Kerala’s Hadiyas: NIA Asks Interfaith Couples, ‘Love or Terror?’

In the last few months, the NIA has picked up dozens of interfaith couples in Kerala to question them.

4 min read
Kerala’s Hadiyas: NIA Asks Interfaith Couples, ‘Love or Terror?’

The Supreme Court on Monday started hearing the case of Hadiya Jahan, that prosecutors say shows how ISIS sympathisers are using “Love Jihad” to win recruits and spread their message.

The NIA has accused Hadiya’s husband, Shefin Jahan, in court of trying to recruit people for ISIS, a charge he denies.

The 24-year-old woman, who converted to Islam before marrying him and changed her name from Akhila to Hadiya, was placed in her father’s custody by the high court after he said he feared for her well-being. There is no criminal case against her.

In an interim order the Supreme Court removed Hadiya from her father's custody and said she could live in a hostel to complete her college education. The trial will begin in January.


NIA Investigates Kerala’s Link to ‘Love Jihad’

Over the past 28 months, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has picked up dozens of interfaith couples in Kerala to question them about their marriages.

The women – all Hindus who married Muslims – were asked “extremely personal” questions during the interrogations, two police officers from the agency said: “Did you sleep with your husband before getting married? Did he suggest you visit Islamic shrines before marriage? Did he blackmail you before you converted to Islam?”

They were looking for cases of "Love Jihad", a term coined by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other hardline Hindu groups soon after they helped propel Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2014. It refers to what these groups say is an Islamist campaign to convert Hindu women through seduction and marriage.

Police investigations at the time found no evidence of any organised strategy, and the claim was widely ridiculed. But since then, the NIA began focusing on Kerala – owing to its strong economic links to West Asia.

It investigated 89 cases of "Love Jihad" and found nine to be alliances planned by people linked to ISIS, two NIA sources said, requesting anonymity because the investigation is going on.

The NIA will present evidence in the nine cases to the Supreme Court.

The agency declined to disclose its evidence. But in two of the cases it was examining money sent from an Islamic school in Iraq to the women’s bank accounts, and in another case a woman and her husband had shared ISIS videos among people in their village, the sources said.

RSS Expanding Influence

Opposition parties say the investigation shows the government is allowing the RSS and others to use the state apparatus to further an agenda of establishing Hindu dominance in a country where 13 percent of the population is Muslim.

MB Rajesh, an MP and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which rules Kerala, said the NIA and the RSS were trying to prove that marriages between Hindus and Muslims "are forced unions".

The NIA’s probe is creating religious fault lines to help the BJP win (Kerala’s) state elections, but we will defeat them.

J Nandakumar, an RSS leader who oversees the group's activities in the state, said the NIA investigation vindicated their campaign against religious conversions.

"Their first step is to convert Hindu boys and girls, hypnotise them and prepare them for jihad," he said.

The RSS, which founded the first iteration of the BJP six decades ago, believes India is fundamentally a Hindu nation.

Since Modi's election, the RSS has expanded its membership and influence and either it or its affiliates now run key ministries, such as the home ministry, which supervises the NIA, and the finance ministry.

Muslims – who account for 172 million of India’s 1.32 billion citizens – have been under increasing pressure from the Hindu Right. They have been lynched for killing cows – considered sacred in Hinduism – and some of their slaughterhouses forced to shut down.

Neither Modi's office nor the NIA would comment because the issue is before the Supreme Court.


ISIS Hotbed of Recruitment

The NIA investigation started in 2015 after the government identified Kerala, which sends tens of thousands of workers to West Asia, as a potential hotbed of ISIS recruitment.

Nearly half of Kerala's 33 million people practice Islam and Christianity. Police and the NIA said at least 100 people from Kerala have joined the ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The NIA’s nine “Love Jihad” cases were based on complaints lodged by the parents of the Hindu girls and all were found to have links with ISIS, the NIA police sources said. The agency dropped the investigations into the other 80 cases because no links to militants were found, the sources said.

Across India, more than 270 men and 20 women have been arrested for working directly or indirectly with the ISIS, according to data at the Home Ministry.

But Kerala was the only state where the NIA found a direct link between cases of "Love Jihad" and the ISIS, the NIA sources said.

The agency says it has uncovered attempts by ISIS sympathisers to possibly send the women in "Love Jihad" marriages off to marry or stay with fighters from the militant group, the NIA sources said.

Two couples, who were questioned by the NIA last year, told Reuters police searched their homes.

"I was shocked when they said maybe my husband was a jihadi, and he could be planning to send me to Syria," said one woman who married a Muslim IT professional in 2015.

Police questioned her for six hours, she said, and before leaving, took pictures of her wedding album.

(This article has been published in arrangement with Reuters)

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