Hadiya case is an example of how Indian society loves to cage women
Whether it is at home or school or work, our opinions and decisions are constantly undermined.
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Bollywood films have had a set storyline for decades. The female lead meets her male counterpart and falls in love, but her parents do not accept it. They hold the right to marry off their daughter to whomever they choose to. Her rights as an individual do not factor into this decision. Sometimes they choose another man for her to marry, sometimes they refuse to let her go to college or work. Eventually, the hero finds a way to earn her parents’ respect and approval and they allow her to marry the man she chose. The precedent is set. Women do not have the right to freedom or freedom of choice.
When Hadiya's right to choose her partner in life was questioned by her parents, it was accepted as a valid issue by the Kerala High Court. Despite being 25 years old, the court had given her custody to her father. India recognises a woman as an adult at 18. She is then free to marry whomever she pleases, but the clause that seems to have been left out is that she can marry whomever her parents choose.
Women’s rights in India are overlooked often, despite the rising number of reported incidents of violence against women and children. Many still continue to believe that these crimes can easily be avoided if women are just house-bound. The highest court in the land has yet to accept a woman’s rights to her own body because once she is married, she becomes the property of her husband and he can do what he likes to her, apart from hitting or murdering her. Her consent is not required.
That is what parents have been led to believe too. Until a girl is married, she remains under the guardianship of her father, after that her husband will take care of her. Just as title deeds are changed, so too she must take her husband’s name. Her problems are not really a concern for her parents.
Currently, Hadiya has been granted her freedom to continue her studies with the dean of her college as her guardian. The Supreme Court at least expressed that her husband cannot be her guardian because husbands are not their wives’ guardians, not in this century. It is understandable why she would make such a request, after all, despite being an adult, she was forced to leave her husband’s house and live with her parents because they did not accept her decision.
The case has been unfortunately labelled as "love jihad" and Hadiya’s father claims that she has been brainwashed and is not capable of taking independent decision. Despite being an adult, her decisions are being questioned and her testimony not considered by the court. The NIA and her parents agree that she has been "indoctrinated by Islamic forces", and her conversion is illegal.
Hadiya’s story is something that women in this country are accustomed to. Whether it is at home or school or work, our opinions and decisions are constantly undermined. We are questioned if we decide to go against the norm, and any independent thinking is deemed as brain-washing.
Forcing a grown woman to stay within the house, refusing to let her meet people she wants to meet and annulling a marriage because it was "not agreeable to the parents" seems like the kind of storyline one would expect from countries where women have no rights.
India, as much as some people would like it to be, is not such a country. Women are granted legal rights as individuals and the fact that a case like this has gone on for as long as it has should make us all hang our heads in shame.
It brings to the fore the fact that women’s freedom and cases like this are, in all likelihood, more common than most of us can imagine.
The added element of religious conversion seems to have brought it to people’s attention, but the thing that should lead to moral outrage is not that a person has decided to choose how she privately prays, but that despite being an adult she has been stopped from living her personal life as she wants to.