India’s Supreme Court has ordered a 24-year-old woman whose marriage to a Muslim man was annulled at her Hindu father’s request to give evidence in person, saying only she could decide her own fate. The decision to annul the marriage and force the woman, Akhila Ashokan, to return to live with her parents has caused outrage among women’s rights campaigners in India.
Earlier this year Ashokan’s father asked the high court in the southern state of Kerala to annul the marriage, claiming she had been forced into it and made to convert to Islam. The high court agreed, but her former husband challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, which on Monday ruled that Ashokan should appear in person to give evidence on November 27.
It questioned whether the lower court had the legal right to annul a marriage between two adults. Inter-religious relationships are still a taboo in India, particularly in rural areas. The issue has become a flashpoint for nationalists in recent years, with Hindu extremists raising fears of “love jihad” claims that young Muslim men were attempting to seduce Hindu women in order to convert them.
Ashokan married in December last year after converting to Islam and changing her name to Hadiya. She has not been allowed to leave her father’s house since the marriage was annulled in May. India’s federal investigations agency has said it is looking into her husband Shafin Jahan’s links to extremist groups. But he has not been convicted of any crime.