On 30 October, the Supreme Court directed that Hadiya, a 25-year-old Malayali woman whose conversion to Islam and choice of a partner who shared her faith is under judicial scrutiny, be brought before the court on 27 November. In August last year, Hadiya’s father Asokan had filed a petition in the Kerala High Court claiming that she had been forcibly converted to Islam. While the case was ongoing, Hadiya married a Muslim man named Shafin Jahan—her father challenged the marriage in the high court as well. In May 2017, in an extreme and unprecedented move, the court annulled her marriage and confined her to her father’s custody. Three months later, while hearing Jahan’s appeal against the high court’s decision, the Supreme Court directed the National Investigation Agency to conduct a probe into the marriage. Rather than remedying the violation of the two citizens’ rights immediately, the apex court chose to embark on an enquiry into the alleged radicalisation of young Hindu women converts in Kerala.
A few days before the latest Supreme Court hearing, Rahul Easwar, a right-wing-leaning activist, had released a video of Hadiya pleading to be freed from forced confinement to her father’s home. She states in the video that she may be “killed anytime—tomorrow or the day after” and that her father was “hitting and kicking” her. The Supreme Court acted deaf to her plea. Though the court observed that Hadiya had the right to choose her partner, by fixing 27 November as the date for her production in court, in effect, it allowed Hadiya’s father and the Hindutva anti-conversion forces in Kerala a whole month to apply greater pressure on her.
The Hadiya case has led to a divisive debate in Kerala on the question of individual choice, gender, and religious belonging. The response of the state government—led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)—has been tepid at best. While the government remained silent through much of the debate on the case, in early October, it submitted before the Supreme Court that the state police could conduct the investigation, and that there was no need for an NIA probe. However, the state government also reportedly submitted a list of over 90 cases of “forced conversions” to the NIA for its probe. Meanwhile, the statement of a young Hindu woman, who said she was tortured at a reconversion centre in Kochi, notes that the Hindutva outfits that run the centre have made much of the fact that if a Hindu woman marries a man of another faith, even if she does not convert herself, her womb will carry his child. They imply that this is tantamount to the effects of adultery.