By Kiran Galani
Over the past few decades, India has been making steady progress in the department of gender equality and women’s rights, slowly but surely doing away with social practices that can only be described as sexist and unfair. However, cases like Hadiya’s recent fight to marry the man of her choice and maintain her autonomy show us just how far we are from truly achieving our goals.
What’s the background?
Hadiya was born to a Hindu family in Vaikom, Kerala with the name Akhila. She was reported to be missing by her parents on January 6th, 2016 who then filed a habeas corpus, claiming that she was being held against her will. It is important to keep in mind that Hadiya was a 24-year-old adult woman, who was perfectly capable of reasoning and judgement. At that point Hadiya had been living with her two sisters, Faseena and Jaseena, studying for a Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery degree at a college in Salem. She had left her home to practice Islam, the religion she had converted to a while ago.
How did it happen?
After several rounds of the court, Hadiya was removed from Faseena and Jaseena’s home into a hostel and then back again when she petitioned against it. She then got married to Shafin Jahaan without informing either the courts or her parents about it, which was perhaps a critical turning point in the way the court looked at her case. Her marriage was annulled by the Kerala High Court under the pretext that this could be a part of a series of cases of “Love Jihad”, a scam in which women underwent forced conversion to Islam and were then removed from their country. Hadiya was then placed under house arrest in her parents’ house, not being allowed to leave or meet anyone for months.
Eventually, her husband appealed to the Supreme Court, who after hearing Hadiya’s testimony did indeed free her from house arrest and let her go ahead and finish her education, but also simultaneously assigned her principal to be her legal guardian in this case. Once again this was an adult, 24-year-old woman, who definitely did not need a legal guardian to take care of her. This resulted in her freedom becoming a double-edged sword. Yes, it did free her from her parents’ house arrest but it kept her ensnared in the patriarchal web of our society.
Why does it matter?
Throughout Hadiya’s entire ordeal, every step of the way, a recurring theme has been the idea that Hadiya couldn’t take care of herself and needs someone to be in charge of her. She has been treated like a child, her guardianship being charged to her hostel, her parents, her husband or even her principal in the last case and nobody seems to have stopped to consider that she, in fact, is an adult who doesn’t require a guardian and can take care of herself despite her repetitive insistence towards the same. This outlook infantilises women, taking away their autonomy and refusing to give the basic right of deciding for oneself. It is important we rise above this as a society and truly start moving towards equality.
What’s the future outlook?
While the future looks bleak for both Hadiya, and women in India as a whole, it is necessary that we keep fighting the patriarchal values that are embedded so deeply in our society. Slowly, but surely, we’ll be able to take our mantle back and until then it’s important that we don’t give up or lose sight of our goals.