The October 19 judgment of Kerala High Court (HC) in a case of interreligious marriage, upheld the decision of an educated young woman and allowed her to go with her husband, and is believed to give fresh hopes of legal relief for Hadiya, another educated woman who continues to be under house arrest with her parents.
The HC division bench, comprising Justice V. Chitambaresh and Justice Sathish Ninan, in their 19 October verdict allowed Sruthi, a post-graduate in Physics, to live with her husband Anees, a graduate in Physis and Management. The court statedthat “Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India guarantees to every citizen the right to freely profess, practise and propagate any religion which cannot be trampled upon by subversive forces or religious outfits”.
The judgment attracted public and media attention in the state amidst debates on ‘love jihad’ (a propaganda that says Muslim men do interreligious marriages with ‘dubious agenda’) and more recently on stories of torture and harassment in an alleged Hindu reconversion centre, near Kochi.
The court, while denouncing phrases like ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapsi’ being used to spoil even what it called “Platonic love between the spouses”, categorically stated that “any centre for forcible conversion or re-conversion has to be busted by the police whether it be Hindu, Muslim or Christian lest it offends constitutional rights”.
Sruthi had complained that she was forcibly detained at a Yoga Centre in Ernakulam and was tortured there for choosing Anees, a non-Hindu.
The verdict mentioned that Sruthi had left her home in May this year after her family objected to her wish to marry Anees. The couple then moved to north India and lived there. Sruthi’s parents approached the police complaining that she was missing. The duo were then taken by police from Sonepat in Haryana, and produced separately before a court in Kannur. Still later, Sruthi was sent with her parents, who in turn took her to the Yoga Centre in Ernakulam.
Allegations against Yoga Centre
The HC judgment mentioned Sruthi’s forced detention and torture at the Yoga Centre for nearly two months from June 23. Notably, Sruthi happened to be one of several young women who came forward against the said Yoga Centre, also known as ‘Siva Sakthi Yoga Centre’ or ‘Aarsha Vidya Samajam’, located at Udayamperoor in Ernakulam.
Over the last few weeks, media in Kerala have reported ordeals of several young women forcibly detained and tortured because of loving/marrying non-Hindu men.
On September 24, Malayalam news channel ‘Media One’ aired a report on one Swetha Haridasan. Swetha, a young woman, alleged that she endured torture at the Yoga Centre. She appeared in the media after she and her partner Rinto Issac approached both the police and the Kerala High Court against the Centre. She was allegedly harassed for her interreligious relationship.
Swetha’s revelations were soon followed by those of more young women narrating similar ordeal.
On October 12, ‘Mathrubhumi News’, another leading news channel, carried a similar story, of Ashitha, who also talked about disturbing tales of her experience at the Centre, including physical assaults and death threats. She also said that the people at the Yoga Centre, in an effort to manipulate her legal statements, tried to show her as mentally ill.
Ashitha said she was tied and beaten; the offenders at the Yoga Centre filled her mouth with clothes and played music aloud to ensure that no one outside knew the assault.
Vandana, whose partner is a Christian boy, is another young woman who also approached the Kerala High Court against the Yoga Centre. A native of Andhra Pradesh residing in Bengaluru, Vandana in her affidavit dated October 05 before the Kerala HC, said that she was tortured at the Centre, which was according to her, a “well-connected extremist organization”. “People in the Yoga Centre dragged me like animal and brutally assaulted,” she informed the HC.
Kerala HC is hearing Vandana’s impleading application, submitted in connection with the writ petition filed by Rinto Issac, husband of Swetha.
Both Kerala State Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Kerala Women’s Commission intervened in the matter. While the state HRC asked the district police chief to submit a report in a month, the latter was reported to have viewed the revelations about the ‘Yoga Centre’ as “very serious”.
One K.R. Manoj aka Guruji -- the alleged “Founder & Director” of the Yoga Centre and the prime accused in the police complaints and court petitions against the Yoga Centre by its victims – secured anticipatory bail from a lower court. He dismisses the charges against him.
Some victims of the Yoga Centre, like Swetha Haridasan, also allege that the actions of some police officers investigating the matter are dubious, as they tried to manipulate the statements of the victims.
“There is neither effective nor proper investigation is going on”, said Swetha’s affidavit before the High Court on 09 October, adding “there were attempts to evade allegations of offences in the statement and I had to insist for the proper recording to some extent”.
Relevance for Hadiya episode
The latest HC judgment would be crucial for more than one reason, as many believe that this judgment, which upholds fundamental rights and seeks to protect women’s right to choose her life, has implications for the Hadiya case.
Hadiya, who has been pleading that her fundamental rights continue to be violated for choosing a life of her conviction, has been under house arrest and her husband’s petition seeking the reinstatement of the couple’s marriage, dismissed by Kerala HC in May, is still being heard by the Supreme Court.
The Sruthi-Anees verdict reads, “this Court should be overzealous to protect the individual liberty of even the lowliest citizen of the country and unlock the door to freedom if there is a faintest doubt that she is unlawfully confined or illegally detained”. Many look at Hadiya case in the light of this HC verdict, which in its concluding part added, “we caution that every case of inter-religious marriage shall not be portrayed on a religious canvass and create fissures in the communal harmony otherwise existing in God’s Own Country – Kerala”.