The case will affect the future of interfaith marriages that are legally challenged by families.
If a woman stands in an open court and says she is an adult who married of her free will, no court should have the right to tell her to complete her studies first. This is what the honourable worthies of our Supreme court have now done. Yes, they have freed her from the custody of her parents—one step forward—but in insisting she complete her studies in Tamil Nadu—it appears to me that they may have simultaneously taken a step backwards.
As a woman who chooses to exercise free choice in all aspects of her life, I am quite unsettled at the journey of the Hadiya case. It’s not just the Islamophobia that bothers me, it’s the quiet presumption that others (mostly male) know better than the 24 year old adult woman who made the choice to convert and marry outside her faith.
There is a searing and vital principle of free will that is being repeatedly violated in the Hadiya case. An adult woman must have the right to jump hoops, marry, divorce, choose her faith, shave her head or cover it, study or count sheep for the rest of her life. No one should tell her what to do. I would go so far as to ask why did Hadiya ask to be released in the custody of her husband? Why should any man, family or institution be guardian to an adult?
Islamophobia is only a part of the story. At the heart of it is the reality of a patriarchal society that sees women as chattel that belongs to them, represents their wealth and standing in the social pecking order and therefore has to be guarded like property. That’s how Khap panchayats, not far from the national capital, see their women and fight over those who choose to romance or marry outside the caste lineage.
The thing about chattel (a personal possession) is that it is owned by others and representative of their honour or lack of it. It’s the same kind of psychology that decides that Padmavati (whether she existed or not) is a symbol of honour and is possibly being dishonoured by a film that no one has seen. To add to the paranoia, there’s a lurking Muslim invader, who certainly did exist, in the frame!
Let me recount what the late VHP leader Giriraj Kishore once told me back in the late 90s when I started covering the BJP. Muslim men, he said, cast lascivious eyes on innocent Hindu maidens and because they have a particular surgery, they can pleasure many at one go. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but for those who don’t get it, he meant circumcision. The spectre of Muslim men/invaders/ seducers therefore is an old neurosis that is carried by some members of the VHP type organisations and presumably by some of those who now argue that Hadiya was brainwashed (possibly a result of seduction by men of a particular faith?)
In spite of all our patriarchal attitudes, modern law decrees that women have equal right and freedoms. It is a particularly perverse national imagination that continues to insist that a woman who has broken the norm in a traditional social order has been “brainwashed”. Some of the language used by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) includes the phrase “psychological kidnapping”. On a lighter note, one could say that if one reads about the science of falling in love, there is an element of psychological kidnapping in the entire process!
The Hadiya case is important at several levels. Currently, her marriage to Shafin Jahan stands annulled following a Kerala High Court order earlier this year. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the validity of her marriage and the next hearing will be in the third week of January 2018. The case has a standing on the future of interfaith marriages that are legally challenged by families.
The case will also eventually weigh in on the concept of Love Jihad, first used in the Mangalore and Kerala coast in 2009, but now applied indiscriminately to any area where Muslims are present in large numbers. Is there really an organized conspiracy of Muslim males sent to seduce women in order to brainwash them to become terrorists?
Women are such silly creatures, after all, who would do anything for a man that’s seduced them… so who knows.
Let me also make a full disclosure. I am not an objective party in this matter. I do confess to being from a family of jihadis, that is, people who married and produced children with partners across the barricades of religion. Our misguided family thought they were making love not war. Now we know better: it is love in the times of hate.