New Delhi: Upholding freedom of choice, the Supreme Court in a landmark order on Thursday restored the marriage of 26-year-old Hadiya and set aside the May 2017 Kerala high court order that had annulled her marriage with Shafin Jahan. The order is in line with the apex court’s statements over the previous few hearings, when it said that a 26-year-old woman has the freedom to make her own marital choices and the courts cannot intervene in a consensual marriage.
The bench was headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and also comprised Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.M. Khanwilkar.
Born a Hindu, Akhila became known as Hadiya after converting to Islam. When she later married Jahan, her decision set off cries of religious conversion by the Hindu Right which termed it as ‘love jihad‘.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court also said that the Kerala high court should not have annulled the marriage in the first place.
However, according to LiveLaw, the court also said that the National Investigative Agency (NIA) can continue its investigations into whether there was any criminality involved, but it shouldn’t probe into the marriage. The court also reportedly said that Hadiya was free to pursue her future endeavours as per law.
The NIA, too, had said previously that Hadiya and Jahan’s marriage could be classified as a case of ‘love jihad’. However, the agency had not offered any proof on this, and Hadiya had maintained that she converted to Islam and then later married Jahan of her own volition.
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“Marriage, plurality and individual choices should be zealously guarded from state intervention,” the bench reportedly said.
The bench also said that however good or bad a marriage is, the HC cannot annul a marriage, saying that “the state cannot be allowed to enter into the marriage whether it approves of it or not.”
In addition to annulling the marriage, the Kerala high court had said that Hadiya was to be in the custody of her parents (who opposed her conversion and choice of partner). This move was widely criticised by women’s rights groups and activists, given that Hadiya is an adult woman and should not have to be in anyone’s ‘custody’. The high court had made several controversial statements such as, “a girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways” and “her marriage being the most important decision in her life, can also be taken only with the active involvement of her parents”.
Jahan had on September 20 approached the apex court, seeking the recall of its order directing the NIA to investigate the marriage.
In November, the Supreme Court had said that Hadiya can leave her parents’ house and go back to college in Tamil Nadu. At that time, the apex court had not yet made a statement about the status of her marriage.