam.
The police say that in almost all the cases that have come to its notice post 2015, there is a definite pattern of conversion to Islam and then a frantic rush to get a Muslim bridegroom. A senior police officer told India Legal: “There is a clear pattern, no doubt. In almost all the cases that we have seen, the boys are just stooges and have no relationship with the girl, leave alone marriage. In fact, there are complaints that the boys simply disappear after marriage.”
Also, for the first time, the Church has openly acknowledged that its believers, especially girls, are under threat from coerced conversion.
A section of the church has launched a “Christian Helpline” group in Kochi with the aim of stemming these conversions. Father Jimmy Poochakatt, spokesperson, Syro-Malabar Church, said: “If the believers are concerned with such a scenario, you cannot fault them. Though officially the Diocese has not taken a stand on this issue, we are concerned.”
All eyes will now be on the final outcome of the NIA probe. Till then, Hadiya will stay at home with her parents.
“This is an organised racket’s attempt to convert young girls to Islam and take them somewhere else and my daughter is a hapless victim….”
—Hadia’s father Ashokan