Kerala has seen a growing phobia of 'love jihad' in the last few months, with the narrative of brainwashing and conversion by fraud being used to challenge a slew of inter-faith marriages in court.
In the last few months, many parents have gone to court, accusing young Muslim men of having links with terrorist or extremist organisations and luring their daughters away as part of a concerted ‘Love Jihad’ campaign.
While there have been instances, such as that of Thiruvananthapuram’s Nimisha and Kochi’s Merin converting to Islam and accompanying their husbands to Afghanistan to join the ISIS, the terror bogie is now becoming a pretext to question every inter-faith relationship opposed by families.
And so, you have the case of 23-year-old Nishamudheen and 18-year-old Haritha, who hail from Pavaratty in Thrissur district, and had been neighbours for several years. Haritha is a Hindu and Nishamudheen is a Muslim.
When the two fell in love, Haritha's parents were aghast, and tried their best to break up their relationship. After their other attempts failed, they turned to the worst accusation they could think of – that Nishamudheen has links with the Islamic terror group ISIS and planned to take Haritha to Syria.
It took a months-long fight before the Kerala High Court dismissed Haritha's father Unnikrishnan's petition in October, and allowed the young couple to reunite. While dismissing the petition, the court also verbally warned Haritha's father and his lawyer not to use the narrative of love jihad and ISIS to break up every instance of an inter-faith relationship.
Later that month, the couple finally managed to register their marriage under the Special Marriages Act.
But Haritha and Nishamudheen still cannot believe the extent to which Unnikrishnan went to try to break them up, and the struggle they had to go through to be together.
The hard road to marriage
Their relationship has never been an easy one, Nishamudheen tells TNM. Haritha was 15, a class 10 student, when they first began to see each other.
After they found out about the relationship, Haritha’s parents first filed a case against Nishamudheen under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
"We were seeing each other and her parents came to know about it. They filed a police case against me and threatened Haritha into giving a statement against me. I was remanded in judicial custody for about a month. The case is still going on," Nishamudheen says.
Soon after, Haritha's parents also took her away to Saudi Arabia to complete her schooling.
But the young couple found a chance to reunite when Haritha returned with her father to Thrissur in July this year, to enroll her in a college there.
On July 13, Haritha left home to live with Nishamudheen. That same day, her father filed a missing persons complaint. A week later, the duo appeared at the Irinjalakkuda Magistrate Court.
"This was when we realised that her father filed a habeas corpus petition at the High Court. We appeared in court on a Friday and the court lodged her in a mahila mandiram in the district till she was produced at the HC," Nishamudheen narrates.
The court then asked Haritha to go with her parents so that she can carry on with her higher studies. However, the court also told Unnikrishnan not to restrain her from keeping in touch with Nishamudheen, and cautioned that her freedom should not be compromised.
But that was not how the following days unfolded, Haritha tells TNM.
“I wasn't given access to my phone. I was practically detained at home. My relatives were planning to marry me off to some other man. Although I got admitted to Sahrudaya college for a Bachelor’s course in Commerce (BCom), I was not put up in a hostel as the court had directed. This is when I decided to leave home again," says Haritha.
This time, Nishamudheen filed a contempt of court petition against Haritha's father, for violating the conditions set by the court.
Meanwhile, her father filed a review petition after Haritha left home for the second time. This was when he resorted to the terror bogey, alleging in the petition that Nishamudheen had links to ISIS.
The court then lodged Haritha at SNV Sadanam in Ernakulam, while it heard the case. In October, it finally dismissed Unnikrishnan's petition seeking custody of Haritha.
The diary: ISIS and Love Jihad
As “proof” of his allegations, Unnikrishnan approached the media in the first week of October with a hand-written diary that he said was his daughter's. One of the diary entries talked about Muslim men radicalising Hindu women, converting them to Islam and later taking them to Syria.
Unnikrishnan used this entry to claim that his daughter’s case was one of love jihad. He took the same material to court.
However, while Haritha confirms that she did write the entry, she explains that the entry came after concerted attempts by people to convince her about love jihad.
"I wrote this in 2014 after the POCSO case was filed. My father has affiliations with the BJP and several people from the party had come to visit me at home. They used to tell me that love jihad is a reality and that Nishamudheen will cheat me. They gave me books and CDs that spoke about Hindu religion and cautioned Hindu women against Love Jihad. I was only exposed to their side and had no means to speak to Nishamudheen. At that time, I made the diary entry that such things are happening around us. I had not mentioned Nishamudheen's name at all in that context. But father used it to try to win the case."
The court too did not find the diary convincing, and dismissed it after studying the material.
Even in July this year, after the court first sent her with her father, says Haritha, she was again subjected to "counselling."
A woman named Shruthi from the Siva Sakthi Yoga Centre in Thripunithura – which is now in the dock for illegally detaining women as part of a "ghar whapsi" campaign – got in touch with Haritha in July.
"This was shortly after I was brought back home. She told me that I need to learn more about my religion and that I had decided to marry a Muslim because I did not know enough. She warned me that he will abandon me or take me to Syria," says Haritha.
Love, no love jihad
Haritha feels that it was unfair for her father to have used the love jihad narrative just because the man she loved came from outside her religion.
"Now, it is so easy to accuse someone of terror links. He might have thought such an allegation would convince the court and he will get me back. All we wanted was to live together, we had already decided that neither of us will convert. We loved each other and not religion. His family has accepted me," Haritha says.
Nishamudheen says that he understands that Haritha's family would go to any extent to get their daughter back.
"But accusing someone of terror links is beyond everything. How can they do that? Even the court observed that such a tendency is not for the good," he says.
The couple are now living in Nishamudheen's house in Pavaratty, and will soon move to the Gulf region, where Nishamudheen works as a gym instructor.