Well known writer, Kamla Surayya was born in a conservative Nair Hindu family (Nalappat) in 1934. She embraced Islam in 1999 at the Age of 65 and changed her name from Kamla Das to Kamla Surayya. Many conservative Hindu sections became totally contemptuous to her for this behaviour. The Sangh Parivar accusations and attacks on her went on till her death in 2009. Even death did not spare her from such controversies related to religion.
History has repeated as a farce. This time, the victim is an ordinary girl. The controversies on this girl by the media and diverse political minds have reached a status of lunacy. It was not long before in history that Vivekananda described Kerala as a lunatic asylum when he visited the state.
It is a funny situation out there in Kerala. A girl brought up in Ezhava community has been inspired by Islam for several years. She wanted to change her religion. Akhila became Hadiya. The islamophobia of the 57 year old rationalist father KM Ashokan does not recognise the transition. There was a need to rebel for the girl. Fair enough. But the father approaches the court with the fear of love jihad’ andtransportation to Syria’. Fair enough. Even Che Guevara was a romantic who picked up a gun instead of his doctor’s kit. Anybody has a license to be paranoid about anybody else in this democratic country. But the paranoia of Ashokan has become the paranoia of the civil society in Kerala, thanks to the Sangh Parivar. After all, Ashokan is her father. Fathers are the most responsible persons to implement patriarchy in our existing system. So the decision of a father should generate more support than the decision of any daughter on her own life. As per the leadership of the Sangh Parivar: `The human rights of the father should considered before considering the human rights of the daughter’.
But to Ashokan’s surprise, the rebellion of the daughter does not end there. She decides to get married to Shafin Jahan. Now, who is Shafin Jahan? He is a person who is a member of SDPI the political wing of Popular Front, who are infamously implicated in the notorious ‘hand chopping’ case.Shafin Jahan has a criminal case pending against him, of course not the hand chopping case but some fracas with a youth wing of a left wing party. But even people who have pending cases against them have a right to marry under the norms of Indian Constitution. He may belong to any political party. That does not reduce his right to marry. The court does not recognise the marriage on technical grounds. Fair enough. Couldn’t the court believe the statements and interests of two adult human beings? If their marriage was faulty on technicla grounds why didn’t the court correct the technical error instead of annulling the marriage completely against the wishes of two adults? Why did the court send the girl under the guardianhip of her father? Hasn’t the girl free will? Why is this girl imprisoned against her will in her house with the guardianship of her father, police and the Sangh Parivar? She is not allowed to meet anyone. She doesn’t have access to phone, internet or any other form of communication. In this months long ordeal only person who could meet the girl was a know Sangh Parivar activist, Rahul Eswar.
Interestingly, the term called Love Jihad’ is more used in this situation rather than the abandoned termGhar Wapasi’. The foremost important aspect in this issue for the civil society in Kerala is : Recognise the Freedom of an Adult Woman’ andRecognise Her Choice’ whether you like it or not. The civil society and the court has a responsibility to recognise and accept what these two adult human beings want in their lives. Otherwise, I will have to make a comedy film on the status of lunacy in Kerala.
The judgement provides enough inputs for the script of the comedy film. Let us have a quick look at some of the portions of the judgement:
`Ms. Akhila is the only child of Sri.Ashokan, the petitioner, and Smt. Ponnamma. They both belong to the Hindu (Ezhava) community and hail from Vaikom in Kottayam District. Ms.Akhila was therefore brought up in accordance with the beliefs and rituals of Hindu religion. At present, she is aged 24 years and has completed her degree course in Homeopathic Medicine, BHMS (Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery). She had joined the Shivaraj Homeopathy Medical College, Salem for her BHMS course. It is not in dispute that, though she had initially resided in the College Hostel, she later on took a house on rent outside the College and started residing there with four other friends. Two of her friends were Hindus, while the other two were Muslims. Among them, she became very close with Ms.Jaseena. She had accompanied Ms.Jaseena to her house and stayed with her a number of times. Her acquaintance with Ms.Jaseena attracted her to the tenets and beliefs of Islamic religion. The petitioner alleges that, she was influenced and persuaded to embrace Islam forcibly.’ The judgement is adorned with these sorts of patriartchal ‘gems’.
The word influenced’ in the above judgement is fine. But the use of the wordpersuaded’ can mean a de-recognition of an adult, educated, independent mind of a woman. It has only resulted in `persuading’ an adult woman to be in a place violating her will to join a religion of her choice and to marry a person whom she wishes to marry. Now, who is persuading whom? You can visualise the emotional drama which may be taking place in Ashokan’s house at this moment. The script can become a tragedy or a comedy as per the decisions of the characters involved.
However, the concept of forcible conversion of anybody to any religion does not impress my reasoning. In Kandhamal, the Hindutva forces have done it with axes on the necks of Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians to convert them to Hindus. The argument was: If you don’t convert to Hinduism, you will be killed’. Since many were killed with this threat, many people got converted into Hinduism. Now, most of them have gone back to their own faith of Christianity. So the argument of forcible conversion has a limitation. You can die for your faith. But you cannot be forced into a faith. If you do so, you are not abeliever’. Perhaps, the judge should understand this sad reality.
The rationalist Ashokan has lost all his reasoning skills. He does not allow anybody to meet her. If you try, you would be infected with a flow of abuses from him. Of course, the police machinery has also turned rationalist.
