An edited version of this piece first appeared on The Wire
The Kerala High Court in a recent judgement has stripped women of every last bit of agency, self-will, self-determination and reduced us to mere gendered bodies, incapable of taking our own decisions and therefore having absolutely no right to be independent. The judgement is delivered by the court in exercise of parens patriate jurisdiction which is defined as “the monarch, or any other authority, regarded as the legal protector of citizens unable to protect themselves.”(Emphasis added)
The citizen here is Akhila, a 24 year old woman who is not declared to be ‘mentally incapacitated’ by law. An adult citizen with a working mind is absolutely free to take their own decisions, howsoever odd or dangerous they maybe, as long as they are not against law. Except when the said citizen is a woman, as it appears.
According to facts reported by Indian Express, Akhila left home to convert to Islam because she was attracted to the teachings of Islam. Akhila’s father K M Ashokan filed a writ of Habeas Corpus to bring her back home. Pending that petition Akhila married Shafin Jahan, an active member of Social Democratic Party of India and alleged to have ties with ISIS. Following this, her father filed another petition to seek the marriage to be declared null and void and he be granted Akhila, an adult woman’s custody. The High Court has decided in favour of the father. After the order police reportedly took her to her parents’ house though she had earlier told media that she does not want to stay with her parents.
Few excerpts from the judgement:
“A girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways
“…the petitioner…given custody of Akhila. She shall be cared for, permitted to complete her house surgeon course…” (Emphasis added)
“Her marriage being the most important decision in her life, can also be taken only with the active involvement of her parents.”
The words of the judgement are so deeply patriarchal and unambiguous that there is absolutely no scope for alternate interpretation in any positive light. This is the final nail in the coffin of ‘woman are human’ narrative that silly feminists have been harping about for 300 years. We may all just go back to our kitchens and only step out when the men need our bodies for sex and associated fun, like beating, raping, burning, exhibiting or for baking their buns.
Love Jihad and women
That’s right, the judgment reduces woman to wombs, the factory where chosen identities are produced and reproduced. The Court has given an official stamp of recognition on the Hindutva manufactured bogey of Love Jihad and even ordered the state’s DGP to conduct comprehensive investigation in cases of Love Jihad. Stating a previous Kerala High Court judgement which had “taken note of the functioning of radical organizations pursuing activities of converting young girls of Hindu religion to Islam on the pretext of love,” the judgment confirms that “such activities are going on around us in our society.” (Emphasis added)
Now that Love Jihad is confirmed let us examine where are gendered bodies located in the love jihad narrative. It is commonly understood that Muslim men with an intention of Jihad, falsely profess their love to Hindu women and convert them to Islam at the time of marriage. Some Jihadis pick up guns and bombs to kill. But this is love jihad where the Muslim man is doing his duty of spreading Islam though love marriages, albeit pretentious.
What is true love and how many marriages are based upon it, is a question we are far from answering. But assuming this is true, what does this mean for the female identity. It infantilizes her, or considers her mentally incapacitated to distinguish between true love and false love. It assumes a woman would marry anybody without fully understanding the relationship or exercising her mind (She doesn’t even have one actually).
There is hardly any empirical research and documented evidence on the numbers of such cases and whatever happens to these marriages. Do these women realize after marriage that the love was a pretense or do they continue to feel true love post marriage? We don’t know, but then this is not about women as humans, is it? No, it is about women as wombs. As baby producing factories. The very fact that a Hindu women becomes Muslim implies that the offspring coming out of her womb are going to be Muslims and that means an increase in Muslim population, ergo Jihad complete. Ergo nationalism in danger.
Love Jihad and Honour Killing Two sides of same coin
Patriarchy controls woman’s womb by restricting her right to have a love marriage, right to choose sexual partner, her mobility, her access to public spaces. This is not just about Indian nationalism or Hindu Muslim religion. Look at the newspapers:
17th May 2016: man was killed at his home in Jaipur, allegedly at the behest of his in-laws for marrying their daughter against their wish.
19th May 2017: Barely two days after A man beat up his daughter and then threw her into a canal when she insisted to marry the boy of her choice in Bharatpur.
This is in 2016: 30-year-old woman was burnt alive in public by her brother…since her marriage with a man of another caste…”
Honour killing and Love Jihad are two sides of same coin, both are designed to control women’s bodies and their reproductive capacity, so that the progeny they give birth to can be appropriated by their community and used in strengthening identity wars. It should be noted that HC only nullified Akhila’s marriage and not her conversion, so she continues to be a Muslim. This indicates that the nation is a stake holder not in her personal faith but in her marriage. Akhila’s father would eventually marry her off to a man from his choice of religion and caste and thereafter Akhila’s offsprings would belong to that identity. Nation remains safe and relevant.
Daughters as Father’s property
Finally, in what seems like a cruel joke, the judgment delves into women’s independent ideas about her future and life. It reads,
“It is clear that Akhila has no consistent stand or a clear idea about her life or future. It is also clear that she is in a situation where she is acting on the diktats of some others who are bent upon taking her away from her parents.”
Why does it seem that Akhila’s story is every Indian woman’s story. Those who have almost no understanding of their future goals and only follow their parents diktats. The central government ran a huge campaign for girl child, ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ with the objective of increasing sex ratio, health care for girl child and their education. But where is the campaign to cultivate the mindset that woman are human? No matter how much we educated women, no matter how old they are, unless as a society we understand that once they are adults, they have complete right over their lives and bodies. This right is non-negotiable.
Muslim organizations in Kerala are now marching and protesting in against the judgment because in a world where women are not humans, this issue is not a woman issue but a religious issue.
Featured image courtesy, http://cartoonmal.blogspot.in/2009/10/love-jihad.html