A voice is more than a sound escaped from the insides of one’s throat. It’s a statement, it’s an opinion, it’s a right. And when one attempts to muffle it, you muffle the constitution of one’s being.
Akhila Ashokan, now known as Hadiya, changed her faith to Islam and married a Muslim man, Shafin Jahan on December 2016. She had been confined to her father’s house in Kottayam since May, when the Kerala High Court annulled her marriage. Her father, KM Ashokan, infuriated by his daughter’s decision, had petitioned the Kerala High Court alleging that his daughter had been forcibly converted and was being held against her will. The news made headlines in the past few months where conscientious citizens debated over a woman’s decision making powers.
Hadiya’s case presents a terrifying account of how a woman is denied autonomy. Her father kept on insisting that his daughter had been coerced into adopting Islam never once providing the speaking space to her daughter. The Kerala High Court’s outrageous decision to annul the marriage without hearing what Hadiya has to say, is an infringement of an individual’s autonomy. The Kerala High Court’s rationale, which stemmed from the ‘fact’ that a woman is under the guardianship of her father, despite the veritable truth that she is 24 years old, is a classic case of infantilising women. Not to forget the treacherous communalism imbued in the High Court’s judgement which seemed to believe that it was a case of ‘Love Jihad’ and not of a person’s free will.
Hadiya had been denied agency. Her voice was left inconsequential. Muffled by the bigger state politics, it became a perfect instance of one’s life taken over by the larger political currents of the day. If we take the example of Gauri Lankesh’s brutal murder, we see a pattern. Dissent or going against what the state wants to project (a supposed demonisation of the muslim population by bringing in the narrative of ‘Love Jihad’ into the equation), is met with a metaphorical iron bit in your mouth or the graveyard.
It is a systemic shutting up of one’s voice. If we go back to the middle ages in Europe (5th to 15th century), we will be confronted with gruesome forms of punishments. One such corporal punishment was the Scold’s Bridle, an inhuman, grotesque form of literally doing away with a woman’s voice. It was an iron muzzle enclosed in an iron framework that surrounded the head of an ‘accused’ woman, like a mask. The main intention of the device was to physically prevent the person from talking by the use of a small piece, called the bridle-bit, which was put in the woman’s mouth and pressed upon the tongue.
In some cases, a spike was attached to the bridle-bit, so that the movement of the tongue would cause wounds, additionally discouraging the victim from even attempting to speak.?Thankfully, the Supreme Court in its recent judgement of the case, agreed that consent of an adult for marriage is prime-a verdict that women’s right activists had been waiting for. The top court also directed the police in the southern state to present Hadiya in the court in New Delhi on November 27.?Yet, this doesn’t absolve our country’s judiciary and the society that we live in, who refused to acknowledge Hadiya, who refused to listen to her side of the story, who refused to treat her as an autonomous body capable of making her own decisions.?Our country still has a long way to go since Independence. We have been freed from colonial oppression, but communalism, casteism, classism, poverty, inequality still reigns supreme as prime issues in our country. A voice for each citizen is the least we can ask for, and when even that is snatched, all hope ceases to exist. To quote Meredith Grey, “Don’t let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice. So use it. Speak up. Raise your hands. Shout your answers. Make yourself heard. Whatever it takes. Just find your voice and when you do, fill the damn silence.”
Feature Image Credits- womeninterrupted.com
Ankita Dhar Karmakar