Is There a Link Between ‘Love Jihad’ & ISIS? The NIA Probes
The genesis of the case lies in a father’s fight to get back his daughter who left home and converted to Islam.
What does an inter-faith marriage in Kerala have to do with the fight for a caliphate in Syria?
The National Investigation has its next big case after the Supreme Court green-lit its investigation into what the BJP insists on calling ‘love jihad’.
Who’s the Reluctant Victim?
That would be Akhila Ashokan, a 24-year-old woman who converted to Islam in 2012 while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery in Salem, Kerala.
The religious conversion was facilitated by the Therbiyat Islam Sabha, a mosque in Calicut. “She was allegedly influenced by Sainaba, president of the women’s wing of the Popular Front of India, which helped legalise her conversion,” reports the Hindustan Times.
Her ex-serviceman father, Ashokan Mani, filed a complaint alleging she had been illegally confined and forcefully converted to Islam. In an affidavit to the police, however, Akhila reportedly said she had been a practicing Muslim since 2012 and willingly left her home.
Two years later, in December 2016, she married Shafin Jahan (27), who she met through a Muslims-only matrimonial website.
How Did ISIS Come Into the Picture?
In 2016, Akhila’s father filed a petition in the Kerala High Court, this time alleging that his daughter had converted to Islam at the behest of the Islamic State. His lawyers mentioned two other cases of women who converted to Islam, married Muslim men and joined Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.
Ashokan Mani’s lawyers successfully based their argument on the fact that there was an ongoing Kerala police investigation into the case of missing 21 persons from the state who were suspected to have been taken to Afghanistan.
On 25 May 2017, the marriage was declared null and void by the Kerala High Court.
Ashokan Mani’s suggestion that his daughter Akhila, too, could be on the same path as them, was enough to convince the court that her marriage and the certificates produced were invalid.
In its controversial judgment, the Kerala High Court observed:
Marriage being the most important decision in her (Akhila’s) life can only be taken with the active involvement of her parents. The marriage, which is alleged to have taken place, is a sham and is of no consequence in the eye of the law. Her husband has no authority to act as the guardian.
Can a Third-Party Contention Annul a Marriage?
Not unless one of the parties to the marriage is a minor. In this case, however, the Kerala High Court made an unreasonable exception.
The court had also directed that Akhila be placed under protective custody of her parents so that she doesn’t further become the victim of ‘love jihad’.
We know is that Akhila is not a minor, is well over 18 years of age, so the direction to place her under “protective custody” does raise serious questions.
We also know that of the 21 people who left Kerala for Afghanistan to join ISIS, eight were Christians who’d converted to Islam. This also included six women and three children.
What we do not know, however, if there was any connection, any link or any contact between these 21 people and Akhila or her husband.
Who Is Shafin Jahan?
The Hindu quotes an old police report, that says Akhila’s husband Shafin Jahan is an active member of the Social Democratic Party of India, the political wing of the Popular Front of India, an Islamist fundamentalist organisation. Of the three cases against him, one pertains to obtaining a passport by concealing the cases against him.
All old posts have been deleted from Shafin Jahan’s facebook profile, but the The Hindu claims to have verified some of his social media posts which indicate sympathies for jihad.
What Did Shafin Jahan Do Next?
On 4 August, Akhila’s husband Shafin Jahan moved the Supreme Court against the Kerala High Court order, which he called an insult to the “independence of women in India”. He also claimed that his wife had converted to Islam two years before their marriage, so there was no question of force.
How Did the NIA Get Involved?
In response to Shafin Jahan’s appeal, the top court issued a notice to the National Investigation Agency requiring its assistance in conducting an investigation.
On 10 August, the NIA filed an interlocutory application to get permission to conduct the investigation which was granted by the Supreme Court in pursuance to which the Kerala police was asked to share records of the investigation with the NIA.
What Did the NIA Tell the Apex Court?
The NIA’s report to the Apex Court claims there is a pattern to how young women from other religions are influenced into converting to Islam. Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh quoted this NIA report to press for a larger investigation into the cases.
Is there a pattern?
The NIA claims there are two other cases similar to Akhila’s and offered details of one of them. Athira Nambiar, the investigating agency claims, is a girl from Pallakad who was taken away from her family, kept in Malappuram district, converted to Islam and made to marry a Muslim man.
A pattern emerges from two similar cases that have been reported from Kerala. In both cases, the person who plays a role in approaching young girls help them in conversion, give them shelter and get them married to Muslims, appear to be common. They seem to approach young girls who appear distressed because of disagreements with parents.Additional Solicitor General, Maninder Singh
The NIA, as per Hindustan Times, also claims that it found 510 people who were converted through the Therbiyatul Islam Sabha.
We know that the NIA did not mention the case of 21 Keralites who joined ISIS in Afghanistan in front of the Supreme Court bench that included Chief Justice JS Khehar.
What we don’t know is whether the three cases mentioned in the Apex Court constitute a “pattern” and whether any of the 510 people who converted to Islam were brainwashed by the Therbiyatul Islam Sabha into travelling to Syria to join ISIS.
So, What Did the Top Court Finally Say?
Four things, mainly.
1. The Supreme Court appointed the National Investigation Agency to conduct a fair investigation under the guidance of retired Supreme Court judge, Justice RV Raveendran.
2. A consolidated fee of Rs 1 lakh for a sitting with the NIA in Bangalore and Rs 2 lakh for travelling outside Bangalore (apart from reimbursement for boarding, lodging, secretarial expenses) has been set for him.
3. The Court assured Kapil Sibal and Indira Jaising, who were appearing for the petitioner Shafin Jahan, that Akhila would be asked to be present in court before a final decision was made.
4. The matter will next be heard after the NIA submits its final report. No deadline has been issued for this.
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