Hadiya is Free But the Soap Opera Shamed Us All
What does Hadiya’s victory in the SC mean for Indian women?
What does Hadiya’s victory in the SC mean for Indian women?(Photo: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Hadiya is Free But the Soap Opera Shamed Us All

A historic order. On Women’s Day, that too!

A great move towards women’s freedom of choice. A fantastic step in favour of inter-religious marriages. A slap in the face of ‘Love Jihad’. More power to Hadiya!

Hadiya has been in and out of the courts, seeking justice, for two years now.

Better late than never, right? Wrong.

Also Read: Victory for Hadiya: SC Reinstates Marriage, Sets Aside HC Order

The Soap Opera and the Minefield

Before we begin to applaud the Supreme Court for upholding Hadiya’s right to live with her husband — a welcome move, no doubt — let’s pause and reflect.

Hadiya, a 25-year-old woman studying medical sciences converted to Islam out of her own volition and later married a Muslim man on (guess what!) her own will.

On 8 March 2018 — which happens to be International Women’s Day — the SC bench, headed by CJI Dipak Misra, reiterated exactly the above stated facts (as reported by Bar and Bench). “Hadiya alias Akhila Asokan is at liberty to pursue her future endeavours according to law,” the SC said.

For two long years, however, there was an attempt to shape these facts about Hadiya’s life (her life!) into a soap-opera where the woman was surrounded by a minefield of sanskaar and maryada, Islamophobia and mysogyny.

A Study of Our Greatest Fears

Everyone wanted a slice of this meaty story. Aur aisa kyun na ho [and why won’t it be], Hadiya’s story brings out some of our (I would say ‘society’s’, but we are nothing if not constituent parts of it) greatest fears.

  1. Conversion. How dare you choose a faith other than the one you were born into? No sensible person would do that unless they were brainwashed.

    You might be accepted in this society if you were to become an atheist but to convert to Islam! This brings us to the second fear.
  2. Islam. As recently as last week Hadiya’s father claimed before the apex court that his efforts prevented his daughter from being transported to “extremist-controlled territories” of Syria to be used as a “sex slave or a human bomb”.

    The instant internalised association of Islam or being Muslim with terror groups like the ISIS is a cause and product of a fear of Islam.
  3. For a woman to love a man of her choice. This is what happens when you send your daughters and sisters to study in a different city. They fall in love with men — who are not chosen by you to be their lawful protectors — and as Hadiya’s father claims, surrender themselves to “complete strangers”.

    The fear is doubled if the man is involved in politics, quadrupled if it’s Left politics, and the fear appears in full force if the man is also a Muslim (refer to point 2).
  4. For a woman to have a mind of her own. A rare creature, an alien, completely against the natural order of things. Hadiya is not an intelligent woman but a “vulnerable adult”. So, for two years her consent was undermined and her voice fell on deaf ears.

    But wait... the system is nothing if not progressive, so Hadiya (or shall we say Akhila?) was sent back to complete her medical degree. Who cares that all she wanted was to be with her husband?
Hadiya Jahan, known as Akhila Ashokan before she converted to Islam, married Shafin Jahan in December 2015. 
Hadiya Jahan, known as Akhila Ashokan before she converted to Islam, married Shafin Jahan in December 2015. 
( Photo: Image altered by The Quint)

Freedom at Last?

These are not just fears, they are also our greatest challenges as a society.

On this Women’s day, Hadiya walks free — a conditional freedom (of course!) since the apex court has directed the NIA to continue their probe regarding the alleged ‘Love Jihad’. This freedom, however, should have been her right all along.

Two years might appear to some as quick when it comes to the Indian judicial system where cases eat dust for years and years, but two years is a long time in the life of a person.

So, forgive me if instead of applause, I can only offer a sarcastic clap.

Hadiya’s case is an important step in the long and ongoing battle for women’s rights in India. Let the conversation not cease at Hadiya but extend to unreported cases of injustice as well as to our social attitudes.

(Hey there, lady! What makes you laugh? Do you laugh at sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny? Do 'sanskaari' stereotypes crack you up? This Women's Day, join The Quint's Ab Laugh Naari campaign. Pick up that beer, say cheers, and send us photographs or videos of you laughing out loud at buriladki@thequint.com.)

(What does the first-time woman voter want? The Quint's "Me the Change" campaign is telling you. Have your say here - Drop The Ink!)

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