Choice & conversion

The two seem to have become muddled inthe SC’s order in the Kerala conversion case

The case of Akhila/Hadiya is becoming curiouser by the day. Entrusted with adjudicating whether her conversion to Islam and marriage to a Muslim man were voluntary acts, the Supreme Court has embarked on a roving inquiry into whether Hindu women in parts of Kerala are being radicalised. Inexplicably, the court has sought inputs from the National Investigation Agency (NIA), tasked with tackling terrorism, to probe the circumstances of the 24-year-old’s conversion and marriage even before it heard her out. The question before the court was the correctness of the Kerala High Court’s decision to annul her marriage. The Supreme Court’s reasoning for its position that it needs the inputs of all stakeholders before it speaks to the woman concerned is hard to comprehend. Of what use would these inputs be if she maintains that she chose to convert and marry voluntarily? The High Court did not question her conversion to Islam, only suspecting the veracity of her sudden claim that she was married to a Muslim. This happened in the course of hearings on a plea by her father complaining that she was under the influence of radical groups. The High Court held that the purported marriage was only a ruse to scuttle the proceedings and annulled the marriage as a “sham”. In the process, it made the odd observations that a woman’s marriage requires the involvement of her parents and that even if she had attained the age of majority, she was still at a “vulnerable age”.

The Supreme Court has nominated a retired judge to supervise the NIA probe, the object of which is presumably to safeguard its independence and credibility. But the inquiry itself has come about because of a submission made by the NIA that there is a pattern to such incidents in Kerala. It is possible to make out a case for a police investigation into the suspicious activities of radical groups in the State. But the mere suspicion that they are working in an organised way to convert people is not sufficient to conclude that they are involved in recruiting them for overseas terror operations for groups such as the Islamic State. The woman’s father maintains that she is under the spell and influence of radical activists who, he says, would transport her abroad to destinations such as Syria. These and related apprehensions are subjects that should be addressed by the police and intelligence agencies rather than by a process that involves subjecting the woman to live in a manner not chosen by her. It is unfortunate that the plea that she was living under custody in her parental home despite being a major failed to cut any ice before the two-judge bench. In refusing to entertain the plea, the Supreme Court has lent the unfortunate impression that it has placed a judicial curtailment on her volition. Rather than do this, it should have striven to find a way to protect her freedom of religion and movement.

Recommended for you