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Kerala ‘love jihad’: NIA finds four common PFI links between Athira and Hadiya cases

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The NIA, which is probing 94 ‘love jihad’ cases handed over by Kerala Police, says four PFI-linked men who forced Hadiya’s conversion also encouraged Athira.

In the course of its probe into the controversial Hadiya ‘love jihad’ case, the National Investigation Agency has found a strong link between the conversion to Islam of Hadiya and that of Athira Nambiar, investigators said.

Four men, suspected to be associated with the People’s Front of India, forced Kerala resident Akhila Asokan to convert and take the name Hadiya. The same men are also suspected to have “encouraged” Athira’s conversion, according to sources in the NIA.

Case history and investigation

Hadiya’s father had filed a petition with the Kerala High Court, alleging that she had been ‘forcibly’ converted to Islam, and stating that his daughter could be taken away to Syria. In May 2017, the high court declared Hadiya’s marriage to Shafi Jehan invalid, even though annulling a valid marriage is not permissible, even by a constitutional court in India.

On 16 August this year, the Supreme Court got involved in the case, on a petition from Shafi Jehan. Then-Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar asked the NIA to fact-find whether Kerala was witnessing a conspiracy of sham religious conversions of young women to Islam, without mentioning the term ‘love jihad’, and appointed a retired Supreme Court judge to oversee it.

Also read: Supreme Court goes after ‘love jihad’, sparks fears of overreach

The Kerala Police handed over a list of 94 cases of suspected forced conversion in late September, asking the central agency to examine them and see if there was a pattern. Of these 94, at least 23 marriages are suspected to have been facilitated by the PFI.

“In all these cases, the men were Muslims and the women, who were Hindus, converted to Islam to marry them. We also found that 23 such marriages were facilitated by the PFI. We will now study the cases and see if we find a pattern similar to the Hadiya or Athira cases, and then state our findings,” an NIA source told ThePrint.

Both Athira and Hadiya had a common mentor in Sainaba, reportedly the president of the PFI’s women’s wing, the National Women’s Front. Investigators say the two also had the same ‘trainers’.

“There are a few persons who facilitated the entire process of conversion for both Hadiya and Athira,” an investigating officer said.

“Till now, the only two common links in both cases were Sainaba and one Mohammad Kutty, a PFI-SDPI activist, who had approached Hadiya’s friend’s father Aboobacker to take her away from her family for pursuing Islamic studies,” the officer said.

“Kutty was also arrested for illegally confining Athira. But now, the involvement of some more persons from the PFI has come to the fore. They are suspected to have carried out these conversions. We are checking their credentials.”

The NIA has also examined and re-examined 50 witnesses in the case, and another round is to be conducted soon.

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