New Delhi: Thirty-year-old Shifah (formerly Stanzin Saldon), a social worker based in Ladakh, has recently been at the centre of a controversy triggered by the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) over her conversion to Islam and subsequent marriage to a Muslim man. Now, in an article in the opinion page of the Indian Express, Shifah has strongly refuted the LBA’s communal campaign that it was her marriage to Syed Murtaza Aga which had prompted her religious conversion, and that her conversion was forced.
“While communal passions were fuelled against the entire Muslim community, which had nothing to do with my personal decision, no one wanted to check the facts. Nobody asked me my view as if I don’t matter in this game of misogyny played in my name. I have also watched with a lot of anguish and pain how the media has been selectively highlighting the issue through the prism of their own bias, without caring for my opinion,” she writes.
Describing itself as a welfare group, the LBA maintains that it works towards “safeguarding the interests” of a minority community in the Ladakh region of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir. The Wire reported earlier that on September 7, the LBA wrote to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti asking that the marriage between Shifah and 32-year-old Aga be annulled. “Young girls are being lured by Muslim boys to marry and finally convert them to Muslim… we have repeatedly asked the Muslim community leaders… to sensitise their communities to stay away from such wicked and depraved act which otherwise will lead to communal unrest, and the district administration will be solely responsible,” the group said in its letter.
In a powerful rebuttal of the LBA’s propaganda, Shifah has stressed that as an ‘independent and educated woman’, all the life choices she has made are of her ‘own free will.’ She argues, “The Constitution gives me a right as an adult individual to choose my partner. I have married Syed Murtaza because I love him. There is no absolutely no other reason.”
The writer has clarified that her conversion to Islam was the result of her ‘spiritual quest’ and her interest in ‘different philosophies.’ “This happened long before I met Murtaza and fell in love with him,” she says. Countering the LBA’s propaganda that she was ‘lured’ into conversion, Shifah has said that such such an accusation was an ‘insult’ to her ‘ability to think.’
Even though Shifah had converted to Islam in 2015, the LBA recently issued an ultimatum asking the people of Kargil to leave the area. “The LBA had given an ultimatum to the entire Muslim community in Ladakh to ‘return’ me or to ‘leave’ the region,” writes Shifah. “Nobody asked me my view as if I don’t matter in this game of misogyny played in my name.”
The author ends the article on a powerful note. “I am Saldon and also Shifah. I choose to be both and will always be a daughter of my family and Ladakh.” She requests anyone who “claims to care about me and my well-being to not get consumed by hatred and fear.”