Is there any rule in law that says a woman cannot fall in love and marry a criminal? This is a question reportedly asked by the Supreme Court Bench hearing the Hadiya case on Monday. Hadiya, born Akhila, converted to Islam last year. She had married a Muslim man last December. In May the Kerala HC annulled the marriage on the grounds that the 24-year-old woman was vulnerable and sent her to the custody of her parents.
Her husband Shafin Jahan moved the apex court against the annulment. The SC in an earlier ruling had asked the National Investigative Agency to look into the alleged phenomenon of love jihad in Kerala. And yet, at its core, the case remains as to whether an adult woman can consent to marriage—even if the spouse is a criminal. Earlier this month, the court refocused the issue to whether an adult woman could be held in her parents’ custody against her wishes.
On Monday, the court reiterated the notion that Hadiya’s consent was the key matter, saying she would be questioned in open court on November 27. While this extends the parents’ custody of Hadiya for another month, it also provides a sense of relief for women and activists who have raised concern over the annulment of the wedding by the High Court and the handing over of Hadiya to her parents.
Both these moves infantilise an adult woman. Hadiya is now 25, and yet placed in the custody of her parents. This is what the case boils down to—not whether her husband has links with ISIS, as has been alleged, or that her parents are keeping her under sedation, which has also been alleged.
The question is whether or not an adult woman can decide for herself whom to marry and when to leave the ‘protection’ of her parents’ home. The Kerala HC decision was a direct threat to the rights of all women. The SC’s original inclination to order an NIA probe based on the arguments of the Centre were also cause for concern as they diverted from the issue at hand: the agency of a woman and necessity of the state and society to respect it.