Sunny Kapikkad, after meeting Ashokan makes a couple of which must be considered seriously: `I am convinced that the words spoken by Ashokan are not his own. They belong to BJP and Sangh Parivar forces who operate from outside. Does it mean that we should be violent on him or declare that he is our enemy? This is only a conflict between those work in this society’. And his conclusion is that a team should assess the mental status of both Hadiya and the family. But why limit such an assessment to just Hadiya and family? Perhaps the entire Kerala society may be in need for such a check up and counselling. However, the need of the hour is an emergence of politics of empathy rather than politics of hatred.
And here goes the judgement again:
`In her affidavit filed in support of her impleading petition, she narrated the circumstances under which she had left her home. According to her, she was aged 24 years and was doing her House Surgeoncy in BHMS Course at Shivaraj Homeopathy Medical College at Salem after completing the course. (The above assertion that she was doing House Surgeoncy Course is a false statement and she has not joined for her House Surgeoncy Course, till date). She has stated in her affidavit that while she was staying in a rented house at Salem along with her friends, two of her friends Ms. Jaseena and Ms.Faseena impressed her with their timely prayers and good character. She started reading Islamic books and also viewing internet videos out of her interest to learn more about Islam. It is stated that, her doubts about the concept of many Gods in the Hindu faith and the confusion as to which God she should pray to, gradually cleared and the concept of one God propounded by Islam started appealing to her mind and logic. Therefore, she started following Islamic faith, without formally announcing any change of faith. She used to pray both in her room as well as at her house. While so, one day her father saw her praying and warned her against Islam, which, according to him, was a religion of terrorism. Her father, according to her, was a non-believer while her mother was a Hindu devotee. Therefore, she kept her faith a secret. While so, her grandfather died in November, 2015. She remained at home to attend his funeral ceremony and the rituals that follow, for about 40 days. Her relatives forced her to perform the rituals causing mental anguish to her. She therefore decided to become a Muslim. Accordingly, she left home on 2.1.2016 and directly went to the house of Ms. Jaseena instead of proceeding to Salem. It is stated that Ms.Jaseena then informed her father Sri.Aboobacker, who tried to get her admitted into some institution having special courses for converts to Islam. Though she was taken to an institution by name KIM, they did not admit her. Sri.Aboobacker then took her to Tharbiathul Islam Sabha where they agreed to admit her as an external candidate. For being admitted as an internal candidate, they insisted on the parents of the alleged detenue to be brought. For the purpose of joining as an external candidate, Ms.Akhila executed an affidavit testifying that she was accepting Islam on her own without force or persuasion from any one.’ And the judgement goes on.
Now, what is the problem? The judgement itself says that she accepted Islam out of her own choice’ andwithout force or persuasion by any one’. The judgement says that she was influenced by reading books and watching videos on Islam. Is that a crime? In this democratic country, there is certainly a space for an adult human being to exercise the will to choose’ any religion. No court can prevent that, even on technical grounds. Says well known poet Satchidanandan:The Court has infantilized the 24- year old Akhila, treated her with patriarchal contempt, as ‘vulnerable’, frail and and fickle , annulled a marriage she entered on her own volition and sent her back to her home that she hates. This is atrocious, to say the least , and completely against our constitution and human rights’. Even Satchidanandan is not spared for his concern for human rights of Hadiya.
When the well known writer Kamla Surayya changed her religion and became a Muslim, the critics were many. But the Hindutva forces had not crystalised the popular consciousness at that time like today. Within the last one decade, the popular consciousness in Kerala has changed a lot. Kaamla Surayya had also one advantage. She was a well known writer not just in Malayalam. Her works have come out in different languages, including in English and she had a fan club among feminists in different parts of the country. Still, the Islamophobia of the educated Keralites made it impossible for such a reputed writer to stay in Kerala after such a decision of converting herself to Islamic faith. She had to flee to Pune. It did not stop there. She wanted to be buried under Islamic principles. The Keralite Islamophobia created enough problems for that also. But thanks to her son, Monu Nalappat who took a strong stand on this issue, she was buried as per her wish. In an interview, Kamla had spoken: “I am against the Hindu way of cremating the dead. I do not want my body to be burnt. But this was only a minor consideration. I have always had a strong affection for the Islamic way of life. I adopted two blind Muslim children, Irshad Ahmed and Imtiaz Ahmed, and they brought me close to Islam. I had to study Islamic scriptures before teaching them. One is working as a professor in Darjeeling and another as a barrister in London.” Even death did not spare Kamla.
The civil society in Kerala must recognise that conversion is not a crime under Indian Constitution. Even Ambedkar had converted into Buddhism. But where does this debate begin from in post independent India? To my mind it began from the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. Though many states followed the same route, Kerala fortunately has not made this law to restrict conversion. What we need is a proper public critique of Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967, which made it illegal for even atheists to convert to any religion without the permission of the Government in Orissa. The Sanghis had pushed this law and it has been followed by many states. This Act violates the basic principles of Indian Constitution. Ambedkar joined Buddhism without any permission from the Government’. This invasion on freedom of spirituality, thought, religion, expression, worship and the right to profess and even practice religion is unconstitutional. The Indian Constitution does not recognise astate religion’. And the Sangh Parivar has articulated very clearly that India would become a `Hindu Rashtra’ by 2024. There is only one election left before that – In 2019. That election will determine the future of religions, spirituality and even atheism in future India. The secular forces in India missed the boat to protect secularism. It happened again and again in history. And now, everything will be decided by 2019.
Hadiya’s agency to choose the religion of her choice should not be a bargaining point for fundamentalist forces. She should not be infantalised by the Court, the Sangh Parivar, SDPI or the Kerala society. It is time for Kerala society to stand together for the human rights of Hadiya.