The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside an order by the Kerala High Court that annulled the marriage of Hadiya - a Muslim convert from Vaikkom in Kerala.
This comes after more than two years of legal battle which Hadiya, born as Akhila, had to undergo, just to establish that she has the right to choice. While the 26-year-old woman had to initially fight a legal battle after her father Asokan objected to her conversion to Islam, the legal trouble soon escalated, after the HC, in May 2017, annulled her marriage to Muslim man Shafin Jahan.
Now, after nearly 10 months since that order that attracted widespread criticism, women activists in Kerala believe that Hadiya is free in the exact sense of the term, only now.
In the past so many months while Hadiya was under forced house arrest at her residence in Vaikkom, thousands of women came together to assert Hadiya's right to choose and independently make decisions about her life. The ‘Free Hadiya’ movement that began in the state by a small group of people, soon spread to several parts of the country, with students and activists spilling on to the streets to protest the human rights violation against Hadiya.
Speaking to TNM, activist and critic Devika J said that the SC order was not just a win for Hadiya, but also for all the women of the country, who independently take decisions about their life.
"This case was essentially an adult woman saying that she has the right to choose, be it her religion, or the man she wants to marry. In our patriarchal society, it is the fathers who take crucial decisions about a woman's life including marriage. Now this order is a major win for those women, who want to choose for themselves. It proves that women who don't follow practices of the conventional society are not bad women," Devika said.
Devika had been vocal about her criticism against Hadiya's father Asokan, who subjected Hadiya to house arrest for months together and cut off access to her.
For Anusha Paul, a former journalist who now works with a publishing house in New Delhi, the SC order has reinstated her faith in the judicial system.
"Although late, this does give us hope in the democratic system of our country," Anusha said.
Anusha, along with several other women, had in August last year, gone to Hadiya's house in an attempt to meet her. While the group was prevented from meeting Hadiya, the incident also conveyed to the world, the conditions under which Hadiya was leading her life.
Recounting how a Facebook reading group of women decided to come together to visit Hadiya at her home, Anusha said:
"We had gone there with some sweets, cakes, books and other gifts for Hadiya and her family, since it was Onam that time. What connected us to Hadiya was the kind of torture she was being subjected to at the house. She is a woman who, like all of us, has a life; dreams. And her human rights were being violated then. Imagine she is the same age as most of us in the group and we understood her ordeal."
The group was not only prevented by Hadiya's family from meeting her, but they were also arrested by the police and charged with unlawful assembly for trying to meet Hadiya.
"What we saw there was Hadiya shouting out to us that she wants to be free and that she is being beaten up. We staged a silent protest outside her home then. I believe that incident helped in striking a chord with the common man, who, till then, saw this case as one of radicalisation. Till then, we only saw isolated news reports on the case, but after this incident, more and more people began to identify with Hadiya," Anusha said.
Hadiya is currently completing her studies at Sivaraj college in Salem, after the SC allowed her to continue her studies in November last year.