Free will is a lost cause with 'conversion' and 'reconversion' centres of Kerala
A Hindu woman alleged that she was tortured, physically and mentally, at a Hindu conversion center in Kerala. Incidentally, only three days prior, another Hindu woman who had converted to Islam credited the same institution for helping her 'return to her faith'. While Kerala's Arsha Vidya Samajam is being accused of using force to reconvert converted Hindus, Islamic organizations like Satya Sarani and Therbiyathul Islam Sabha are being accused of carrying out conversions under the influence of radical Muslim organizations.
Kerala has seen a spate of such 'conversion' and 'reconversion' bids recently, especially at a time when the Supreme Court has ordered a National Investigative Agency probe into one such case of conversion- with a 'love jihad' angle to it.
Authorised conversion centers in Kerala
Despite allegations, no evidence of 'forced conversions' has emerged in many cases including that if Hadiya, which is before the NIA now. However, conversion is not illegal in Kerala. While many states constrict conversion through evangelism, allurement, and fraud, Kerala has recognized institutions that facilitate religious conversions. Select institutions, of all faiths, can hold conversion ceremonies and provide certificates of conversion.
All churches have the authority to facilitate conversion in Kerala. The government has given official recognition to Calicut Arya Samaj, Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham, Kerala Hindu Mission, All India Dayananda Salvation Mission and Sri Rama Dasa Mission Universal Society for conversion to Hinduism and Therbiyathul Islam Sabha and Maunathul Islam Association for conversions to Islam. Hadiya claims that she received her conversion certificate from the Therbiyathul Islam Sabha. All these organizations claim that they only help people who approach them out of their own free will to convert to another religion.
The role of institutions like Arsha Vidya Samajam and Satya Sarani are in question since they are not authorised to either convert, reconvert or force anyone to accept or reject a faith.
Free will, choice under threat?
Athira, a 23-year-old computer science graduate from Kasargod district 'returned to her faith' after her relatives shifted her to Arsha Vidya Samajam in Ernakulam. Days later, she addressed a press conference where she said, "I am returning to Hinduism. I was attracted to Islam while studying computer science in college since most of her friends were Muslim. They told me that Hindus worship stones. They even asked me how stones could protect people"
Within days another Hindu woman who married a Christian man accused the same institution of torture. A 26-year-old woman alleged that she was forcibly detained at the center and physically and mentally tortured. She registered a complaint that she was forcibly taken to the center by her parents who conspired with the head of the Arsha Vidya Samajam and tried to force her to marry a Hindu man. She also alleged that at least 65 other women and girls were detained at the center.
These claims are similar to what Hadiya's parents have alleged about Satya Sarani. Hadiya's parents who approached the court after she converted and married a Muslim man claimed that she was forcefully converted under influence of the Popular Front of India (PFI). Parents alleged that her conversion and marriage was a ploy to induct her into the IS. The court annulled the marriage and ordered a NIA probe into the matter.
Cases of Athira, Hadiya and many others who have been in the news for conversion and reconversion reflect the fight freewill has to put up in Kerala. While activists have questioned infantilizing of the women, the courts too seem to be keen on paying attention to the 'conversion ploy' narrative. Caught between the conversion and reconverstion centres of Kerala, is freewill becoming the ultimate victim, remains the qiestion.