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The Hadiya case raises questions of why we don’t believe adult women are capable of making their own decisions. Will the SC come to her rescue?
A 24-year-old woman called Akhila had converted to Islam in September 2015 and assumed the name Hadiya after conversion. She had moved out of home thereafter.
Her father, a former serviceman who identifies as an atheist, had filed a complaint at the local police station and a habeas corpus petition before the Kerala High Court. The writ is usually filed asking for a person kept in unlawful custody to be produced.
Her father filed a petition before the High Court, expressing his fears that his daughter was going to be smuggled out of Kerala to Syria, following her conversion and marriage, asserting that this was a case of ‘love jihad’. On May 24, 2017, the High Court had nullified the marriage, ordered a probe and sent her to her parental home, indicating through a directive that she was not allowed to meet or interact with outsiders, and stated that she was a “weak and vulnerable girl capable of being exploited.”
Meanwhile, her husband filed a petition before the Supreme Court, arguing against the nullification of the marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that the Kerala High Court had no authority to nullify the marriage.
On October 30, in a hearing before the Supreme Court, it was decided that Hadiya had to be given the space to articulate about her conversion to Islam and her subsequent marriage. It had ruled that the Kerala High Court had declared a marriage void in a petition seeking to produce a person placed in unlawful custody, and had thereby overstepped its limits.
In deciding this, the court has sent a clear message that an adult woman has every right to personal agency and thereby to exercise that personal agency in a manner that her free will dictates.
In a day and age where religion has often been used as a tool to oppress women, this decision comes as an interesting change in the approach to both, the perception of religion and a woman’s rights with it. There are many stereotypical assumptions around Islam and conversion – and most people are now associating the notions of love jihad and the ISIS’ propaganda with conversion.
At its very base, a religion governs one’s personal relationship with their faith and their (ideas of) God(s). Recognizing this by attributing free will and personal agency to one’s choice of religion is a step in the right direction to deconstruct stereotypes around it.
While it remains to be seen what the final outcome of the Hadiya case will in itself be, this interim decision by the Supreme Court also reflects clearly drawn lines when it comes to the right of an adult woman in choosing her religion and whom she wants to marry.
The substance of women’s empowerment lies in respect for personal agency, and the freedom to act as a consequence of this agency. Reaffirming this, the Supreme Court of India suggested that it is for a woman to be the one to speak for her choices on conversion and marriage.
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