There are two aspects to the Hadiya Jahan (previously Akhila Ashokan) case. The first is her contention that as an adult she was free to marry anybody of her choice and live with him. The second is the claim of her father and that of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that there was an Islamist design behind the conversion and marriage of the woman in question. The issue reached the Supreme Court after the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage in May 2017, calling it a ‘sham’ and ‘Love Jihad’. It is important to understand the apex court’s ruling in the context of the two prevailing narratives, and not see the verdict as a victory of the ‘secularists’ who have vociferously slammed the NIA, and the Modi Government by extension for its ‘communal’ approach to the issue.
Let us bear in mind that the Supreme Court has gone by Hadiya’s statement that she had married and converted voluntarily. The Bench hearing the case, while setting aside the annulment, said that “marriage and plurality are the fundamental core of our culture” and that they needed to be zealously guarded. But the apex court did not stop the NIA from probing any criminal angle in the case after the NIA said there was a Salafi network that identified girls in conflict with their parents and thereafter brainwashed them into conversion to Islam. The probe agency added that the conversion was done by two people who were now in Yemen. Its report had mentioned that Akhila’s husband Shafin Jahan had contacts with certain Islamic State members.
There is no doubt that there is more to what meets the eye in the marriage, and it is for the NIA to investigate it. This doubt is further reinforced by the fact that activists of the dubious Popular Front of India (PFI) and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) were at the forefront in defending Akhila Jahan. It is not just the NIA but also the parents of the woman that have protested against the marriage on the ground that she was lured and brainwashed into the act for sinister purposes. It is important to understand that none of these claims has been dismissed by the apex court, and they remain in the realm of further investigation which the NIA is free to pursue.
Finally, the Hadiya case is only one in a chain of similar incidents that the NIA could probe. The investigation agency may, after all, not be entirely wrong when it claims that the Islamist network “uses marriage as a ploy to get over-the-court proceedings relating to the girl by her relatives”.