Why is an inter-religious marriage raising concerns of ISIS links? Encapsulated in a single sentence, the notion appears downright bizarre. The Kerala high court ruling, which nullified an inter-faith marriage between Akhila Ashokan (Hadiya, she had already converted to Islam by this time) and Shafin Jahan, has raised pressing questions about judicial interventions in personal choices. Akhila, on her part, is determined to keep her new faith, practicing her religion at her family home, to which she has been confined. Indian society is defined by its diversity and inter-faith marriages are commonplace. On the other hand, forced conversion has been given credence by the SC, which has ordered an NIA probe into the case. Where does the fight against terror end and moral policing begin?
Akhila, confined but keeping her faith?
The tranquility of T.V. Puram, a small, scenic village in Kerala's Kottayam district, has been shrouded by an atmosphere of political uncertainty. The tension centres around Fadhiya House, where 24-year-old Akhila Ashokan, or Hadiya, currently lives with her parents. The lone lensman who winds his way through the narrow streets towards Fadhiya House finds himself face-to-face with two armed policemen, part of Ashokan's rigorous security detail. The Kerala High Court's highly controversial judgement that nullified Ashokan's marriage to 27-year-old Shafin Jehan, on the grounds of an appeal filed by her father, battered the communal harmony of the state, with critics lining up to question the validity of the court ruling in what is widely deemed a personal choice.
The place remains surrounded in mystery, even to the most curious local. "Police personnel are giving Akhila maximum security in keeping with the High Court order and also to assuage her parents' apprehensions," District police chief N. Ramachandra told Deccan Chronicle. At least 37 police officials guard her residence, providing the family with round-the-clock surveillance.
Akhila Ashokan, aka Hadiya, with Shafin Jahan
Akhila, or Hadiya, continues to practice Islam at her house, much to the ire of her parents. "Why does my mother stop me when I perform namaaz," she demanded. Her father, ex serviceman K.M. Ashokan, however, has cause for relief. The Supreme Court order, which has directed an NIA probe into the matter under the supervision of retired Justice R. Raveendran, "comes as a breather," he said. "We believe everything will be crystal clear after the investigation. Since the court is monitoring it directly, nobody else can intervene," he said.
The order was passed by a bench comprising Chief Justice J.S, Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on Wednesday, on the basis of a petition filed by Shafin Jehan, challenging the Kerala High Court's order, which annulled the marriage between Shafin and Akhila, calling it a "sham." The Kerala High Court judgement, however, was based on K.M. Ashokan's claims that her daughter was "forcefully converted" to Islam and that "there are plans to recruit her to the extremist outfit, ISIS.
The small flat in T.V. Puram has been Akhila's home for the last two months, ever since the HC ruling, which called for her to be shifted from her college hostel in Salem, back to her family house in Kottayam. Mr. Ashokan, who says that a lot of women are facing a similar plight, alleged, in a conversation with DC, that Akhila was converted to Islam on the basis of persuasion from Abubacker, the father of one of her classmates in college, where she was studying Homeopathy medicine.
However, the circumstances in which Akhila is being detained have invited the wrath of human rights activists. Right-wing author and activist Rahul Easwar, who visited the house earlier this week, expressed similar concerns, saying, "I have requested the police to allow her an outing on occasion, even if that means accompanying her to a movie or for a walk. These are not human conditions." The State Human Rights Commission's acting president, P. Mohandas has said that that Akhila is undergoing immense human rights violation at her house."
The Kerala High Court's stance that surprised many, appears to allow legal intervention in personal choices, backed by that of the Supreme Court's ruling, has only lent credence to widespread calls of "love jihad," a prevailingly right wing sentiment that has caused ire across the nation.