When I Met Hadiya, And Why I Respect Her Choice

I am a proud practising Hindu Brahmin, and I believe it is our duty as Indians to support our sister Akhila Hadiya in her pain and plight. When I met her and interacted with her for hours in August, I realised she is not a "victim of so-called love jihad". She was inclined to a faith of Islam from 2013 and formally chose that in 2016. Only months after converting, she got married. So how can it be a matter of "love jihad"?

The Kerala High Court pointed out that her marriage to Shafi Jehan was a "sham marriage" which was meant to circumvent the court. Because it was her father who had filed a habeas corpus wanting his daughter to be produced, who was allegedly missing. But the daughter didn't want to go back to her home and the high court suspects that her marriage was just a way out to dilute the locus standi of her father, Sri Asokan KM. That was a wrong step from her, but can we lock her up for years altogether because she got wrong advice and took that wrong step?

The first decision I took when I decided to support her is to call her "Akhila Hadiya". I asked her whether I can call her that and the answer she gave me pointed to her depth of helplessness. She told me "Chetta (brother in Malayalam), whatever name you call me, it's ok. Please save me from this place."

When I decided to release the video of her pain regarding the physical torture she faced and her feeling of having a threat to her life, I got a lot of abuse and threat from extreme right-wing groups. They knew that the case could turn in Hadiya's favour. If we follow the court proceedings, Sri Kapil Sibal, instead of raising arguments for her in the last session, read out the interview and video she gave to me. The Supreme Court judges were convinced she had to be heard.

Unfortunately, Akhila Hadiya is caught in a communal and political tug-of-war and is being used to further the extremist agendas of both the Hindu and Muslim sides. The hardline Hindu side wanted to project Asokan as the pained father whose daughter was snatched away by "Muslim radicals". The hardline Muslim side wanted to project that Hadiya as the hapless Muslim being hunted down by a hostile pro-Hindu state.

Both picturisations are wrong. This is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but a family issue, where a child grew isolated from her parents and didn't have a positive relationship with her mother and later grew distant with her father.

She found a sense of belonging in another religion. There is also an issue of spiritual vacuum she faced. Like our Christian community has a Sunday and the Muslim community has a Friday, the Hindu community doesn't have spiritual study and satsang. That is the reason why Moderate Hindu activists like me suggest a Saturday satsang for Hindus so that spirituality grows not communalism. I believe, Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi-ji would have agreed to this suggestion.

Akhila Hadiya had many questions regarding life, love, meaning, relationship, etc. She wanted to search for those answers and she took a choice based on that.

We may agree or disagree, but it is our duty as an Indian to uphold the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to her.

Whether she is Hindu or Muslim matters less. She is an Indian citizen and she will always remain so. And it is our patriotic responsibility to uphold Indian constitution even when her choice doesn't go well with us.

(Rahul Easwar is a social activist and writer.)

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