NCW chief’s statement essentially endorses unconscionable and illegal house arrest of Hadiya

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A statement has been floated for signatures by women activists Varsha Basheer, Devika, Nivedita, Kavita Krishnan, Banojyotsna Lahiri and others, signed by 85 persons, expressing concern about concern about Hadiya Jahan, a woman whose marriage to a Muslim man after converting from Hinduism to Islam has become a point of contention for those opposing so-called Love Jehad. The statement follows the Amnesty International India welcoming the Supreme Court order that Hadiya Jahan’s consent should be considered ‘prime’. Amnesty said, this recognizes the basic right of all women to choose who to marry and what religion to follow. However, it added, “Unfortunately, the next hearing will only be held on November 27, which will prolong Hadiya Jahan’s five-month-long unlawful confinement at her parents’ house for another month.”

Hadiya, 24, who was born Akhila Ashokan, converted to Islam from Hinduism and married Shafin Jahan, a Muslim man, in December 2016. Following this, her father approached the Kerala High Court, alleging forced conversion. The High Court, disappointingly, annulled the marriage in May 2017 and ordered her to be sent back to her parents’ home. In August, the Supreme Court ordered a probe by the National Investigation Agency into Hadiya Jahan’s conversion and marriage, but subsequently raised questions about the High Court order annulling the marriage.

Amidst media report that Hadiya fears being killed, and demands that the  Government of Kerala must end her unlawful confinement immediately, women’s activists have issued the following statement:

We, the undersigned concerned citizens, are greatly disturbed by news of National Commission of Women (NCW) in-charge Rekha Sharma’s visit to meet Hadiya at the home of her father, Mr. Asokan, where she continues to be incarcerated. These reports raise more fears than they allay.

Ms. Hadiya has been reported by Ms. Sharma to be ‘healthy and happy’. However, Ms. Sharma goes on to state, without providing any evidence whatsoever, that while there is no ‘love jihad’ in Kerala, there are forced conversions.

It bears reiteration that Ms. Hadiya is a 24-year-old adult woman, who took a decision to convert to Islam, and then to marry a Muslim man. For this exercise of self-determination, Ms. Hadiya has been placed under house arrest in her parents’ control, and this shocking violation of Ms. Hadiya’s personal liberty and her right to take decisions about her own life, has been endorsed by the legal system.

The Supreme Court, on October 30, directed her father to produce her before the Court a month later on November 27. We are deeply concerned that during this month-long period, Ms. Hadiya will continue to suffer the agony of being held in captivity against her will; and her basic right to choice of religion and marriage partner as well as freedom of movement as a citizen will continue to be denied to her.

Now Ms. Sharma’s statement essentially endorses the unconscionable and illegal house arrest of Ms. Hadiya, with the certification of her being ‘healthy and happy’. Further, Ms. Sharma’s claim of forced conversions attempts to distort and cast a shadow on Hadiya’s decision.

Ms. Sharma’s tweets from so-called reconversion camps in Kerala, where adult women are held against their will, in which she claimed they were ‘victims of forced conversions’, seem intended to colour and influence Hadiya’s case and thus compromise her statutory role as NCW in-charge. We are aware that two women have been able to approach the Kerala High Court, swearing an affidavit that they have undergone torture at one such centre. The discourse of ‘forced conversions’ is a form of violent control over adult women taking decisions contrary to the wishes of their families.

Despite Hadiya stating clearly before the Kerala High Court several times over the past year that she has taken every decision about her life with complete knowledge and understanding, the court has essentially handed over her custody to her father.

For Hadiya to depose freely and truthfully before the Supreme Court on November 27, it is imperative that she is first freed from the hostile and coercive circumstances of parental custody and be fully at liberty.

Hadiya’s rights and freedoms as an adult citizen must be restored, for which she must be freed immediately from house arrest and all steps taken to ensure that her decisions regarding her life are respected.”

Those who have endorsed the statement include Ayesha Kidwai, professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi; Dipta Bhog, women’s rights activist, Delhi; Farah Naqvi, independent writer, and activist, Delhi; Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai; Geeta Seshu, independent journalist, Mumbai; Hasina Khan, Bebaak Collective, Mumbai; Heba Ahmed, Ph.D. student, Centre for Political Studies, JNU, Delhi; Inji Pennu, Global Voices and Advocacy; J Devika, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum; Janaki Nair, professor, JNU, Delhi; Jaya Sharma, feminist activist, Delhi; Kalpana Kannabiran, professor and director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad; Kavita Panjabi, professor, Jadavpur University, Kolkata; Kunjila Mascillamani, Women Against Sexual Harassment, and others.

Click HERE to endorse the statement

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