It’s close to 3 pm and Room No 1 of the Supreme Court of India is about to witness the proceedings in Hadiya’s case, which some mainstream news channels portray as a case of supposed “Love Jihad”.
While waiting for the court to get to business, journalists gathered in the visitor’s gallery have a facetious discussion on the case and its implications. A woman reporter in a faux serious tone says it’s completely understandable for the State to interfere – after all Hadiya is a woman and cannot decide for herself what she wants. Another says this is the “love story” of the year and the court should break into the popular Mughal-e-Azam song Ae Mohabbat Zindabad, if Hadiya is allowed to go back to her husband.
At some point, another reporter makes a joke on the crux of the matter: Basically, Muslims cannot have access to our cows or women. “Our” being the majority Hindu population.
The banter stops and all eyes turn to the entrance when Hadiya arrives wearing a strikingly red headscarf, escorted by police personnel. On October 30, the Supreme Court had ordered that she be produced in an open court to speak her mind.
In the over two-hour long proceeding, Hadiya spoke for barely 30 minutes – a good one hour and 45 minutes after the judges hesitantly agreed to interact with her.
Of indoctrination and de-programming
The proceedings began with Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud listening to the arguments presented by the legal counsel for the respondents.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, counsel for Hadiya’s father, KM Asokan, appealed to the Bench to rethink hearing out Hadiya in an open court.
Diwan argued that it may be better to hold an in-camera proceeding in the judge’s chamber so one could ascertain the “forces” that were dictating her life choices. He spoke of a well-oiled machinery working to radicalise unsuspecting minds, of a communally-charged atmosphere in Kerala and a sting operation by India Today that showed how cultural organisations acted as hubs of forced conversions. A closed-door atmosphere would be more suitable to probe Hadiya, it was argued.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the National Investigation Agency, took Divan’s arguments a notch up and suggested that the Bench was dealing with a case of “psychological kidnapping”.
Hadiya had apparently been programmed, radicalised, brainwashed and indoctrinated beyond repair – “she’ll say she converted without coercion because she has been indoctrinated,” he argued, adding that there were at least 11 such cases that were brought to the NIA’s notice by the Kerala Police.
The arguments presented the Bench with a quandary – how can the court gauge consent by interacting with a “programmed” individual?
Singh went on to state that the NIA had compelling evidence of Hadiya’s indoctrination, which should be looked at before the court interacts with her.
For the next one hour or so, the judges deliberated on whether they should look at NIA’s findings before speaking with Hadiya or the other way around.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Hadiya’s husband, Shafin Jahan, urged the court to speak to the adult woman in the court since she had travelled all the way from Kerala on their order.
Arguments back and forth touched on Stockholm syndrome, where an adult of sound mind could take to her captor, of “de-programming” an indoctrinated individual and of the court’s limitations in probing individual autonomy – all along Hadiya was in the courtroom waiting to be heard.
It took senior counsel Indira Jaising to raise the question of a woman’s agency. “Had she been a man, this kind of treatment would not have been meted out to her,” she said. The Bench dismissed her line of argument – “how is this about gender justice?” asked Chief Justice Misra.
As the arguments continued, advocate PV Dinesh appearing for the Kerala Women’s Commission told the Bench that it may be a tad insensitive to discuss Hadiya’s mental make-up in front of her – she understands English, he argued. This propelled the Bench to finally listen to Hadiya – the original purpose of the day’s proceedings. Senior counsel V Giri stepped in to act as an English-to-Malayalam interpreter.
‘I want freedom’
The Bench did not ask Hadiya questions on converting to Islam or her marriage to a Muslim man, neither did it probe her consent. Instead, the line of questioning veered to more benign topics like her hobbies, education and hopes for the future. In response, Hadiya maintained that she wants to be true to her faith and wants her freedom back.
When the Chief Justice asked her if she would like to continue her studies at the state’s expense, she responded that her husband can take care of her. She went on to say that she would like her husband to be her local guardian, should she return to Salem-based Shivaraj Homeopathy Medical College.
Justice Chandrachud’s response to that was “a husband cannot be a guardian of his wife… she has her own identity in life and society”. The Bench decided that the dean of the college could approach the court in case of a problem – effectively acting as her local guardian if there’s any trouble during her 11-month internship to be a house surgeon.
The court finally freed Hadiya of her parent’s custody and allowed her to go back to finish her studies. Her marriage, conversion to Islam and the question of her “indoctrination” will remain sub judice, with the NIA continuing its investigation into the matter.
In the interaction the Bench had with Hadiya, she spoke of her husband often and the desire to be with him. This desire did not find a mention in the final order.
Hadiya spoke but did anyone really hear her?
Illustrations by: Anish Daolagupu