Why should the National Investigation Agency (NIA) be looking into cases of inter-faith marriage? The Supreme Court’s 16 August order directing the NIA to investigate alleged cases of “love jihad” in Kerala has led to a serious debate on just what the mandate of the country’s leading investigating agency should be.
In January 2016, the father of Akhila Ashokan alias Hadiya, filed a petition with the Kerala High Court against her ‘forced’ conversion to Islam. On 16 August, he filed an interim petition, in which the NIA was made respondent, claiming that his daughter could be taken away to Syria to join ISIS and terrorist training groups by certain individuals assisted by Muslim organisations like Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
The decision to order an NIA probe into “an emerging pattern of forced inter-caste marriages” followed the appeal by Shafin Jahan, Akhila’s husband, against the Kerala High Court judgment that annulled his marriage to Akhila on the plea of her father. The court’s interference in matters of marriage between two consenting adults has since been criticised for setting a dangerous precedent.
Why the NIA Jumped In
So why has the NIA involved itself in what appears to be a marital matter? The NIA submitted to the Supreme Court its reply to the petition filed by Shafin Jahan, justifying why it sees this case, and similar cases, as meriting in-depth investigation. Here are its main contentions:
1. Association with Suspicious Organisations
On 16 August 2016, a petition was filed by Akhila’s father in which the National Investigating Agency was made a respondent. The father claimed that his daughter could be taken away to Syria to join ISIS and terrorist training camps by certain individuals she was in contact with, assisted by Muslim organisations like Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). Incidentally, the two organisations do not face any ban despite several allegations of links to anti-national elements.
On 6 January 2017, the Kerala Police submitted an interim report mentioning that Jahan is a SDPI activist and that he was one among the 35-40 administrators of SDPI’s Kerala Facebook page along with Manseed Buraq, who was earlier arrested in a case connecting him with ISIS, which was being investigated by the NIA. The agency also informed the court that Jahan is an accused in two police cases including a case to do with political clashes in Kerala.
In an affidavit filed before the Kerala High Court, Jahan himself says that he is an active member of the political party SDPI, and also one among the Facebook administrators of the SDPI, Kerala.
Our political party is only based in India and aiming for the benefit of the citizens of India. We are truly patriotic and against terrorist activities of any person. We never support terrorism.Shafin Jahan in his affidavit to the Kerala High Court
Jahan also mentioned in his affidavit that Manseed Buraq was removed from SDPI after his connection with ISIS was exposed.
2. Plans to Travel Abroad
On 21 December 2016, Akhila appeared before the Kerala High Court along with Shafin Jahan, who stated that he intended to take her abroad to Muscat, where he worked. Not only did the court not allow this, but it ordered the Kerala Police to conduct an investigation into Jahan’s activities.
NIA contends that there is a risk, given his ‘suspicious’ associations and stated intention to take Akhila out of the country, that she could be taken further to Syria or terrorist training camps.
3. Pattern of ‘Forced’ Religious Conversions
On 7 January 2017, a police report was filed in the Kerala High Court to investigate the role of a few individuals who had facilitated Akhila’s conversion to Islam and her marriage to Shafin Jahan.
Two days after the Supreme Court entrusted the NIA to conduct an investigation into the matter, on 18 August, it registered a case under three sections of the Indian Penal Code:
1. Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc)
2. Section 295A ( deliberate act to insult a religion) and
3. Section 107 (abetment of a thing, like an act of conspiracy)
So far, no one has been named in the FIR.
In invoking this “pattern”, the NIA refers to a similar case of forced religious conversion in Kerala.
Twenty-two-year-old Athira Nambiar’s father filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court alleging that she was illegally detained by certain individuals supported by the Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
So far we have gathered that a few common individuals who are part of SDPI and PFI Muslim organisations are involved in both the cases. Hence, now it is a matter investigation to find out the veracity of allegations made by the petitioners.Senior Officer, National Investigation Agency
The NIA was asked to conduct a preliminary investigation into Athira’s case and its findings were submitted to the High Court in a sealed envelope. Although the NIA mentioned that no scheduled offence could be made out under the NIA Act 2008, the court directed the Kerala Police to continue with the investigation.
On 24 May 2017, DGP Kerala Police transferred both Athira Nambiar and Akhila Ashokan’s case to the Crime Branch and formed a Special Investigation Team.
The NIA will now question all the stakeholders in the case.
All the while, the Supreme Court has remained silent on Shafin Jahan’s appeal against the annulment of his marriage to Akhila. Their fate could well rest on the result of an NIA investigation.
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