Chennai, November 29 (The Hindu): By freeing Hadiya, a 25-year-old from Kerala who converted to Islam, from her parents’ custody, the Supreme Court has protected her freedom to choose her religion and her freedom of movement. Such an order was long overdue, considering that she has been living with her parents against her will and wished to be allowed to be with her husband and practise her religion. It is a matter of satisfaction that the court has now emphasised her personal liberty rather than curtailing her freedom on a totally unrelated ground, namely that she was likely to be radicalized. Hadiya, whose original name was Akhila, had been practizing Islam for nearly two years, and had to face judicial proceedings twice at the instance of her father, who alleged that her conversion was involuntary and part of a ploy by communal groups to radicalise her and send her abroad to join the Islamic State. The court has now allowed Hadiya to go to Salem in Tamil Nadu and complete her internship as part of a homoeopathy course. It is somewhat ironic that it took nearly a year and a long spell of judicially ordered confinement for Hadiya to opt for the same course of action that was offered to her by the Kerala High Court in December 2016. The High Court had been all set to pass orders to enable her to go to Salem for the same purpose, when on December 21, 2016, she disclosed that a couple of days earlier she had married a man called Shafin Jahan. The High Court then annulled her marriage, calling it a sham and a ruse to scuttle the proceedings.
Whatever the truth about her marriage, there were serious reservations about the High Court’s observations to the effect that a woman’s marriage requires the involvement of her parents and that even if she had attained the age of majority she was still at a “vulnerable age”. The ease with which the freedom of an adult woman to make life decisions could be curtailed by judicial orders left many aghast. It is doubtful if similar remarks would have been made if the convert was a man. From this perspective, the Supreme Court’s order is to be welcomed as it gives primacy to a woman’s freedom to choose her manner of living. The Supreme Court has also made it clear that the National Investigation Agency can continue its ongoing probe. This preserves the scope for a lawful investigation into the suspicion that there is an organised campaign to recruit young people for overseas operations. Any probe into this phenomenon need not be at the cost of individual liberty. The possibility of indoctrination cannot be a reason for undermining personal autonomy.