In India, 24-year-old Hadiya Jahan says, “I want freedom”

Hadiya Jahan at today’s Supreme Court hearing

Today, November 17, 2017, Hadiya Jahan spoke … or better, was “allowed” to speak and perhaps be heard. Hadiya is a 24-year-old woman, who for the past year has been caught in a web of “protections” “for her own good.” Throughout, Hadiya has tried to speak in her own voice, and has been thwarted. Today, she spoke, and she was partly listened to. More people should be listening, because Hadiya Jahan’s story haunts women, and womanhood, everywhere.

Hadiya’s story is both straightforward and complicated. She was born in Kerala to an atheist father and Hindu mother. Her birth name was Akhila Ashokan. In 2010, at 18 years of age, she went off to study homeopathy. In 2015, she publicly declared she was considering converting to Islam. In January, she attended school, wearing a hijab. Her Hindu “friends” reported this to her parents. Her father rushed to the school, did not find his daughter, and filed a missing person’s complaint. Meanwhile, his daughter had gone to Sathya Sarani, a self-described Islamic educational and charitable trust. They provided her with shelter. Akhila changed her name to Hadiya. When the missing person’s case came to court, Akhila showed up and said she was neither missing nor abducted. The court agreed.

In August 2016, Hadiya’s father filed a second petition, claiming there was a plan to move his daughter out of India. The implicit claim was trafficking. Hadiya denied this. The court placed her in a women’s hostel. At the next hearing, on December 19, 2016, the Court said Hadiya must be allowed to return to college and complete her studies. Meanwhile, also on December 19, Hadiya married Shefin Jehan. When the Court was informed that Hadiya had married, they returned her to the hostel. The Court told Jehan to keep away from Hadiya. No interaction whatsoever. On May 24, 2017, the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage, and sent Hadiya to “live” with her parents. Hadiya appealed to India’s Supreme Court, and that’s who heard her today.

Since May, Hadiya has been under house arrest, at her parents’ house. She has been forbidden from talking with the world. Everyone has spoken for, and even as, Hadiya, but Hadiya has been silenced. Finally, the Supreme Court demanded that Hadiya be produced.

Much has swirled around this case, from claims of “love jihad” to “mental kidnapping.” Hadiya’s story has split women along predictable lines. In a smuggled video, shot in August, Hadiya said, “You need to get me out. I will be killed anytime, tomorrow or the day after, I am sure. I know my father is getting angry. When I walk, he is hitting and kicking me.” She begged for freedom. Who listened?

Today, Hadiya spoke, and not only to the Court. She said, “I want freedom… I want to complete my studies and live my life according to my faith and as a good citizen.” The Court released Hadiya from her parents’ custody and sent her back to homeopathy college to complete her studies. In late January, the Court will hear the couple’s appeal to undo the annulment of their marriage. Hadiya, a 24-year-old woman, wants to be free. It’s not complicated.


(Photo Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times)

Instead of Women’s Day, What About Women’s Enjoyment of Freedom Day?


In South Africa, August 9 is National Women’s Day, and August is Women’s Month. This August, the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, a South African women’s rights and well-being organization has a simple and direct question for everyone, “So just how real are women’s rights?”

They began, publically, to answer that question yesterday, August 11, with a new report, “The Right & The Real: A Shadow Report Analysing Selected Government Departments’ Implementation of the 1998 Domestic Violence Act and 2007 Sexual Offences Act”. On one hand, the answer paints a dismal picture. Only 8% of police stations meet their obligations under the Domestic Violence Act. Compliance would include helping a victim to find shelter and obtain medical assistance, serving notice on an abuser to appear in court, arresting an abuser who breaks a protection order, and, critically, keeping records of domestic violence. Failure to comply means misconduct, and should result in various forms of sanction and punishment. It hasn’t. Police stations ignore their responsibilities with impunity.

In 2007, 57% of police stations were compliant. Now … less than 8%. That’s not a drop, not even a steep drop. That’s a nose dive.

