RESPONSE TO THE COURT PROCEEDINGS IN HADIYA’S CASE YESTERDAY: A STATEMENT BY PINJRA TOD
Yesterday’s hearing on the Hadiya case began with two whole hours of going back and forth in the court-room, where Hadiya’s ‘state of mind’ was thoroughly questioned and examined in the most invasive ways right in front of her. A diverse range of old and new tropes- of ‘indoctrination’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, ‘psychological kidnapping’, ‘programming’ ‘luring,’ ‘communal tension/threats’ were discussed to plead for for a ‘closed-door’ and not a ‘public’ testimony. Hadiya was finally heard in ‘open’ court yesterday afternoon for about half an hour. Hadiya, yet again, insisted on her autonomy in the most powerful, calm and clear manner possible, ‘I want my freedom’, she said right in the face of all the patriarchal and Islamophobic forces that have been desperate but unable to crush her spirit, faith and defiance.
Asserting that she has been kept in ‘unlawful custody for 11 months’, where she endured tremendous ‘mental harassment’, Hadiya expressed her wish to continue her education, to practice her faith and to go back to her husband. In an interim order, the court took the welcome step of releasing Hadiya from her house-arrest and custody of her father. It also directed that she “be taken to Salem so as to enable her to pursue her internship/housemanship”, where she is to stay in the hostel “guided by the hostel rules”, while NIA investigation continues “in accordance with law” — a decision that even Hadiya’s father has expressed being ‘happy’ about. Of course, this calls for cheer since it has offered immediate relief to Hadiya, the discussion has shifted from the more direct manifestation of control, restriction and prohibition that the ‘parental custody’ effectively imposed on Hadiya with State’s sanction.
EDUCATION AS AN ‘EXCUSE’ TO RESIST FULL FREEDOM FOR HADIYA
Hadiya’s demand for regaining her full subjectivity and agency have yet not been met in its entirety. The apex court, even as it claimed that its order is in accordance with what was “desired by her,” what it effectively did was to invoke education as an empty bait to dissuade her from talking about the questionable NIA probe, the extra-judicial annulment of her marriage on a habeas corpus petition. etc. The court is now masking its true intentions with a language that appropriates the successive battles that women have fought for their right to education. While Hadiya’s wish for continuing her education is palatable for the court to fit its narrative of her ‘becoming’ a ‘good citizen’, the court bench was not yet ready to ‘grant’ her ‘other’ choices of religion and partner, which is only a violation of her basic democratic rights, observing that it would require more ‘investigation’, more ‘deliberation’. Education when invoked as categories by the Court in this case, is not reflective of any genuine concern to facilitate and enable economic independence. Rather, it becomes an empty bait to win more time, and to dissuade Hadiya from demanding clarity on her marital status and freedom to live with her husband. The court deliberately deployed classic hermeneutical tactics to re-interpret freedom for Hadiya in a way that is palatable to it’s own interest, without a genuine regard for or engagement with feminist debates, only selectively dropping feminist lingua to further their own agenda. The court bench in its order states that “the range of questions that we posed basically pertained to her qualifications, interests in studies, perception of life and what she intends to do in future” — in these rather patronising questions and sermons about “the ability to stand on your feet”, the SC was not even ready to acknowledge her assertion as a Muslim woman and the reality of her conversion and marriage, the ‘circumstances’ around which has been opened up for national scrutiny.
HOW ‘THE HOSTEL’ REINFORCES STRUCTURES OF CONTROL AND SURVEILLANCE
The hostel, where “the husband cannot stay” and whose “rules” the judges found necessary to direct that Hadiya must abide by, provides an ideal space in the interim, for the judiciary to come across as ‘granting’ her ‘freedom’, while ensuring that various mechanisms and regulations of control and surveillance over her life continue to function with legal sanction. Just as it does over all women across universities and colleges in this country. Its absolutely incredulous that such a significant part of the court’s interaction with Hadiya yesterday was centred around who is to be her ‘local guardian’ while she stays in the hostel, in a context where her father no longer retains her custody. This is what it came down to, the apex court spending its precious time, deliberating on how discriminatory hostel rules can be rightfully adhered to. During the hearing, there was to be no imagination of a young woman’s democratic rights and agency, beyond the extremely patriarchal and patronising discourse of ‘guardianship’ and institutional control by family/marriage/state/judiciary/university. Even though it did not appoint a ‘guardian’ per se, this ‘progressive’ all male bench finally decided to appoint the dean of the college (possibly another male figure) with the power to intervene in “any problem” and the State of Tamil Nadu for addressing “security problems”. We continue to be sceptical of what this rhetoric of safety and concern may entail for Hadiya.
