Author: Deeksha Karunakar, a student of fifth-year at Law College Dehradun, Uttaranchal University.
Title of the Case: Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M., AIR 2018 SC 357
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: Chief Justice Deepak Mishra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud
Judgement Date: 09.04.2018
Hadiya Jahan who was initially known as Akhila Ashokan converted to Islam during her medical studies in Homeopathy from Shivaraj Homeopathic Medical College, Salem in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. After her conversion, she met a muslim man namely Shafin Jahan. At the age of 25, she married him.
Later, when Akhila’s father namely Mr. K.M. Ashokan found out about the marriage, he filed a complaint S.P. Malappuram District that Hadiya has been deluded and forced to become a Muslim. After no action was taken by the police regarding his complaint, he further filed a writ petition of habeas corpus before the Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala, stating the same statement. He further stated that Akhila’s husband had links to extremist Muslim organizations. Hadiya continued to state that her conversion to Islam as well as marriage to Shafin Jahan was her own’s decision, throughout the proceeding of the court.
However, High Court Justices Surendra Mohan Kuriakose and Abraham Mathew, annulled the marriage and called it a ‘sham’ holding that the marriage is of no consequence in the eyes of law on May 24th, 2017. The court further stated that, ‘a 24 year old girl is weak and vulnerable.’ Custody of Hadiya was granted to Mr. Ashokan.
Thereafter, Shafin Jahan approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court to challenge the annulment.
Does the High Court have the power to annul the marriage of an adult under Article 226?
Considering Hadiya is a major, she has the right to make her own decision in matters related to her marriage.
If a major is a weak and vulnerable adult, the High Court has the power to exercise the doctrine of parens patriae (Latin for ‘parents of the nation’) under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The vulnerability of an adult is believed if the decision was made under constraint, coercion or undue influence.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court Bench was initially headed by the Chief Justice Jadgish Singh Khehar who initiated a prodigious step of ordering the National Investigation Agency to investigate the case of Hadiya’s marriage. By the time of the next hearing Chief Justice Khehar retired and his place was taken over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Chief Justice Misra understood the complex nature of the National Investigation Agency and didn’t call for it’s report and even didn’t mention it in the judgement.
On March 8th, 2018, the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court set aside the annuellement stating that Hadiya is free to follow her interests according to her desires. On March 9th, 2018, the Supreme Court held that the Kerala High Court could not have used Article 226 to annul the marriage of an adult.
The case has been a representation on the matter of freedom of choice, it will not be forgotten for a long period of time and will be reflected in several other judicial decisions, as it has shown the significant force of the Constitution which shows the recognition of the diversity and plurality of various syncretic cultures in the society. It was established in the judgment that marriage is an individual’s choice protected from any state intervention.