NEW DELHI — Her head covered in a red scarf, Hadiya, a 24-year-old Hindu woman from Kerala who converted to Islam, told the Supreme Court Nov. 27 that she wants "freedom and release." The top court set her free from the custody of her parents and directed that she be allowed to complete her studies at a Salem homeopathy college.
Born into an Hindu family and named Akhila Ashokan, she converted to Islam after marrying Shafin Jahan, a Muslim.
Her father had opposed her marriage and the National Investigation Agency is probing the case of 'Love Jihad' in Kerala.
Allowing Hadiya to walk free, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra directed the Salem college to allow her to complete her house surgeon internship. She studies in Salem's Sivaraj Homoeopathic Medical Colleges and Research Institute.
Diminutive Hadiya spoke in Malayalam, which was translated for the bench by a lawyer.
She had to wait for about two hours before the bench decided to interact with her.
In arguments that were spread over nearly two hours, the clincher came as senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the court that he was not arguing on Hadiya's marriage with Shafin Jahan or on her conversion to Islam, but the fact that was being kept in the custody of her father.
Sibal, who appeared for Shafin Jahan, cited Article 21 of the Constitution saying that no person could be deprived of his life and liberty without due process of law.
The court directed that she be allowed to meet people as per the medical college hostel rules.
The court order came after the bench, also comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, interacted with her for about 25 minutes during which she expressed her desire to complete her house surgeon internship and pursue her career as a homeopathic doctor.
"Freedom, release," Hadiya said in response to a question from Justice Chandrachud "What is your dream for the future?"
She has been in the custody of her parents for the last eight months.
The court inquired with whom she would be leaving after she was freed from her parents care. Hadiya said she would stay with her husband.
The questions asked by Justice Chandrachud centered around qualification, interest in studies, perception of life and what she intends to do. She told the court that she wants to complete her internship and intends to become a full-fledged doctor.
The court directed the Kerala government to ensure that Hadiya safely reaches her medical college in Salem in the custody of plain clothes police personnel.
Directing the medical college to admit her and provide her hostel facilities, the court said, "She will be treated like any other student and will be guided by the hostel rules."
If necessary, the expenses for pursuing the course and for the hostel shall be borne by the State of Kerala, the court said underlining that its order be "followed in letter and spirit by all concerned."
At the outset of the hearing, senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing on behalf of Hadiya's father Asokan, urged the court to conduct the interaction with her on camera.
He said this to request the recall of the Oct. 30 order saying that the bench would interact with Hadiya in the open court.
Urging the court hear them first, Divan said that the constitutional question that arises is whether in a pluralistic society, can such radicalization be permitted to go on.
The NIA, which is investigating the larger conspiracy behind what is being described as "Love Jihad" by a "well-oiled" Islamic organization, told the court that it should first look at the "compelling material" that it has collected before interacting with Hadiya.
While on the one hand Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh told the bench that the NIA was not concerned with the Hadiya case and was looking into the larger conspiracy, he at the same time insisted the court should first look at the six pages of a 100-page status report carrying "compelling material" on the existence of a well-oiled organization engaged in indoctrinating vulnerable minds.
In a dig at the ASG Singh, Sibal in a banter said they say "she is doctored, but she is a doctor."
Sibal said that "she should not be gagged. She should have liberty to go anywhere from here. She should have a right to decide about herself and personal autonomy. If the court thinks that Shafin Jahan has done anything wrong, then he can be acted against under the law but 'you can't stifle' her voice."
The court made it clear that the NIA will continue with its investigation.
"We make it clear that the NIA investigation shall continue in accordance with law," the court said in its order.
Hadiya was asked to be present in the court Nov. 27 to ascertain her views on her marriage to a Muslim man, Shafin Jahan. Her parents have alleged it is a case of "forced conversion."
Her father, Asokan, has alleged that she was a pawn in the larger scheme of indoctrinating and recruiting of ISIS recruits. Earlier, the Kerala High Court had nullified her marriage to Jahan and she was given in the custody of her father.
Shafin Jahan had challenged the Kerala High Court order of May nullifying his marriage with Hadiya and sought a recall of the court order asking the NIA to investigate the conversion of Hadiya to Islam and her marriage.
The court permitted her to approach it in case of any difficulty, hastily clarifying that this would not include admission to a hostel or college.
Per the court order, Hadiya returned to college in Salem in Tamil Nadu Nov. 28.
On Nov. 27, Hadiya told the apex court that she wants to meet her husband and does not need any local guardian.