APPROPRIATING THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE
The apex court’s ‘offer’ for the Kerala state to meet the expenses for Hadiya’s education if necessary, rings hollow and is yet another attempt to assert its guardianship over her, which of course Hadiya refused, not wishing to submit to the particularised control that would bring after the violence she has faced under their ‘jurisdiction’ over the last several months. The judiciary and state’s sudden and apparent concern for Hadiya’s education as an individual reeks of hypocrisy in a context where there is a concentrated attack on women’s access to education through privatisation and rising fees, and withdrawal of mechanisms that enable women in resisting economic dependence and control vis a vis their family and male relatives.
Faced with an imposed framework, when Hadiya mentioned Shafin as her choice of local guardian, the court masked its refusal to meet her demand, by once again, appropriating the language of women’s autonomy. Justice Chandrachud observed, “A husband cannot be a guardian of his wife. Wife is not a chattel. She has her own identity in life and society.” The economic and social dependence of women on their male kin has been central to our historic subservience and oppression but having appropriated that language to further its Islamophobia, the court has infact taken away that language from us. It couches the freedom of women in the basket of Islamophobia. The dichotomous choice then is between apparently ‘rejecting’ self-dependence by choosing to embrace the husband over the State/family or uncritically embracing the economic independence bait for the purpose of the State speaking in a voice of the Hindu right-wing.
WHAT UNDERLIES THE ANXIETY OF ‘INDOCTRINATION’: ISLAMOPHOBIA RIDING ON THE BACK OF PATRIARCHY
It needs to be emphasized here that underlying the apex court’s refusal to squash the NIA investigation with immediate effect and its willingness to entertain the possibility that Hadiya may have been ‘indoctrinated’ by a “well-oiled organisational apparatus that converts young women”, is the deeply Islamophobic agenda of the Hindu right that has been given uncontested legal sanction and legitimacy with the full force of the state and judiciary, using the veil of ‘secularism’, for further religious polarisation and communalisation.
A full reading of the earlier order by Kerala High court makes this pretty clear, that what is at issue in the present case is in fact quite evidently not the well-being of Hadiya or any other women that the court assumes a parens patriae jurisdiction over. Instead, the context of “the widespread allegations of forcible conversion that were coming up and the national interest that is at stake” seems to be dictating the investigation and the decision of the said case, with the freedom and agency of women becoming easy collateral in the bargain. If the apex court at all seeks to address the “the very highly communally charged atmosphere in Kerala” that Ashokan’s lawyer kept insisting on, to uphold a secular constitutional mandate, it absolutely cannot do so by adopting/reinforcing a communalised ‘definaiion’ of ‘national interest’ and ‘general public’, especially in the current context of rapid escalation in the viciousness, impunity and public assertion of violence against the Muslim community and the permeation of Hindu fundamentalism into the state structure and society. In such a circumstance, it is dangerous for the courts to evoke the framework of a ‘larger conspiracy and potential terror links’ in the context of Hadiya and Shafin, in a backdrop of many Muslim youth accused in terror charges being acquitted after spending years in jail, be it the accused of Akshardham or the Malegaon blasts. It has made allegations of terror in the wake of many encounter deaths of innocent Muslim youth from the Hashimpura massacres, the fake encounter of Ishrat Jahan and others in Gujarat and the Batla House encounters to the gunning down of five Muslim youth by the Telangana police to mention very few; while images from the terrifying instances of mob lynching of Muslims across the country remain fresh in the memories of all those who care to remember.
Most conspicuously, the courts’ commitment to investigate “forced conversion” to Islam needs to be contrasted with the situation where Hindu right-wing forces such as the RSS and its other fraternal organisations have enjoyed full impunity in their campaign around “Bahu Lao Beti Bachao” and “Ghar Wapasi”. That there has been no substantial legal action against forced Hindu re-conversion centres in the state of Kerala that claim to stop “anti-national conversions” and where women like Swetha Haridasan and Sruthi Meledath who were in interfaith relationships, were subject to ‘corrective’ therapies of mental and physical torture is striking. How does the judiciary serve the cause of secularism when it speaks so, in the language of right-wing campaigns, when it observes different standards for those involving the majority community despite the existence of strong evidence? Shall we not assume that this will only exacerbate the sense of insecurity and vulnerability already being inspired in the Muslim community by the current political regime?
This tremendously invasive process of making a ‘spectacle’ of Hadiya and her life choices has to end, the submission of her agency and being to ‘other’ ‘larger’ interests has to stop. Women’s bodies have across history been made into battle fields for such ‘other’ ‘larger’ battles, those of cultural hegemony, religious and political domination, the formation and dissolution of nations and not least the establishment and demolition of (a country/ community/ family/ lover’s) honour. The current approach of the courts takes us back to the point where a woman was at best the property of her male kin and her body the repository of the ‘honour/interest’ of the country/community.
We stand humbled by Hadiya’s courage, her steadfast and unwavering strength in the face of the tremendous power of the forces that seek to control her, IT is a source of massive inspiration in this battle ahead.