Before Kerala ‘love jihad’ case, SC upheld inter-faith, inter-caste marriages in ‘free and democratic’ India

New Delhi, Hindustan Times | ByAshok Bagriya
Aug 18, 2017 01:21 AM IST

In the past, Supreme Court had stood up for inter-faith and inter-caste marriages but ordered the NIA to probe the marriage between a Hindu man and Muslim woman from Kerala.

A few years back, the Supreme Court came to the rescue of a sitting Rajasthan High court judge’s daughter, allowing her to go with a man she wanted to marry.

The Supreme Court has asked the NIA to probe the marriage between Hadiya (right), a Hindu woman who converted to Islam after marrying Shafin Jehan.(HT file photo)
The Supreme Court has asked the NIA to probe the marriage between Hadiya (right), a Hindu woman who converted to Islam after marrying Shafin Jehan.(HT file photo)

The girl was kept under house arrest by her father, justice RS Rathore, because the man she intended to marry was outside her caste.

The top court, however, ascertained the wishes of the woman and let her go with the person.

A similar incident played out in the Supreme Court more than 20 years ago.

Two Delhi-based advocates, Vipin and Jaspreet Gogia, approached the top court seeking protection from the woman’s father, a civil servant in Punjab. Jaspreet’s father was opposed to the marriage as she was a Jat Sikh and Vipin a Khatri Hindu.

Despite the court’s intervention, the couple were allegedly abducted by a team of Punjab Police from outside the court premises.

The then chief justice of India, MN Venkatachaliah, threatened the Punjab Police chief and Delhi Police of consequences unless the couple returned safely. Days later, the couple returned and Supreme Court blessed the union.

In a recent landmark judgment, the Supreme Court stood up for inter-caste and inter- religion marriages.

“This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter,” court said.

“Inter-caste marriages are, in fact, in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system,” it added.

But a recent interfaith marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in Kerala has become a matter of national security, with the top court asking the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the marriage between Shafin Jahan and Akhila.

The woman’s father claims the marriage was forced and was a case of love jihad, a term right-wing groups use to allege an Islamist strategy of converting Hindu women through seduction, marriage or money.

He has sought custody of his daughter saying his daughter’s conversion to Islam was an instance of love jihad and that efforts are underway to send her to Syria to join the international terror outfit, Islamic State. The man denies the allegations.

Investigations into the allegations are ongoing .

However, a preliminary probe suggest that the Muslim man and people who helped him get married are under the scanner in a separate case of forced conversion.

A trial in the case is yet to take place.

While all of this plays out in this Kerala case -- legal experts have called the Supreme Court ordering a NIA probe “absolutely horrific”.

“I am horrified. In every case of inter-caste or inter-religion marriage, the first instinct of the court is to ascertain the wishes of the girl and protect her from any influence. But here, the court has decided to first let police investigate the matter and in the end speak to the girl,” said Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate.

Anand Grover, another senior advocate, too felt the court order was not correct.

“Why do you need the investigation? In this case, the girl and her marriage is the core issue and not something else. Ultimately, it is about the wishes of the girl, she is an adult and she can take decisions for herself,” he added.

In May, the Kerala high court – responding to a plea by Akihila’s father– declared the marriage invalid.

The verdict had sparked a wave of protests across Kerala, with rights groups criticising the court for curtailing the rights of an adult woman.

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