Love, Religion, the People, and the Government – The Hadiya Ruling… Kanan

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Let’s talk about love.

It’s a complicated topic in India, an uphill battle for most people who want to love freely. We still live in a society that is uncomfortable with inter-caste, inter-faith, and inter-racial marriages and relationships (which is a word that people still haven’t accepted).

The particular case of Hadiya Jahan highlights society’s discomfort with not only inter-religious faith, but also love for a religion other than the one someone is born into.

Akhila Ashokan, now Hadiya Jahan, is a Hindu woman from Kerala who grew fascinated with Islam when she learned more about it from her two friends in college. She converted to Islam and changed her name to Hadiya in 2016. Her father approached the court because of his disapproval, but his case was first thrown out. Then he went to the High Court with a case that Hadiya had been approached by ISIS and then converted. In this time, Hadiya met Shefin Jahan, fell in love, and married him. The High Court, while investigating into the ISIS claims made by her father, sent her to a hostel, and then six months later, annulled her marriage to Jahan and sent her to her parents’ home. Hadiya’s parents were part of a Hindu group that subjected Hadiya to Hindu images and shlokas constantly when she was forced to live at home, as an attempt to convert her back. Hadiya described this time to be one of torture.

Shefin Jahan approached the Supreme Court later in 2017 to reverse the annulment, and in February 2018, the Court declared that marriage is in realm of “core privacy”, which means that the Court cannot intervene in the marriage of two adults who have consented, as it is their private matter. Hadiya and Shefin were allowed to resume their married life.

The High Court’s ruling was a strange one, because it claimed that Hadiya seemed quite “gullible” and had abandoned her studies to pursue a man in another faith, which, the court believed, was “not normal”.[1]

We can immediately see the issue here. “Normal”, in this context, is not an appropriate word to use in court. What is the definition of “normal” and who gets to define it? Why was Hadiya’s decision to convert and then marry Shefin abnormal? Did the court know her thoughts and feelings when she met him and his family? No; rather, they immediately declared that she seemed “gullible” and that she had just “memorized” verses from the Quran, indicating that the Court did not believe she did truly follows Islam.

The media and citizen reaction to Hadiya’s conversion and marriage was largely negative (as if it was their right to comment on her choices). Many questioned the morality of Hindu-Muslim marriages, and the media suspected that this was a case of “love jihad”, a “supposed form of religious warfare by which Muslim men lure Hindu women away from their faith.”[2] The term was first used in Kerala and Mangalore in 2009, after mass conversions to Islam were observed. The concept has not been proven, and it is often a term used by right-wing Hindu parties.

Perhaps this term is being used because Muslims are often seen as the “black sheep” of a majority Hindu society. Muslims are still seen in this manner today and “love jihad” is yet another way to make all Muslim men who love Hindu women to have alternate motives.

We can take it a step further. Using the term “love jihad” as a way to cut down every Hindu-Muslim marriage can also be a way to further oppress women, by questioning their intellect and their ability to make decisions, and to prevent them from the autonomy of choosing their life partner. The High Court did not question the motives of Hadiya’s parents, but rather judged Hadiya’s character because of her love for another religion. It did so erroneously, because Hadiya is a bold woman making choices from her heart, and instead, the Court considered her to be weak.

Though the Supreme Court reversed the marriage annulment, this same acceptance is not found in the minds of most Indians, who will judge a woman’s character if she decides to stand by her own decisions. This does not only apply to Hindu-Muslim marriages, but also to any sort of inter-caste or inter-faith marriages. The women in these marriages are often times seen as weak and in need of “rescuing” because, society believes, surely the man tricked her into marrying him.

It is not the High Court’s job to intervene in the marriage of two consenting adults. It is also not any court’s job to question a woman’s character, strength, and intellect for taking the bold step to love who she wants.

Despite the Supreme Court’s positive ruling, it doesn’t make it a perfect ruling. It contradicts the government’s stance on same-sex marriage. Furthermore, it is somewhat distracting from the darker side of relationships, where the government really needs to be involved but has remained silent, such as marital rape and the prevalence of sexual violence in this country.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s reversal of their annulment shows progress in the government. But, firstly, how much progress? The Court is still probing into Shefin’s political ties to see if he is involved in ISIS. Secondly, can the same progress, though minimal, be seen in the citizens of India? We can love whomever we want because love, as the government has correctly ruled, is a private matter. But how long will it take society to accept that? How long will it take families to allow their children to make decisions in love for themselves?

Furthermore, if Muslims continue to be depicted as “black sheep” in India, simply on the basis of their religion, people will continue socially rejecting Hindu-Muslim marriages vehemently.

What are your thoughts on this?




[2] Ibid.

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