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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Balancing valid concerns

Friday, 01 December 2017 13:27
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Rinku Ghosh 


The Supreme Court has walked a fine line on the Hadiya case with a delicacy of logic and reasoning. It can be trusted to ensure our Constitutional rights

Here is a 24-year-old educated woman, pursuing a degree in homeopathy, who says she has embraced Islam and married a Muslim man of her own free will. Set this against a Kerala High Court ruling annulling her marriage on the plea that she could have been brainwashed and coerced into marriage as part of organised radicalisation by Islamic fundamentalists in parts of that State.

Reacting to the petition of her father Asokan and basing its order after detailed investigations, the High Court had handed over Hadiya’s guardianship to her parents, who kept her home for almost 11 months and discontinued her studies to be a homoeopath at a college in Salem. They restricted her movement, fearing she would drift further from her roots, and claimed were protecting her against murder threats by radicals, who feared she would spill the beans on their recruitment methodology. The apex court appropriately prioritised individual freedom of an adult by separating the particularities of whether all of her choices were born of her free will indeed, or were they imposed given her supposed “conversion” or indeed if she had the ecosystem to decide for herself, free of pressure, manipulation and insinuation.

The judges, after interacting with her for half-an hour, granted her the freedom to study at her homoeopathic college in Salem and concentrate on her educational and economic rehabilitation, and therefore, boost her sense of self-worth that has so far been defined alternatively by her parents and husband. If the Court released her from the control of her parents and let her exist as a free individual and get a grip on things that have been a part of her normal rhythms, it also didn't send her back to her husband as a corollary. In fact, the court entrusted her guardianship to the dean of the homoeopathic college in Salem, though she preferred otherwise. And though Hadiya wanted her husband to bear the expenses, the court ensured that the Salem college allowed her internship, participation in classes and accommodation. It even directed the Kerala police to take care of her safety and directed the college to treat Hadiya like any other normal student.

By providing Hadiya a neutral space for her personal efflorescence, it restored her dignity as a woman, who should be making choices independent of referencing herself in the context of either her father or husband. Justice DY Chandrachud clarified that Hadiya’s actions should be independent of any patriarchal yoke. “Wife is not a chattel and husband cannot be a guardian. She has her own identity in life and society. Even I am not a guardian of my wife. Please make her understand,” he told lawyers appearing for her ‘husband’. By allowing Hadiya a neutral space till her case on the annulment of her marriage by Kerala High Court is heard again in January, the judges have allowed her thinking time to sort out her priorities even as it looks into the NIA report of her alleged “forced” conversion.

Many may argue that individual liberty and autonomy, right or wrong, of an adult should be respected. Sure. But it needs to be made absolutely certain whether it's a “coached” opinion or one made under duress. The Court has allowed Hadiya that space to disentangle her own neutrality from the insidious trap of either parental or spousal coercion. In this respect, it has, in fact, gone ahead of the Kerala High Court ruling, which referred to her as a “girl” instead of a “woman” and seemed to infantalise her as a vulnerable waif who needed male approbation and protection to carry on her life. By letting her meet friends and reclaim her adulthood, the court has allowed her to negotiate her life on her own terms, whatever that might be in the end. She did express her wish to complete her studies, a personal goal at this point. If a month later, she is determined to stake her identity on love, the Court would at least defend itself against charges of bias and giving Hadiya room to exercise her personal freedom. As the judicial system is under attack for dehumanising her, the Supreme Court had no option but to not let Hadiya appear like a prey for all kinds of activism to feed on.

The Court has to take a very decided and educated call in the conspiracy angle of the Hadiya case as it is a part of a series of petitions by parents alleging the possibility of certain radical organisations inducing conversions among impressionable young people and encouraging “love jihad” operations. One misstep and the after-effects could be devastating in terms of the spill-over effect on other cases of a similar nature.The Court has instructed NIA, which had filed a detailed report on the basis of Kerala police and its own investigations, to further probe whether Hadiya was indeed                           co-opted into Islam through a systematic, long-drawn and organised process. It must be remembered that the NIA examined the case of Athira Nambiar, who was ultimately returned to her family.

Hadiya’s case is a tad more complex. She apparently first became friends with a young Muslim woman as part of a social organisation, which has links with the radical People's Front of India (PFI), which in turn is alleged to have association with the dreaded Islamic State. She apparently converted after her new-found friendship and chose her life partner Shafin over the internet, who also wassuspected to be a radical given his conversations in a social media chat group which had some hardliners as members. Subsequently, those members, according to Shafin, were barred. No solid case of conspiracy against his alleged designs to convert or induct people in Syria has yet been made out.

Question is whether Akhila, as Hadiya was known before her conversion, displayed a behaviour consistent with her present line of thought? Is her transformation in faith a matter of personal conviction and enlightenment or by constant persuasion? Is she being made a trophy of honour by extremist groups on both sides of the religious spectrum?  There are layers of complexity, some of which pertain to national security. And that needs patient dissection and analysis before the court can give its ultimate verdict. 

(Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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