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At war over love: State and society vs personal freedom in Kerala

Last month, the apex court of the country ordered NIA to investigate the alleged forced conversion of Akhila Ashokan to Islam for marriage in Kerala.

india Updated: Sep 08, 2017 09:01 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Kochi
Love Jihad,NIA probe into love jihad,Kerala love jihad case
Akhila Ashikan, alias Hadia with her husband Shefin Jahan. Their marriage was annulled by Kerala high court and later the Suprem Court ordered NIA to probe into such marriages. It triggered a fresh round of debates on so called love-jihad. (HT Photo)

An idyllic village, TV Puram in Kerala’s Kottayam district has turned into a fortress, with a heavy posse of policemen guarding a modest three-room house of Akhila Ashokan, now Hadiya Jahan.

The 24-year-old homeopathy doctor has been confined to her house for the past three months after Kerala high court annulled her marriage to a Muslim youth, Shefin Jahan (26).

Her father, Ashokan, an ex-serviceman, had alleged there was forced conversion and raised fears of her being sent to war-hit Syria to join the militant outfit Islamic State (IS), in the light of 21 missing Muslims, five of them converts, believed to have done the same last year.

Hadiya rubbished allegations of forced conversion, and questioned her confinement. “My mother gets angry when I do namaz. I don’t know why they are confining me like this,” she said in a recent video shot by Hindu activist and author Rahul Easwar.

However, she was not available for comment on whether she wished to go to Syria.

"This is not a case of a girl falling in love with a boy of a different religion and wanting to get married to him. In such cases, the court has been consistent in accepting the choice of the girl. This case is different."
"The decision to get married, the most important in her life, can only be taken with the active involvement of her parents. The marriage which is alleged to have been performed is a sham and is of no consequence in the eye of the law"
"The nature provides numerous examples of even animals taking care of and protecting their progeny sacrificing their very lives for the purpose. The Homo Sapien is no exception. The forces operating from behind the curtains have succeeded in creating hostility in the mind of Ms. Akhila towards her parents. During our interactions, we have seen the anguish and sorrow of the father, who was pleading with his daughter to return home"....
"The court is concerned with welfare of a girl of her age. The duty cast on the court is to ensure safety of at least the girls who are brought before it can be discharged only by ensuring that Akhila is in safe hands"

Ashokan said she does. “She told me told me several times that she wants to go to Syria” and treat the injured there. He also pointed to her husband’s “Middle East connections”.

Shefin works in Muscat, and his parents are settled there. He had initially planned to take her there, but the court ruled against his favour.

Ashokan stressed that he wanted to take her to the Middle East and then push her to trouble-torn areas.

Shefin denies all these. He rues that he has not been allowed to stay with his wife for more than two days.

The claims and counter-claims went to court. While the HC annulled the marriage, the Supreme Court, further, directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the circumstances of the marriage.

The move raised eyebrows, with activists questioning the judicial intervention in personal choices.

They say being a pluralistic society, inter-faith marriages are common and a terror agency probe will leave a question mark on such marriages.

  • Dec 19, 2016: Akhila Ashokan alias Hadiya and Sefin Jehan get married.
  • Dec 22, 2016 : Haduya’s father moves Kerala high court.
  • Dec 23, 2016 : Hadiya appears before HC, says she converted to Islam in August.
  • Father says she was indoctrinated while pursuing her studies.
  • High court sends Hadyia to a girls’ hostel, asks police to probe alleged love jihad.
  • May 24, 2017: After hearing police, HC annulls marriage, sends Hadiya to parents’ custody.
  • Aug 16, 2017: SC orders NIA to probe the case.

Last week, in north Kerala’s Kannur district, a local court ordered police to give protection to the family of K Rajan, who feared for their lives after his 23-year-old daughter was brought back home following her marriage to a Muslim youth.

In another case, a farmer sniffed trouble when his daughter, Athira Nambiar (21), who had cut off ties with him, applied for a passport to Yemen on the advise of her handlers in a Muslim outfit’s hostel.

The strife-torn country, they said, was the ideal destination for true believers.

Following court intervention, he got her back. Now in Arsha Vidya Samajam, a Hindu religious school which houses two-dozen girls who returned to Hinduism, Athira hates to call herself a victim of “love jihad”, a term coined by Hindu outfits but claims that certain circumstances led her to Islam.

“There was a big spiritual vacuum for me. All my friends were from Islam and three things attracted me to Islam — promise of heaven, it gives maximum protection to women and a single god. Now I am convinced my religion also ensures these traits,” she said.

Athira and Hadiya were sent to the same Muslim school, Sathyasarani in Malappuram district’s Manjeri, for indoctrination. Their teacher was also the same, AS Zainaba, the president of the National Women’s Front, the women’s wing of Popular Front of India (PFI), a fundamentalist outfit which came into shape after the ban on Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), and whose activists were involved in chopping the palm of a professor who prepared a question paper allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed.

A state police investigation, initiated in connection with the conversion of Nimisha alias Fathima, one of the missing 21, found similarities in many other cases.

A report submitted to the police chief identified two recognised religious centres in Kozhikkode and Malappuram — Tharbiyathul Islam Sabha and Monunsthil Islam Sabha — behind the conversion of 5,793 people between 2011 and 2105. Of these 4,719 were Hindus and 1,074 Christians earlier.

In most cases the modus operandi and the people involved were same.

“There is an organised group behind this. Workers of the fundamentalist group like Popular Front of India came under radar on several occasions. But political leadership were not ready to take it up properly fearing communal tension,” a senior police officer said.

During hearing in Hadiya’s case, NIA also pointed out the similarities to the SC.

Hadiya’s husband, Shefin, a PFI activist and former administrator of radical sites, however, accused the police of being partial to Muslims.

“In Kerala, RSS and CPI(M) workers kill many political opponents. Can you ban them citing these incidents?” he asked.

With the investigations still on, religious groups on both sides are trying to cash in on the controversy.

Hindu activist Easwar, against whom Hadiya’s father had registered a complaint for shooting a video without his consent, said they were not against interfaith marriages.

“Our country always celebrated pluralism. But forced conversions are against the spirit of pluralism. Let us respect all religions and we need a law to check forced conversions,” he said.

But Muslim leaders say the SC order gives much credence to a misnomer called “love jihad.”

“Love jihad is the creation of the Sangh Parivar. There is no forced conversion. We can’t help if some people are attracted to our religion,” said Hameed Vanniambalam, president of the Welfare Party, political wing of the Jamat-e-Islami.

Other Muslim leaders believe the case of 21 missing Muslims was an aberration and the whole community had disowned them. They say it is wrong to paint a larger canvass citing an isolated incident and blame the missing incident for the knee-jerk reactions from judiciary.

Relatives of the missing, however, welcome the state and judician intervention, saying such a stand earlier would have saved their kin.

“More than a year passed since my daughter’s disappearance. Many agencies probed it but I am yet to get some concrete information. Nobody heard us properly,” said Bindhu, mother of Nimisha, adding that she was not against any religion or belief but sending innocents to war-torn areas after indoctrination was a cruel game.

For Hadiya, her parents’ fear and the judicial overreach has taken a toll on her personal freedom.

In the video shot by Easwar, her question is: “Is this what you all want? Is this how my life will be?”

First Published: Sep 08, 2017 07:46 IST