When 23-year-old Athira, a Hindu woman from Kerala's Kasargod district, spoke to media in July, she was clad in a hijab and confidently said that she had converted to Islam upon her own free will.
Months later on Thursday, Athira addressed the media a second time. This time, the hijab was gone, and Athira appeared with a bindi and kumkum on her forehead. She was no longer the Islam convert woman who took the name Ayesha, but Athira, who believes in Hindu religion, she said.
"Om Namah Sivaya," Athira began, while addressing the press meet in Kochi on Thursday.
Athira had left her home in the first week of July, leaving a 15-page letter explaining that she was going to study Islam. On July 27, she surrendered before Kannur police and a local court sent her to a state home for women.
Her parents then moved Kerala High Court, seeking her custody. It was granted after Athira said that she was willing to go with her parents, as long as they did not object to her practicing Islam.
Speaking to media on Thursday, Athira said that her Muslim friends had misguided her into believing in Islam.
"They told me that it was stupid to worship a stone, an idol and that Hinduism has many gods, while Islam has only one supreme god. They instilled this doubt in me. When they said that, I felt very curious about it and when I thought about it, I felt what they said was right," she said.
Soon, her friends began giving her books on Islam, Athira said. "One of them was about hell. The description of hell in that book was so scary, that I lost my sleep for several nights. I began thinking that if I don't follow Islam, then I will have to go through that hell."
Apart from this, Athira claimed that her friends gave her several reading material including a book on coverted women and also watched speeches made by Zakir Naik.
"I was convinced that Islam was a better religion. I blindly believed that my religion was bad," Athira said.
According to her, she got in touch with an Ustad in Malappuram through a friend, after which, she was added to a WhatsApp group called "Hidayat sisters."
She said that there had been only 6 or 7 people in that group and one of the girls began texting her personally.
"She grew close to me and has stayed at my home also. After interacting with her, what I understood is that she converted to Islam because she was in love with a Muslim boy," she said.
Converting her parents
Apart from reading more about Islam, Athira said that at one point, she also tried to convince her parents to convert.
"I started telling them that Islam was the only true religion. When they didn't get convinced, I began to be very angry with them. Because according to Islam, non-believers are khafirs. In Quran, it is said that if your parents don't believe in Islam, you needn't show love to them," she said.
The decision to leave home
According to Athira, she knew her parents would protest if she started dressing differently or started praying in the Islamic way. Her friends then told her about three Islamic institutions where she can study the religion, Athira told reporters.
"They told me I will get certificate from one centre in Ponnani, Tharbiat-ul sabha and Sathyasarani. I was oblivious to my parents' suffering".
She also spoke about a Siraj, a worker of Popular Front of India (PFI), who she claims, helped her with everything. She said that people including Siraj instructed her on how she should give her statement in court, when her family files a complaint.
"People of Hindu helpline helped my parents and told us about Arsha Vidya Samajam in Ernakulam. They didn't force me at all, but gave me right information. They told me that I should re-read Quran with an open mind and I didn't get the same feeling I used to get before. When I read it rationally, I had many doubts," she said.
Following this, she said that she took interest in learning Hinduism in detail and enrolled at the Samajam.
"Nobody there forced me to reconvert but they urged me to read Quran with an open mind and I realised what I had believed about Islam was not right," she said.