In the last year, 25-year-old Hadiya (earlier Akhila) has become the poster child for the conversion debate raging in Kerala. Within the twists and turns of this case, it has been turned into a question of ‘love jihad’ in the popular perception. But this is a clear misreading of Hadiya’s situation, and one that needlessly muddies the waters of her case.
Here, in simple points, are things you should know about the case and why it should not be confused with the claims of ‘love jihad’:
1) Love jihad refers to the claim that Muslim men lure Hindu women into relationships and marriage for the purpose of conversion. But while Hadiya’s case drew national attention after her marriage to a man named Shafin Jahan, she had converted to Islam long before. Therefore, she did not 'convert for love'.
2) According to Hadiya, she became interested in Islam after seeing two of her collegemates Faseena and Jaseela, and began practising the religion privately for three years before she left home. However, matters came to a head at home when she refused to participate in her grandfather’s funeral rituals in November 2015 and her family opposed her practising rituals at home.
3) On January 2016, Akhila left home and went to Faseena and Jaseela’s house. She then joined a course at the Kozhikode Islamic study centre Terbiathul Islam Sabha as an ‘external candidate’, after filing an affidavit that she is accepting Islam of her own accord. But since Faseena and Jaseela’s father Abubacker refused to let Hadiya stay in his house, she approached the Sathya Sarani – an educational institution and conversion centre – and they housed her with an activist named Sainaba.
4) When Hadiya’s father Ashokan first approached the Kerala HC with a habeas corpus petition, the court dismissed it, after Hadiya testified that she had left home of her own accord and was not being held against her will.
5) The court told Ashokan that his daughter can practise the religion of her choice. However, the HC took seriously Ashokan’s second petition, claiming that Hadiya was being lured away to be transported to Syria, though it is not clear what proof this allegation was based on. Though Hadiya told the court that she did not even have a passport to travel to Syria and expressed her desire to continue staying with Sainaba, the court ordered that she be housed in a women’s hostel and complete her studies.
6) It was on December 21, 2016, nearly a year after she had left home and formally converted, that Hadiya appeared in court with a man named Shafin Jahan, who she said she had married. While Hadiya’s lawyers said that she had been signed up on a matrimonial site and Shafin’s proposal had been arranged through the site, the court was angered that she had suddenly married without informing the court.
7) In May this year, the Kerala HC annulled Hadiya’s marriage to Shafin, and sent her to a hostel and then her parents’ house. Though the court had only ordered that Hadiya be provided police protection, this ruling was used to put her in virtual house arrest, with Hadiya not allowed to step out of her home or meet anyone for six months since.
8) After Shafin Jahan approached the Supreme Court with a Special Leave Petition, however, the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra questioned whether the Kerala HC could nullify a marriage between two consenting adults.
9) An August order by the SC directing the National Investigation Agency to probe Hadiya’s case and the question of ‘love jihad’ in Kerala has also been questioned. While the NIA has submitted reports claiming that there is a pattern to several conversions and marriages in Kerala, Shafin’s lawyers have objected to the entire investigation since the probe has continued without a retired SC judge in charge, as mandated by the court.
10) The SC has also objected to Ashokan being given custody of Hadiya, pointing out that the court is not forced to choose between Shafin’s and Ashokan’s custody, and that the court can appoint a separate guardian for her.
Hadiya’s case has undergone many twists and turns, and there are still questions before the SC in relation to her conversion and her marriage. However, to think of Hadiya’s case as simply a case of ‘love jihad’ is to reduce complex realities to an oversimplified model.