Having taught constitutional law for about a quarter-century, I am depressed to see the direction civil liberty jurisprudence has lately taken. With the unanimous privacy judgment, I had a feel-good sense. In the SC’s privacy judgment, Justice Chandrachud had taken individualism and individual rights to new heights when he noted the right to privacy “recognises autonomy of individual as privacy is intrinsic in freedom and liberty.
Privacy is the ultimate expression of the sanctity of individual.” Justice Chelameswar added people have freedom to choose their dress and appearance. If a person has a right to choose his religion, dress, etc., how can Hadiya be denied the right to choose her husband or her religion? The three-judge Bench hearing the Hadiya case is bound by the law laid down by the seven-judge privacy Bench.
My feel-good sentiment was however short-lived. The proceedings in the apex court on Hadiya’s husband challenge of the Kerala HC’s regressive order annulling their marriage have largely been disappointing from the day the NIA was asked to probe the so-called bogey of love jihad. There is surely some silver lining in the SC’s interim order of November 27 releasing Hadiya from her father’s custody. But there are still disturbing questions which should bother anyone interested in civil liberties. The apparent reluctance to hear her and the kinds of questions raised during the hearing are worrisome. During the court proceedings, Justice Chandrachud reportedly mentioned the Stockholm Syndrome.
What is it? How it is relevant here?
In August 1973, two robbers entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. The criminals then held hostage a man and three women for 131 hours. The victims were strapped with dynamite and kept in a bank vault until they were rescued. Surprisingly after their release, none of the hostages showed willingness to testify against their captors and one of them even began raising funds for their legal defence. But in many interviews, these hostages did say that they never sympathised with the captors but rather feared for their lives due to the action taken by the cops.
Nils Bejerot, a Swedish criminologist who was called to study this attitude of victims called it the Norrmalmstorg Syndrome which then became popular as Stockholm Syndrome. Another well-known example of this syndrome is that of Patricia Hearst, a newspaper heiress who in 1974 after two and half months of being taken hostage by the Symbionese Liberation Army, helped her abductors in a bank robbery.
It is clear from the above incidents that the captors were strangers who initially threatened to kill the captives but later spared them. So the victims developed feelings of gratitude. When death was staring them in the face, even small acts of kindness were rightly considered worth a million dollars. Thus Stockholm Syndrome refers to “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
This syndrome is also called ‘contested illness’ and is generally pleaded as a defence by criminals though its legitimacy as an exception under criminal law is being doubted. Hadiya has not pleaded Stockholm Syndrome as a justification of any crime committed by her. The syndrome is demonstrative of just survival instincts of the victims whose need for survival is stronger than their impulse to hate the person who is responsible for putting them in such a precarious situation.
Since the syndrome is experienced even in romantic, family or other relationships, that’s why Justice Chandrachud probably referred to it. The abuser may be a husband, wife, father or mother or anyone in a fiduciary relationship. But if he was referring to Stockholm Syndrome in the context of Hadiya developing an emotional bond with her husband, then we need to restate facts. Hadiya was never kept hostage by her husband. A year after converting to Islam, she married him. Both of them hardly spent any time together. Moreover as her husband is not a stranger, this isn’t Stockholm Syndrome.
As a matter of fact, the Kerala HC placed Hadiya in her father’s custody after passing derogatory remarks over her ‘vulnerability’. Since then, Hadiya was living almost like a hostage in her father’s house. It seems her liberties were curtailed by her father. But she developed no sympathy for him. Again, since her father is not a stranger, Stockholm Syndrome is out of the question. But just like in other cases, she told the SC that “she endured mental harassment for 11 months”. It is tragic that we are searching justifications to send her back to an abusive father. On her request that her husband be made her guardian in the college record, Justice Chandrachud rightly said that a wife is not a husband’s chattel. But then, an adult daughter is not a father’s chattel either.
In fact many Muslim parents also do not accept their children’s inter-faith choices. In Islam, while Muslim men are allowed to enter into valid marriages with Christian and Jews without converting, women can’t do the same. Just two months ago Tunisia removed this restriction and became the first Arab state in permitting Muslim women to get into valid marriages with Jews and Christians. Israel too does not recognise inter-faith marriages among Jews. But India’s Special Marriage Act permits inter-religious marriages.
If radicalisation is really an issue, then we must probe Hadiya’s father as well. Under whose influence is he behaving like a fanatic and making statements like “he cannot have a terrorist in his house”? In some cases, divorced or widowed parents enter into inter-faith marriages. Can their children too complain against their parents’ so-called radicalisation?
Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad