Hadiya and the bogey of 'love jihad'


Love conquers all. Hadiya is an inspiring example of what love, in this case divine love, can accomplish pitted against greatest of odds. The frail young woman, a Hindu student from Kerala who embraced Islam while studying medicine in Tamil Nadu, has demonstrated extraordinary courage of conviction. She has been at the heart of a major political storm roiling India right now and has paid a tremendous price for remaining steadfast in her new faith.

Hadiya, formerly Akhila Asokan, has incurred the wrath of her family, including her typically male chauvinist father who insists he cannot accept a “terrorist” in his family and has gone to absurd lengths to force his 25-year-old daughter to leave her new faith and her Muslim husband.

She has faced a hostile judiciary who instead of giving her justice chooses to question her “motives” in embracing Islam, annulling her marriage and handing her “custody” to her parents.

She has bravely put up with physical torture, extreme mental pressure and abuse by Hindutva groups during her detention at her parents’ home for the past six months but has never once wavered.

Hadiya has faced a barrage of absurd accusations and insinuations from a hostile, Islamophobic media, linking her and her husband to Daesh (the so-called IS). Indeed, in her quest for truth, she has taken on the entire system and triumphed with a dignity that shames all those questioning her faith and sincerity.

The steadfastness of character that this lone woman has demonstrated in the line of fire should also shame all those born in Muslim families but who have never quite understood what their faith stands for. Most of us take our faith for granted and have nearly forgotten its liberating teachings that are meant for the whole of humanity.

Once in a while comes along a Hadiya who reminds us of the gift that we possess yet have curiously remained unaffected and untouched by it. By the way, Hadiya in Arabic means gift.

It’s indeed a marvel that more and more people continue to embrace Islam across the globe notwithstanding the relentless campaign against the faith and the far from impressive conduct of traditional Muslims.

Of course, there’s no dearth of those who snigger that women like Hadiya are victims of ‘love jihad’ — an offensive term introduced by Hindutva to dehumanize all those who are crazy enough to embrace Islam or fall in love with the ‘enemy’.

The Right has long alleged that Muslim youths are being used as part of a ‘love jihad’ campaign to ensnare impressionable, gullible Hindu women in order to convert them and change the demographic equations in India. It has successfully used this malicious propaganda to prey on majoritarian insecurities across the country, especially in north India, with disastrous consequence for peace and Hindu-Muslim relations.

The 2012 Muzaffarnagar riots in UP that killed nearly a 100 people, forcing out thousands of Muslim families was a result of the same sinister campaign by BJP politicians like Sangeet Som.

As the BJP looks for a foothold south of Vindhyas — especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, long known for their tolerance — it has stepped up its insidious campaign against the usual suspects, crying hoarse about ‘love jihad’ and the tourist paradise of Kerala becoming a haven for ‘terrorism.’

What else can you expect from a party whose very raison d'être remains the pathological hatred of minorities and their elimination from the Indian soil?

What is most disturbing though is the role and conduct of courts. The judiciary comes out of this saga of love, faith and betrayal hardly with flying colors.

If the judges of Kerala High Court confounded everyone by questioning the “motives” of an adult woman behind her conversion and subsequent marriage to a Muslim man and declaring her to be of questionable emotional condition, the Supreme Court of India has not been of much help either.

Although the top court has released Hadiya from the clutches of her tyrannical father, it has denied her justice by not allowing her to join her lawful husband. Strangely, the court has sent her back to her medical college to resume her studies where she is to be watched over by the college dean and a large posse of cops.

When the SC judges asked if she wanted anyone as her “guardian”, Hadiya pointed out that her husband is her guardian. The court silenced her by declaring her husband cannot be her guardian and instead appointed the college dean as her guardian!

Besides, she is still not allowed to see or talk to her husband who has been kept away from her for nearly a year. As the persecuted woman at the heart of this farce points out, she is being transferred from one prison to another — in this case, her college. Of course, the court has yet to address the twin issues at the heart of this controversy — her conversion in 2013 and her marriage in 2016.

Do you call this justice, milord? If the highest court in the land cannot or does not deliver justice, who will? Where do we turn for justice?

By the way, Indian Constitution, which is supposed to be protected by the judiciary, recognizes both rights — freedom of faith and freedom to choose one’s life partner.

India’s judiciary, long commended for its independence and integrity, has been one of the key pillars of the marvel that is its democracy. Indeed, no democracy can work or survive without the independence of the two key pillars — an independent judiciary and independent media. And both seem to be increasingly under siege in India, as the nature of its polity undergoes disturbing changes in sync with the rise of the Right.

As has been the case with all other branches of the republic, the pernicious influence of Hindutva and its exclusivist worldview has started affecting the judiciary as well.

Be it the Allahabad High Court verdict in Babri Masjid case or the Delhi court judgment in the Hashimpura massacre, be it the summary execution of Afzal Guru or the death sentence handed to Yaqub Memon, there have been a number of instances when the judiciary appears to have been influenced by popular mood and majoritarian instincts, rather than the demands of justice and fair play.

Courts are the last hope of the dispossessed and disadvantaged in any society — more so in a democracy. If courts stand with the powerful or are influenced by factors other than justice, what hope is there for such a society?

As the Roman poet Juvenal famously asked, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchers?

The judiciary is supposed to protect the rights of all citizens granted by the Constitution. One of these rights is the equality before the law.

Unfortunately, this right is being increasingly trampled upon in the new India. Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, as US President Roosevelt argued, but in upholding the right against the wrong. Without justice, we are no better than animals.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com