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Hadiya 'love jihad' row in Kerala far from over as Supreme Court allows NIA to probe Shafin Jehan

The Supreme Court has set to rest the controversy surrounding the marriage of Akhila alias Hadiya to Shafin Jehan but its nod to National Investigation Agency (NIA) to continue its probe into the alleged links of the Muslim youth with extremist outfits will keep alive the debate on 'love jihad' triggered by the inter-faith marriage.

Hindu organisations have cited the apex court decision on 8 March to keep the investigation open as a clear admission of the existence of 'love jihad' in Kerala. They had coined the term to describe several cases of conversion of non-Muslims to Islam in the 1990s.

File image of Hadiya. Reuters

File image of Hadiya. Reuters

The Hindu bodies had claimed that 'love jihad' was part of a well-organised racket that hires young Muslim men to lure Hindu girls by feigning love for the purpose of conversion. It assumed the jihadi dimension after five neo-converts landed in IS territory on the Afghan-Syria border in October 2016.

The issue triggered communal frenzy after the Sangh Parivar took it up. Even though the campaign spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) combine was dismissed as part of their political strategy to create a communal division in the state, a recent case involving a 25-year-old woman hailing from Pathanamthitta district and settled in Gujarat has forced a rethinking in political circles.

The woman alleged that a Muslim youth from Kannur who tricked her into marriage had tried to take her to Syria from Saudi Arabia. She had met the man identified as Mohammed Riyas while studying in Bengaluru in 2014. Riyaz, who is an active member of Popular Front of India (PFI), a fundamentalist outfit carrying out conversions in Kerala, had taken her forcibly to Saudi Arabia using forged documents.

The woman said she was locked up in a room when she resisted his plans to take her to Syria. She was rescued with the help of some NRIs after she managed to contact her parents back home. The high court has referred the case to the NIA for investigation. Two persons, who facilitated the marriage, have been arrested in connection with the incident.

The NIA is already investigating the migration of 21 youths from the northern districts of Kasargod and Palakkad to the Afghan-Syrian border in July 2016. They included one Hindu and four Christians, who were converted to Islam.

The anti-terrorist probe agency has already booked 16 persons in connection with the alleged IS recruitment and the trial in the first case, involving 15 persons from Kasargod, has already begun in the NIA court at Kochi. The main accused in the case are Abdul Abdulla Rashid and Yasmeen Mohammed Zahid of Bihar.

The chargesheet filed in January 2017 named Rashid as the main conspirator who motivated a number of youths from Kasaragod to join the Islamic State along with their families. It said that Abdulla had raised funds from abroad and transferred the money to Yasmeen, who used it for propagating the ideology of violent jihad.

The Kerala High Court had ordered a police investigation into the Hadiya case after Shafin informed the court on 21 December 2016 that he intended to take his wife to Muscat, where he worked. Hadiya’s father KM Ashokan had earlier expressed suspicion that Shafin had married his daughter for the purpose of taking her to the IS camp in Syria.

In its interim report on 6 January 2017, Kerala Police said that Shafin was an active member of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of PFI, and was one among 35-40 administrators of the party’s Facebook page along with Manseed Buraq, who was earlier arrested in a case connecting him with IS.

The police informed the court that Jahan was also an accused in two police cases including a case related to a political clash. Shafin did not hide his involvement with SDPI in the counter affidavit he filed in the high court but denied any connection with Manseed Buag, who was expelled from SDPI after his link with IS was exposed.

The NIA was handed over the probe into the Hadiya case by Supreme Court after Shafin approached it in August 2017 with a plea to quash the 24 May high court verdict annulling his marriage to Hadiya. The findings of the agency submitted to the apex court in a sealed cover are not known.

However, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the agency, informed the apex court that NIA’s investigation had revealed a strong pattern of Hindu women being systematically indoctrinated and induced into conversion and marriage by radical outfits.

The agency suspected external forces behind Hadiya’s conversion into Islam since her mentor was found involved in other 'love jihad' cases being investigated by it. The NIA had selected 32 out of 89 cases referred to it by the Kerala Police for detailed scrutiny.

NIA’s preliminary investigation revealed PFI women’s wing chief Sainaba, who mentored Hadiya, as the common link in several cases. The agency found her involved in luring young Hindu girls into embracing Islam with the help of activists linked to Muslim outfits like PFI, SDPI, and Markazul Hidaya Sathyasarani.

Shafin’s counsel advocate Haris Beeran said the facts in the Hadiya case did not show any element of so-called 'love jihad' since Hadiya had married Shafin much after she embraced Islam. She found him in a matrimonial site and married after due interactions.

He told Firstpost whether there is anything incriminating against his client in the NIA probe will be known only after the court’s full verdict will be available. The court had delivered only the operating part on Thursday. He said that the court may have taken the NIA probe findings into consideration while restoring the marriage of Hadiya and Shafin.

Social activist Rahul Easwar, who had interacted with Hadiya while she was in her parents' custody, also does not believe the involvement of 'love jihad' in Hadiya's case. He doubts even any force behind the conversion. Rahul, who is the grandson of Sabarimala hill shrine supreme priest, told Firstpost that he found Hadiya to be a simple woman, who had developed a genuine affinity towards Islam after her interactions with Muslim friends while studying.

He also takes the Sangh Parivar propaganda about 'love jihad' with a pinch of salt saying that they were blowing the issue out of proportion by citing a few isolated cases. However, he finds substance in the allegation that there could be a force behind some conversions. Rahul is not ready to blame non-Hindus alone for this.

"Muslim and Christian organisations are able to attract Hindus into their faith because they are vulnerable to conversion. A large section in the Hindu community are disappointed with the neglect and discrimination they suffer. If the conversion lobby in other religion is able to lure them with better prospects they cannot be blamed," he said.

Social critic J Devika agrees with Rahul. She said most of the Hindus converts belonged to suppressed sections in the community. She told Scroll that the Hindu upper caste society still considered the lower Ezhava community with contempt in the state.

Devika, an associate professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram pointed out that Hadiya’s parents belonged to Ezhava community that is officially categorised as Other Backward Classes, while the family of another convert Athira is part of Scheduled Caste Vannan community.

She believes that the Sangh Parivar has been running the 'love jihad' propaganda to mask the caste divide in Hindu society. They have realised that this caste division in the Hindu society is hurting its political plans. "'Love jihad’ is their ploy to mask the caste division and reap electoral dividends in Kerala," Devika said.

BJP leaders say their campaign against 'love jihad' was not aimed at maligning a particular community. Party spokesman JR Padmakumar said they have been airing their concern in the wake of arrest of several people in connection with the recruitment of youths to extremist outfits, including IS in the recent past.

Updated Date: Mar 10, 2018 13:55 PM

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