How independent is your autonomy?
To what extent can we protect the autonomy of an individual? Is there any possibility of freedom when every thought and action is the result of our perception of the outside world? Since external influence is compulsory, on what basis do we define freedom? What does it mean to be free—can the misguided decision making of an adult be considered as autonomous decision making? On what ground do we decide what is right and what is wrong—ultimately it boils down to a game of perception and benefits. These questions are not only abstract; they are complex and parallelly palpable. The Supreme Court has been battling an issue that has gained precedence on the public front because of these very perplexing questions. The complicated story of Hadiya has got the brightest minds of the country logging horns to decide the intellectual validity and the practical feasibility of deliberating on independence, autonomy and manipulation. The underground network of Love Jihad has been doing the rounds in recent news. Radical Islamists are supposedly culpable of forcefully converting young Hindu girls on the pretext of marriage to subsequently engage them in terror activities. The NIA has been on its toes cracking this underground network. For many, the strong Muslim man forms the exotic other, who irks senses more than the bland Hindu—known for his subservience. The validity of the underground Love Jihad network though still remains unfounded. Not to dismiss its validity in totality, on the public front there has been little evidence to prove the true functioning of this unholy network. Hadiya's story emerges from this background. Married to Shafin Jahan, which Hadiya says was an outcome of her autonomous will, she converted to Islam prior to her nuptials. Her father alleges that this was an instance of Love Jihad, as the young girl, all of 24, was still unable to think for herself. An appeal to the Kerala High Court subsequently led to the annulment of their marriage as Hadiya was handed over to her parents' custody. As the Supreme Court went on to hear the petition filed by her husband, Hadiya for once spoke out, reinstating that she was now a devout Muslim of her own will and she wished to remain married to her husband while continuing her education in Homeopathic medicine. The Court has, till now, granted her the second will. Hadiya will go back to continue her studies, living in the hostel, not in the jurisdiction of either her father or her husband. While Hadiya repeatedly emphasised on her autonomy and free will to make choices, the Courts were faced with a critical dilemma: to what extent must they restrain their power to question the autonomy of an individual? While Hadiya's repeated statement of wishful engagement with her husband stands undisputed, what is also concerning is the NIA's findings of a truly active underground network that seeks to exploit young Hindu girls with the attempt to radicalise them. A quick detour—there is a growing number of home-grown terrorists in Kashmir today, whose fragile minds are tapped upon by violent extremists who convert these naïve boys into killing machines, a slow process that has unfurled over time. While Hadiya's story might not at all be similar to their's in North India, the growing terror threats to the country emboldens the government's concerns towards protecting the sovereignty of its citizens. The human mind is strong, stubborn but also fragile and open to manipulation. Autonomy need not always be independent; it is, in fact, always dependent on external circumstances. The sifting has to be done to separate the nourishing elements of the external world from the potentially destructive ones. With adequate manipulation, even the most dangerous thoughts can be planted with the façade of independence. Hadiya's case is truly complex. It impinges upon the very question of autonomy which we as a democracy must never fumble to protect. Yet, given the foibles of the growing world, can we ever discount the evils that loom in the shadows of our everyday, waiting to clutch on to the easiest prey? While the NIA proceeds its studies, another relevant aspect that mustn't be overemphasised is communal difference. Even 70-years after independence we are shackled by fuelling hatred between Hindus and Muslims. A marriage between two communities, which form the majority in the country should be as normal as the act of marriage itself. These false divergences hold no value in the modern world where each individual must focus their attempts to reduce prevailing hatred. We already live in a hateful world where animosity spreads quicker than a virus. Whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, each community should realise how petty their differences are. If God exists, then s/he exists as one; unperturbed by a turban, a beard, a white robe or a saffron tilak.