The Kerala Story: Why the southern state is debating the divorce and remarriage of Hadiya aka Akhila

The homoeopathy doctor accuses an RSS game plan behind her father approaching the Kerala high court with a habeas corpus petition.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 10, 2023 | 1:10 PMUpdated Dec 10, 2023 | 1:12 PM

The Kerala Story: Why the southern state is debating the divorce and remarriage of Hadiya aka Akhila

Hindutva groups raised the love jihad bogey when homoeopathy doctor Akhila Ashokan converted to Islam and rechristened herself Hadiya to marry a Muslim man in 2016.

Far-right pro-Hindu groups across the country termed it an example of radical Muslim groups luring Hindu women into interreligious marriages and getting them indoctrinated to become religious fanatics.

Hadiya’s conversion led to a bitter legal battle. Despite objections raised by her father KM Ashokan, who claimed to have inherited the Communist legacies of Vaikom in central Kerala, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour, saying she had converted to Islam of her own volition.

Hadiya is in the news once again after she divorced her partner and married another Muslim man.

Ashokan has filed a habeas corpus petition in the Kerala High Court, saying she has been incommunicado for the past month and her whereabouts are unknown.

This time, the right-wing groups stand solidly in his support. They term the development the second edition of love jihad in Hadiya’s case, even though courts and investigating agencies found so-called love jihad non-existent in Kerala.

When South First contacted Hadiya, she refused to disclose her location and the details of her new partner. The woman asserted that she was 32 and had every right to make decisions regarding her future.

Asked about her father’s habeas corpus petition, Hadiya said she had every right not to spend the rest of her life confined to a room in her father’s house, where her individuality was not respected.

She expressed frustration with the recent controversy because marriage, divorce, and remarriage were all legal and constitutionally protected personal decisions.

Related: Why the real Kerala story is mostly love, and not so much jihad

Hadiya’s whereabouts

Hadiya recalled the 2018 NIA probe into her first marriage, which failed to establish any terrorist link as alleged by her father and the right-wing Hindutva groups.

She categorically denied Ashokan’s allegation that she was being illegally held by her new husband, also a Muslim.

Hadiya at her clinic

Hadiya at her clinic. (File photo/Supplied)

She confirmed that she had remarried after divorcing her first husband, Shafin Jahan. “In India, the Constitution guarantees the right to enter into and exit marriages,” she said.

“Unlike in the past, marriages, divorces, and remarriages are frequent even in Kerala. I am failing to grasp why society is becoming more curious in my case. I am an adult with all the rights to decide my future. I decided to divorce after finding that the first marriage would not move forward. I’ve married someone of my choice, and his whereabouts will not be disclosed now. I am not disclosing my present location as well. I continue to be a devoted Muslim, and I have informed my parents about the remarriage,” she said.

Hadiya also accused her father of playing “dirty games” at the behest of the Sangh Parivar.

Ashokan was equally categorical when South First contacted him. “The court will consider my plea this week. Let her tell the judge what she has to say. Like every other father, I want to ensure the safety of my daughter. I don’t want anything else,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources close to Hadiya said she had shut down her homoeopathic clinic in Malappuram and shifted to Thiruvananthapuram with her new partner.

She also told different publications that it was her father who created difficulties for her to survive. “Cyberattacks have made my life difficult,” she told a national daily.

“The Sangh Parivar forces have always used my father as a tool. Unfortunately, he’s allowing himself to be used this way,” said Hadiya, adding a new twist to the ongoing controversy.

Related: ‘The Kerala Story’ depicts a Kerala that is unfamiliar to most Malayalis

What is CASA’s interest?

When Hadiya married Jahan, Ashokan filed a habeas corpus petition at the high court. The court nullified the marriage and granted Ashokan custody of his daughter.

But the Supreme Court quashed the high court decision. The apex court also allowed Hadiya to live with Jahan.

Right-wing Hindutva groups charged that the court decision helped “love jihad” across the country.

The controversy eventually died down, but was revived with the release of the film The Kerala Story earlier this year. It was an exaggerated and fake narrative of the happenings in Kerala.

Hadiya with Jahan.

Hadiya with Jahan.

Even before Ashokan approached the High Court, the remarriage became a subject of hot debate on social media, with Christian right-wing organisation CASA (Christian Association and Alliance for Social Action) accusing the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) of controlling Hadiya and facilitating the remarriage without her consent.

The Christian organisation, which supports the BJP on most issues, also termed Hadiya’s case a classic example of jihad in Kerala, where individual preferences seldom get respected.

It said the PFI forced Hadiya to leave Jahan and marry another person.

CASA president Kevin Peter claimed he informed Ashokan about Hadiya’s “miserable living conditions”.

Hadiya wondered why an organisation like CASA was concerned about her well-being. She also said her phone was never turned off, and she was “constantly in touch with her parents”. She also denied the charge that she was under illegal detention.

Ashokan evaded a direct answer to whether Hadiya was regularly in touch with him, “None of this would have happened if she had called and told us her whereabouts,” he said.

Related: PM Narendra Modi invokes ‘The Kerala Story’ to talk terrorism

Love jihad? No proof

Hadiya said she was born in December 1991 and aged 32. She said that he had every right to choose her life as an adult woman.

She also categorically said that she would not toe the RSS line or surrender to the regressive mindset of her father. She said she would go to jail if it was proved that she had committed any crime.

Hadiya with parents at her malappuram clinic two years ago.

Hadiya with parents at her Malappuram clinic two years ago.

“Those who are supporting the feelings of parents should understand one thing: I have been crucified for a long time,” Hadiya said, adding that her father visited her clinic a year ago.

“That day, I was out shopping. Won’t I have needs, requirements, and engagements?” she asked.

Ashokan stated that he approached the high court after she was not found in the clinic on 3 December and had since gone incommunicado.

“Whatever he says is a lie. My father and I were in constant contact over the years. I stopped answering his and my mother’s phone calls after he played this dirty game,” said Hadiya.

“Two days ago, I answered my mother’s call and told her that I didn’t want to speak with her because I had lost trust in them,” she explained.

She stated that her remarriage should not be a topic of public debate.

In her earlier interactions with South First, Hadiya said she was tempted to embrace Islam while studying homoeopathy at Salem in Tamil Nadu.

When the Kerala high court declared her marriage with Jahan null and void and ordered her to be placed in the protective custody of her parents or an institution to prevent her from being a “further victim of love jihad”, it became the first time a constitutional court had used the term.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court reinstated her marriage. The top court asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate if she had been coerced into converting to Islam. The agency closed the case after discovering no evidence to support such a claim.

When she became an “inspiration” for the movie The Kerala Story, the film’s creators said that around 32,000 young women from Kerala, like Hadiya, were misled, converted, and forced to join terrorist organisations. However, the police do not have any proof to back such a claim.