Is a woman’s will a fragile illusion to be played with by the society’s rule-makers?

“Freedom, release”- the only words Hadiya had as an answer to the questions on her dreams for the future asked by Chief Justice of India, Dipak Mishra.

But freedom is not that easy. The Apex court ordered that Hadiya – a medical student who converted to Islam in 2015 against the wishes of her parents, and then went on to marry a Muslim man, Shafin Jahan in December 2016 – will go back to Homeopathy College in Tamil Nadu.  The court allowed Hadiya to live free of her family’s custody, and go back to her medical college in Salem to finish her studies. Except, now she is under the custody of the Dean of the medical college.

In its order the Supreme Court also said, “The dean of the college shall approach this court if there is any problem with regard to any aspect.” The dean has already declared that he is not going to ‘allow’ Hadiya to meet anyone other than her parents.

Whereas, the marriage of her choice – annulled by the Kerala High Court in May – is still being treated as a terrorist conspiracy leading to an inquiry by the National Investigation Agency. The court ignored her repeated statements that she wanted to see her husband.

In response to her saying that her husband could take care of her, Justice Chandrachud told her, “…a husband cannot be his wife’s guardian. A wife is not a chattel. She is an individual with her own mind and talents…You must have the ability to stand up on your own feet and live a life of dignity.”
But the courts have treated Hadiya as if she has no mind of her own at all, or certainly not a mind she has any control over. It was a court that dissolved the marriage, and a court that placed her in her father’s custody. It was again a court that allowed her to return to college, and made the college dean decide whom she can and cannot meet, her de facto guardian. The Apex court, instead of reversing the High Court’s outrageous annulment of her marriage, ordered an investigation into her conversion and marriage by India’s anti-terror agency.

If the court finally comes to a conclusion that Hadiya was acting of her own free will, then judiciary should well compensate her for this mess that was made. Maybe, it will all end well for Hadiya. But for the millions of Indian women who are now realising that the idea of personal freedom is an illusion, this will pose as a disappointing precedent.

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