The report focuses on the failure of the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (which includes National Prosecuting Authority), as well as the Departments of Health, Social Development and Correctional Services. The press has covered this failure as a failure to protect women and women’s rights, which it certainly is.

But Tshwaranang’s analysis goes far beyond the failure to protect.

The real of women’s rights is more than, bigger than, and more profound than “protection”. The real of women’s rights is freedom, and specifically the enjoyment of freedom:

“South Africa’s Constitutional Court makes it clear that, `few things can be more important to women than freedom from the threat of sexual violence.’ So important is this right to be free from all forms of violence that, along with the rights to life and dignity, it imposes two sorts of duties on the state: the first obliging the state to refrain from acting in ways that infringe on these rights, and the second compelling it to develop legislation and structures guaranteeing those rights….It is not only sexual violence that constitutes a rights violation of the sort requiring state intervention: `Indeed, the state is under a series of constitutional mandates which include the obligation to deal with domestic violence: to protect both the rights of everyone to enjoy freedom and security of the person and to bodily and psychological integrity, and the right to have their dignity respected and protected, as well as the defensive rights of everyone not to be subjected to torture in any way and not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.”

Imagine a South Africa in which all women are free to move around as they please, dressed as they please. Imagine a world in which all women are free to move around as they please, dressed as they please. Imagine a world in which democracy means the enjoyment of freedom. Instead of celebrating Women’s Day, what about Women’s Enjoyment of Freedom Day?


(Photo credit: Halden Krog / Times Live)

See Inside Her Soul

See Inside Her Soul

March 5, 2010

In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks;
Live not for the battles won….
We’ve gone from mammies to Secretary of State;
from mommies to Supreme Court Justice; true shades of beauty.
Love hard, and fight strong.

My momma always said, “Be what you want to be Girl,
do what you got to do and always, always be true to you!”
She never told me that sometimes I would have to cook, beans and rice!
Surrendering my soul ain’t sweet when there ain’t no meat to eat.
Can’t bring home the bacon when my rent’s sky high.  Economic injustice!
Can I get two for five?  I’m tired of these part-time dreams and political schemes.
Don’t want the crumbs from your table!  I just want to be able to, LIVE MY LIFE!

Lord, ease these pains because these tears fall, fall like rain.
Aphrodisiac and cognac numb the pain when fist cut my lips like knives.
I feel; I feel sub-jec-ted by this insidious beast and his soft spoken lies.
Fire are your words and they quench my soul.

But I’m still fighting, combat boots by day and high heels by night.
No one knows the strife when you are:  born Black, born Brown, born Girl.
With no definition of beauty, innocence is lost.  But at what cost?
Now her belly’s big and nothing remains the same.  As she speaks to her man, locked away in chains.  Unsuspecting heart, see inside her soul, as she cleans the grease from the stove.

Beans and rice!  The children are hungry!
Just want to be free, free from economic injustice and poverty; don’t want no sympathy.
Like Moses at the parting of the Red Sea, Dear Lord, set the captives free.
There’s a fire in the streets, bullets spray like rain, and her three year old baby ain’t the same; as he was, yesterday.  “Momma why Daddy in so much pain?” and she’s left to explain.  See; see inside her soul as she cleans the grease from the stove.

Been cleaning all day, and she’s so tired.  Still got to go home and cook some
beans and rice.  Working for minimum wage standing on her feet all day her baby’s daddy locked away.  Can’t go home been here too long.  A stranger in a foreign land with no money in her hand living in the land of the free; home of the brave, marching on a Saturday come Friday she might not get pay. See; see inside her soul as she cleans, cleans the grease from the stove.

Educate me, so that I can be free.  Free to make me some money!
Educate me, so that I can be free.  Free from subjection and tyranny!

Yeah I got the right to vote, but you look at me like I’m a joke.
Because I’m born Black, born Brown, born Girl, ain’t easy to be what you want to be in a
Man’s World.  I just want you to see; see inside my soul as I clean the grease from my stove.