Interacting with Akhila alias Hadiya, the Hindu woman who had embraced Islam and whose marriage with a Muslim man was annulled by the Kerala High Court in May this year, the Supreme Court Monday allowed her to return to her internship/ house surgeoncy at a homoeopathy medical college in Salem, Tamil Nadu where she had been studying.
After Hadiya told them “I want freedom… I want to remain true to my faith” and that she wished to be with her husband Shefin Jahan, a three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, turned down her father K M Asokan’s plea that the matter be heard in-camera and directed that she be sent to a hostel in the Salem medical college whose dean could always inform the court in case of a problem.
The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, directed the State of Kerala to make arrangements for Hadiya’s travel to Salem at the earliest. Until now, she was with her father Asokan who had alleged that her conversion to Islam was done fraudulently.
The bench also allowed the National Investigation Agency, which had been probing a series of alleged fraudulent religious conversions in Kerala, to continue with its investigations. “We make it clear that the NIA investigation shall continue in accordance with law,” the order said.
Appearing for Asokan, senior advocate Shyam Divan told the bench that in-camera proceedings were necessary since “there was a very highly charged communal atmosphere” because of the case. But this was opposed by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Indira Jaising who said it was in “national interest” that the matter be heard in open court.
“What kind of an argument is that it will spread communal atmosphere. It is in national interest that it is heard in open court… She doesn’t say she should be heard in-camera,” Sibal said.
The bench said: “After due deliberation, we thought it appropriate to interact with Akhila alias Hadiya and we have accordingly interacted with her in Court.The range of questions that we posed basically pertained to her qualifications, interest in studies, perception of life and what she intends to do in future. In response to our queries, she responded by stating that she has passed Class X from Higher Secondary School in K V Puram, Vaikom in Kottayam district, and thereafter she was pursuing her BHMS course in Sivaraj Homeopathy Medical College in Salem in the State of Tamil Nadu.”
“She has also stated that she intends to continue her internship/housemanship which she had left because of certain reasons and her ambition is to become a full-fledged homoeopathic doctor. She has expressed her desire to stay in the hostel and complete the course in the said college, if a seat is made available.”
It directed that Hadiya be taken to Salem “so as to enable her to pursue her internship/housemanship. The court asked the college to admit her and to allot her a room or shared room in hostel.
“If any formality is to be complied with, the college shall communicate with the university and the university shall accede to the same. Our directions are to be followed in letter and spirit by all concerned. If necessary, the expenses for pursuing the course and for the hostel shall be borne by the State of Kerala. The Dean of the College shall approach this Court if there is any problem with regard to any aspect,” it said.
During the arguments which lasted for over two hours, the bench initially did not interact with Hadiya. The judges said they first wanted to decide what was the threshold at which courts could intervene in cases where consent for marriage may not be free. Towards the end of the proceedings, it changed its mind and said it would begin the interaction Monday and continue it later. But by the end of the chat, the court had made up its mind.
The judges asked her about her school, and the BHMS course. An advocate told the court that she could understand English but could not speak the language following which Kerala government counsel V Giri was asked to translate for her.
Asked if she needed state assistance to complete house surgeoncy (housemanship), Hadiya, in turn, asked whether that was really needed since her husband would take care of her. She said the medium of instruction for BHMS was Tamil and English and she had gone for the course because her parents had selected it. Asked whom she was close to in the family as a child, she mentioned her parents and cousins, and said she was more close to her father.
On her future plans, she said she wanted freedom. At this, Justice Chandrachud remarked that this did not require any translation.
Hadiya said she wanted to “complete house surgeoncy by remaining true to her faith”. Born a Hindu, Akhila had converted to Islam while doing her BHMS course. She repeatedly mentioned the faith aspect and her wish to be with her husband.
In May, the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage between Shafi Jahan and Akhila alias Hadiya, calling it a sham and of no consequence in the eyes of the law. It concluded that the marriage was performed only to shield her from legal proceedings.
Shefin Jahan moved the Supreme Court against the High Court order. But a two-judge bench, headed by the then CJI Justice J S Khehar, ordered an NIA investigation and said it would also examine the contention raised by her father Asokan that her conversion to Islam was done fraudulently. The court, however, agreed to hear the woman before taking a final decision on the matter.
Justice Khehar retired in the last week of July following which Shefin Jahan again approached the Supreme Court, seeking recall of its earlier order.