Look up Article 19(1) (d) of the Indian Constitution, and you’ll see that it guarantees every citizen of the country the right to move freely throughout the territory of India. But for 25-year-old Akhila, who became Hadiya after her conversion to Islam, this right, has been meaningless for the last five months.
Ever since she was returned to her parent’s home by the order of the Kerala High Court at the end of May, Hadiya has been confined to the house and not allowed to meet anyone without her parents’ permission.
Hadiya’s case has attracted national attention since the Kerala High Court annulled her marriage to a man named Shafin Jahan over suspicions that the marriage was part of an organised racket that had pushed her towards conversion. The court had then described the young woman as “weak and vulnerable”, and having no clear plans for her life or future.
The court also decided to return Hadiya to her parents’ home on the grounds of ‘Indian tradition’. "As per the Indian tradition, the custody of an unmarried daughter is with her parents, until she is properly married off,” the court observed.
The court also prevented Hadiya from having a mobile phone or meeting anyone other than her parents while she was lodged in an Ernakulam hostel after her marriage was annulled. However, while it ordered that police protection be given to Hadiya and her family, at no point did it order that Hadiya was to be confined once she returned to her parents’ homes and denied access to other people.
Yet, Hadiya remains in house arrest, isn’t allowed to use her phone and cannot even step out of her house. Her confinement comes with the cooperation of the police, who maintain tight security around her house, preventing any outsiders from meeting Hadiya. This, despite the fact that Shafin and activists claim that she had told them that she was being harassed and beaten up in her home.
Shockingly, on Thursday, a video emerged of Hadiya pleading for help, alleging that her father was regularly beating and kicking her, and that she may be killed anytime. Rahul Easwar, the activist and political analyst who shot the video of Hadiya, told TNM, “She is being treated like a sick woman and being tortured. She is not even allowed to step out into the house compound.”
TNM has asked Hadiya’s father Asokan multiple times if we could meet her. On Thursday, when we asked him why she was not allowed to speak to anyone, he said, “I have not stopped her; let her speak to who she wants.” Then when we asked whether this meant we could meet her, he refused, “No, let the case finish first.”
Hadiya’s case has elicited a flood of petitions to the State Human Rights Commission and the State Women’s Commission. Yet, so far, neither agency has managed to meet Hadiya and inquire into her condition.
In September, the SHRC asked the Kottayam SP to file a report on whether Hadiya’s human rights were being violated. A Commission official told TNM that the report was filedon Saturday. In its report, the police has said that Hadiya isn't facing any rights violation, though police officials did not meet her in person to record her statement.
The official said, "The Commission has no purview to intervene in the matter. It can if it is proved that there is indeed a violation of rights. But now that the police is claiming otherwise, there is not much the Commission can do. Moreover, this case is sub judice. And for the commission to get directly involved and meet Hadiya, we need the permission of the court."
The State Women's Rights Commission, for its part, had moved the SC, which is currently hearing the case, for permission to visit Hadiya and record her statements. However, there has been no progress on that front either.
Activists are up in arms against the government and the Women’s Commission, who they say are ignoring the problem despite being aware of the grave allegations being raised on Hadiya’s behalf.
Journalist and activist Mridula Bhavani, who was among the group of women who had tried to meet Hadiya and reported that she said she was being beaten in her house, accuses the government, the police and the democratic machinery of the state is watching Hadiya’s situation without lifting a finger.
“The government has just been watching this. They know about everything, including her first video. But they are keeping quiet. The police is misusing the court order. The court never said to keep her under house arrest. Police officers guard their house, and her father behaves rudely with anyone who tries to meet her,” Mridula tells TNM.
Social critic and historian, J Devika, also blames the government, alleging that it is wary of alienating Hindu voters with action in this case. While the claim of “love jihad” – of marriage being used to draw vulnerable women into conversion – has repeatedly arisen in the case, Devika says that the fundamental rights of an adult citizen of India should take priority.
“But the government wants to be in a safe position, because they also want Hindu household votes to defend against the RSS. Nobody was ready to listen to us or to take action. We have been saying for a long time that she was being tortured, physically and mentally. But to whom should we complain?” she asks.
Hadiya’s case has even drawn the ire of activists who hold a position against conversion. Rahul Easwar, for instance, says that he believes that there is some correctness to the fears of Ashokan, Hadiya’s father, that she has been lured into conversion. However, he adds, this cannot take away from the priority that should be given to Hadiya’s rights.
“The priority here is Hadiya’s rights, they should not be breached. She has to be heard. I wonder why these Commissions for women and youth are keeping quiet about it. I am personally against religious conversion, but Hadiya has every right to come out to her freedom,” he says.
With the Supreme Court expected to deliver its judgement in Hadiya’s case on October 30, the question that everyone is now asking is whether the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen will be upheld.