Spark is happy to reproduce a letter written by Stanzin Saldon, published in The Indian Express, September 19, 2017, for the benefit of its readers. The letter raises a number of important issues about rights of a woman, right to practice faith of one’s choice, besides many other issues.
“My name is Stanzin Saldon. I also call myself Shifah. I was born in a Buddhist family in 1987 in Leh. I had joined Government Medical College, Jammu, but decided to change my field after four years of training because I was interested in social work. Subsequently, I did my Bachelors in Social Work and have been working for four years now.
My personal decision to marry a Muslim man is being used to fuel communal tension across Ladakh. The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) wrongly claimed that the love of my life and my husband, Syed Murtaza Agah, has “lured” me to accept Islam. The LBA also gave an ultimatum to the entire Muslim community in Ladakh to “return” me or “leave” the region. In fact, the LBA issued this threat in a letter addressed to J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on September 7.
While communal passions were fuelled against the entire Muslim community, which had nothing to do with my personal decision, no one wanted to check the facts. Nobody asked me my view as if I don’t matter in this game of misogyny played in my name. I have also watched with a lot of anguish and pain how the media has been selectively highlighting the issue through the prism of their own bias, without caring for my opinion.
Because the choices that I have made are used to mischievously target my lawfully wedded husband and the entire Muslim community, I have decided to stand up and speak for myself. The LBA’s statement is not only false and concocted, it is a brazen attempt to suppress and threaten a woman who has shown the courage to follow her heart.
I will be 30 years old soon. I am an independent and educated woman and I have made all my choices regarding my life by my own free will — a right granted and guaranteed to every citizen of this country by the Constitution of India. The Constitution gives me a right as an adult individual to choose my life partner. I have married Syed Murtaza Agha because I love him. There is absolutely no other reason. The accusation that I have been “lured” or “coerced” by anybody is an insult to my ability to think for myself.
The Ladakh Buddhist Association and random strangers are trying to objectify me by demanding my return as if I am their property and not a human being. I object to this in the strongest possible terms. No one owns me and I give no one the right to decide on my behalf.
I decided to become a Muslim five years ago and it wasn’t because I disliked the religion I was born into. It was an outcome of my spiritual quest and interest in different religious philosophies that I decided to become a Muslim. This happened long before I met Murtaza and fell in love with him. On April 22, 2016, I filed an affidavit before a court in Karnataka, where I was staying, to formally become a Muslim.
By spiritual quest I mean a desperate desire to seek answers from all available wisdom and knowledge given to humanity by many great personalities, who explored their path themselves and encouraged the entire humanity to do the same. I respect everyone’s faith and beliefs and expect the same for me. Nobody needs to celebrate my choices or disparage them. It is my choice for myself only.
I would also reaffirm that love and companionship are the only reason for the marital bond between Murtaza and me. Spiritual choice is a very personal matter and should not to be mixed with my marriage. All this time and even earlier when I had to face similar stressful situations, my beloved husband is the person who has always been there with his love and respect for me. We feel lucky that we have decided to spend the remaining part of our lives together. Moreover, being responsible citizens of the largest democracy, we have completed all legal formalities and I will not tolerate the communal and bigoted demand from anybody seeking to annul our bond. I abhor the politics that is being played on my decision.
I am pained to see my personal details and documents being shared without asking my permission on social media, where random strangers question and berate my decision. I was aghast to see my decision to marry a Muslim man from Kargil (which, in fact, is part of Ladakh) being shown as a “theft of a girl” and a reason for the “dying culture of Ladakh”.
Our culture and ethos (in fact, all cultures on earth) in Ladakh haven’t dropped down from the sky, where love and individual choices have no scope. That’s the worst possible way for us to look at ourselves. The portrayal of a woman as a mere baby-making machine to save the community was another despicable reason given to question my life choices. There have also been malicious statements that I have been kept away from my family, which are irresponsible and insensitive.
In these difficult times, when my personal decisions regarding my life are being used for divisive political purposes by the self-styled custodians of Ladakh, I will request the people of my motherland in Leh and Kargil to defeat these divisive forces by maintaining peace and harmony. It hurts me immensely to see my personal matters like marriage and spiritual choice being misused to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred. It is shameful to demand that I should be returned, because nobody has taken me or stolen me. I am here and I have made my choices out of my free will.
I am Saldon and also Shifah. I choose to be both and will always be a daughter of my family and Ladakh. I took my decisions out of love and I request everyone who claims to care about me and my well-being to not get consumed by hatred and fear.”
(The writer is a social worker based in Ladakh)