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The conundrum of naming

Every aspect of l’affaire Hadiya is becoming a metaphor for our troubled times. It is a contemporary theatre of the absurd, which effectively blends tragedy and farce in a whimsical manner, where even naming the person is seen as a political act. If Frank Kafka were to write The Trial today, he may have changed the story of Joseph K. to that of Hadiya where the personal and political are conflated in a manner that defies precise definition. The Trail remains a classic because it explained some difficult human conditions: vulnerability, power of the state apparatus, and, above all, the huge gap between law and justice. Reporting the Hadiya episode requires a sensitivity that should not undermine individual liberty, even unintentionally.

Various challenges

The mails we received prove the challenges in covering this ongoing story, starting from how to name the petitioner. G. Diwakar felt that it was wrong to use “alias” in Hadiya stories. He took exception to the introduction, “Kerala girl Hadiya, alias Akhila Asokan...,” (“Hadiya speaks to parents,” Dec. 1). His reason: “As an adverb, ‘alias’ is used to indicate that a named person is also known or more familiar under another specified name. As a noun, it means ‘a false or assumed identity’. Both are not applicable in this case, as Hadiya, since birth and in her pre-conversion days, was known by her Hindu name Akhila Asokan which has ceased to exist. Now she is just Hadiya. ‘She was Akhila Asokan earlier’ may be used in any of the subsequent paragraphs.” Mr. Diwakar has a valid point. I do not see a need to mention her earlier name in every developing report.

C. Rammanohar Reddy tweeted: “Travesty of judicial proceedings about the decision of an adult woman continues. And The Hindu says she is ‘allegedly’ married.” Senior journalist Maalan wrote to us raising questions from an opposite viewpoint. He wrote: “I bring to your kind attention the headline, ‘Hadiya meets husband in college’ (Dec. 9, 2017). The headline is factually wrong. As you may be aware, the Kerala High Court, on May 24, had annulled the marriage of Hadiya (aka Akila). Though the Supreme Court has questioned the legality of the Kerala High Court order, it has not reversed it yet. As of today, the Kerala High Court order prevails. In such a situation, to identify and term Shafin Jahan as ‘husband’ is contrary to the facts and is factually incorrect. It is, in a way, editorialising news. It would have been appropriate to term him as ex-husband or lover. Hope The Hindu will maintain its neutrality in reporting news.”

Describing a relationship

Divya Sudhkar, another reader, sees a link between two different court cases — Hadiya and Rajpal — as a symptom of stripping women’s personal choices regarding their marriages. For her, the headline “Supreme Court tries to save a marriage” (Dec. 6, 2017) is an irresponsible act. Her contention: “I sincerely believe the Justices have grossly overstepped into the realm of the personal and private in believing they know more about what’s good for the couple than the individuals in it and The Hindu has failed journalism and us readers when it called the whole debacle ‘saving a marriage’.” She is right. The headline is indeed editorialising in its import and it is a disservice to the story, which is a nuanced reporting of the court proceedings.

However, the problem remains unresolved when it comes to describing the relationship between Hadiya and Shafin Jahan. The two individuals involved in the relationship are clear about their matrimony. It is the High Court that had a different opinion and annulled their marriage. Hadiya, in the apex court, when Chief Justice Dipak Misra asked her whether she wanted a local guardian in Salem during her 11-month internship, chose Shafin Jahan. Then, the most intriguing contradiction happened. The court admonished her saying, “a husband cannot be his wife’s guardian. A wife is no chattel…You [Hadiya] must have the ability to stand up on your own feet and live a life of dignity.” I am unable to come to terms with the simultaneous need of having a guardian and advocating a life of freedom. Is it fair to call Shafin Jahan her ex-husband? Is it a real portrayal of fact?

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 6:51:43 PM |

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