Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Is a woman in India not a citizen with the same rights as others?

It is extraordinary that in a case that has grabbed headlines and been followed breathlessly by the media, the obvious gender angle has been almost completely overlooked.

I refer to the case of Hadiya, earlier Akhila, from Kerala who chose to convert to Islam.  She is not a child.  As a 25-year-old, she ought to know her mind.  Yet everyone, from her parents to the courts has treated her as if she is a person without the ability to think for herself.  Her "crime", as far as her family is concerned, is that she converted to Islam.  An RSS functionary from Kerala was heard ranting on television that they (by which he means, I presume, "the Nation") would not accept anyone converting to Islam.

And then to cap it all, Hadiya also chose to marry a Muslim man of her choice.  The result was a case in the Kerala High Court that pronounced that the marriage had no validity.  Extraordinary as that is, she was then sent back to her parents and confined, separated from her husband, and not permitted to interact with the world outside.  So an adult woman, who makes up her mind about what she wants, is essentially being told that she has no brains, no capacity to think, to make a choice and therefore needs others to decide her future.  If she had been a man, would the courts have reacted in similar fashion?  I very much doubt it.

The story has not yet ended.  Hadiya has been "sent" by the Supreme Court, back to the college in Salem, Tamil Nadu where she was doing a course in homeopathy. When asked by the judges what she wanted, Hadiya was unequivocal: "freedom", she said.  She only got partial freedom -- to complete her studies.  The question of whether her marriage is legal has yet to be decided.  And meantime the bogey of Love Jihad persists, with the National Investigation Agency tasked by the court to investigate cases of inter-religious marriages where women have converted to Islam. This is based on the suspicion that radical Muslims are "luring" Hindu girls into joining their ranks.  This calls for a separate article but it is extraordinary that the media too continues to perpetuate this through headlines that take the concept as a given without any proof.

For the moment, I will stop here even as I seethe at the lack of outrage about the manner in which this brave young woman is being treated.

Let me leave you with two good articles that have appeared on the subject.  An excellent article by Anjali Mody in where she writes:

"That Hadiya was in court at all is because she is a woman. That her marriage was annulled without the court even asking her if she had consented to it is because she is a woman. That the court placed her, an adult, in the custody of her father, is because she is a woman. That she was declared to be indoctrinated, or of unsound mind, is because she is a woman. That a Supreme Court judge, after hearing her speak her mind, felt the need to tell her that a woman is “an individual with her own mind”, is because she is a woman. This is how women were treated for millennia, and in India it seems even modern laws are no protection."

And another by the lawyer Gautam Bhatia in Hindustan Times, who clarifies our rights, that of women and men, guaranteed to us by the Constitution:

The Constitution, thus, is founded on a simple idea: to every adult citizen, it proclaims: “The State is not your keeper. Your family is not your keeper. You are free to make your choices, and yes – free also to make your mistakes.” It was as Ambedkar said: “The Constitution... has adopted the individual as its unit.” And the Supreme Court recognised this some months ago in its famous privacy judgment, upholding the “autonomy of the individual and the right of every person to make essential choices which affect the course of life.”

We are living in strange times if women have to fight to establish that they are citizens with equal rights.  

Stranger still when you see the blonde queen from the US, Ivanka Trump, holding forth about women's rights and men and media fawning over her, while the reality remains that women's rights are very far from being human rights in India. 


Raghavan S said...

India is a fascinating country. For every development scheme on women welfare and empowerment, we have grim happenings as Hadiya that casts pall of gloom and shakes our belief. Strangely key ministries at the centre namely External affairs and Defence are managed by woman who have ascended to this position after exercising their rights they are endowed to. Yet instances as Hadiya’s and women of Manipur come to the fore when they are denied their share of legitimate rights.

I fail to understand the contribution of Dept of Women and Child Development to such happenings. Like All Women police stations, it is imperative that this department is made totally women managed starting from Minister to the official in the rank of Under Secretary. Problems of women should be addressed by Women for our country to improve on HDI which is Gender related development and Gender empowerment measure.

Heera Roja said...
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Dr. Ashutosh Chauhan said...
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