If there is one thing, besides the pervasive Islamophobia in Kerala in both the Left and Right, that the Hadiya case reveals, it is the deeply entrenched commitment to patriarchy everywhere — on the Right, Left, the radical civil society, wherever.
Since May 2017, this young woman has been under virtual house arrest in her father’s home, dragged there kicking and screaming, literally, by the police under the orders of the High Court, which claimed that it is Indian tradition that unmarried daughters should stay with their parents till they marry. This court annulled her marriage, refusing to believe that she could convert on her own. A twenty-four -year old educated woman has thus been reduced to a non-entity whose rights and wishes apparently do not matter. Her father now controls all access to her and he has quite openly, and in connivance with the police, allowed Hindutva elements free access to their home, while turning others away roughly. Six young women who were concerned about her rights as a citizen, who went to meet her as a group, were not only roughed up by RSS elements and the police, they are still being harassed by the police. Meanwhile, the State Women’s Commission woke up from long slumber after sustained pressure from civil society, but, wonder of wonders, it has decided to set down its own powers and seek permission from the Supreme Court to inquire into the reports of human rights violations. There was nothing in the court order that directed Hadiya to stay with her parents which indicated that she should be kept confined and isolated; there is nothing that prevents members of the public, especially public officials like elected members of the legislature or panchayat, from meeting her. The panchayat member representing the ward in which the house stands is a CPI woman; there is strong presence of CPI and CPM in that panchayat, and the MLA is a CPI woman, C K Asha. Not one has called on her, claiming, falsely, that the court order prevents them from doing so. So now we await the Supreme Court’s mercy to secure the rights of the young woman. If the SC decided that they are less important than national security, then the government can contentedly turn its back to the woman’s plight.
Interesting, really. The pressure on the Women’s Commission and AIDWA from the broader left in India has been unprecedented. A plea signed by Indian’s finest intellectuals was submitted to the Women’s Commission which urged it to inquire into the situation at Hadiya’s place of residence was submitted . Eminent Malayalam poets signed the plea. Teesta Setalvad sent a message. Feminist groups and activists wrote to Brinda Karat reminding her that Hadiya’s unlawful isolation represented a huge set-back to collectively-won women’s rights. Yet the Commission turns a deaf ear, instead, announcing that it was seeking the Supreme Court’s permission (like good women, one could add).
I say that this is not love jihad, it is judicial ghar wapsi. I request readers to henceforth use this term and not the one coined by Hindutva evil. The CPM has its reasons, one can see, to remain silent. This is nothing but the renewed version of its old game played against women, well-summed as ‘political progressiveness, and social regressiveness’. Earlier, the average CPM supporter stuck to the CPM and its organisations to make demands for welfare, rights at work, and social security, because such struggles in Kerala (because of demographic and historical reasons) may be successful only when they cut across community boundaries, but stayed within the deeply conservative confines of their respective case/community organisations when it came to family matters. However now, the community organisations of the 20th century are largely corporates managing huge community assets for profit . So the left supporter even as he stays with ‘progressive organisations’ to secure resources from the state, like a proper rational agent, will seek the aid of conservative organizations ; and also these caste organisations are being steadily replaced by or slowly shading into Hindutva religious outfits. So the average CPM supporter may well seek the aid of the Hindu helpline and the Hindutva conversion centres when it comes to a member of their own families seeking to move to another faith. Of course until recently, the CPM had relatively limited access to Muslims. While the Islamicists’ conversion centre Satyasarani is always highlighted, these Sanghi conversion outfits remain invisible ! Because this double-life ensures that the CPM vote base is intact, it does not want to rock the applecart ! Not that one did not know of this but the claim to be left always produces hallucinations I suppose. Those of us who believed that being on the left means being more human, are sadly disproved.
However, the worst elements in the debate now are the so-called ‘rationalists’, who like some broken LP record, keep repeating the evils of the Islamicist group that has taken Hadiya’s side. Exactly like the Hindutva elements, these people insist that the woman is incompetent, except that the argument is reverse. If the HC and Hindutva elements say that Hadiya has no competence to study faiths and choose, to these ‘rationalists’, her choice of Islam — or indeed , of faith itself over Reason — is proof of her incompetence. The whole of FB seems to be crawling with mini-Christopher Hitchenses, spouting indignation against the Islamicists resting on the assumptions of US imperialism. They too work hard to render her invisible and voiceless. Their rationalism is totally incapable of recognising the deep committment to the patriarchal family and the father’s control over grown daughters, many of them taking it as utterly natural. Their rationalism does not urge them to even consider other possibilities, such as preexisting domestic abuse that may have prompted the young woman to resist returning home and trying to escape into another faith and community, beyond her relatives. Indeed, their rationalism is not potent enough to rid them of Islamophobia. Worst of all, they reproduce the language of the Hindutva right wing, for example, the term love jihad, when even a cursory critical examination of the cases that generated that discourse would show that it is nothing other than Judicial Ghar Wapsi. In other words, they provide the ideological justification for the CPM’s silence by refurbishing a discourse that projects the Islamicists as monsters and Hadiya, as hapless prey in its hands.
But my shock, sadness, and surprise (there seems to be new one every day) is how friends and comrades on the left, like the widely respected Sunny M Kapikad, have developed deep sympathies for Hadiya’s father after they tried to visit her the other day. He seems broken, they say. Of course, the experience of the six young women, surely much less powerful, infinitely more vulnerable, than leading secular and dalit intellectuals, was very different. To them, he was violent, threatening, and abusive and those women still suffer the consequences. That did not seem to be of much import to Sunny, who seems mesmerised by Hadiya’s father Asokan’s sentimental shit: he said, apparently, “did I not raise her for twenty-four years, can I give her up for nothing?”. The whole world knows that she gave him up, and there is no question of ‘raising’ someone till the age of 24. Yet our leading critical thinker seems to slip so easily into well-worn patriarchal platitudes ! He continues, “Democratic society must show the courtesy of heeding his sentiment as a father, and there is no point in talking of the Hadiya Case otherwise.” No, Sunny, don’t evoke democracy and patriarchal sentiments in the same breath. Sentiments that reinforce patriarchy are not acceptable, sorry. Please do not trivialise the brave attempt by those young women to reach her when most intellectuals were hardly even aware of this terrible violation. This man has behaved differently with differently-endowed groups of visitors. He even reportedly gave an interview to an online journal (which did not publish it) that Hadiya was now ready to return to her birth-faith, and that she would speak to a camera as Akhila. We do not mind if you choose to look away, but please don’t strengthen the hands of downright evil.