Should India allow the four Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) brides from Kerala who are lodged in a prison in Afghanistan to come back home? The four women believed to be Sonia Sebastian alias Ayesha, Merrin Jacob alias Mariyam, Nimisha alias Fathima Isa, and Raffeala, surrendered to Afghan authorities in November 2019.

Their husbands had travelled to Afghanistan to join the ISKP. Both the United Kingdom and France have taken tough stands to prevent a homecoming for their nationals in similar circumstances. Neither the women who left to marry Islamic State terrorists nor their children have been allowed to return.

In many cases, their citizenship was revoked, such as that of 21-year-old Shamima Begum, a British national of Bangladeshi origin who was stripped of her citizenship in 2019 by then British Home Secretary Sajid Javid. There are two aspects to the issue of allowing these women ~ characterised as ‘misguided’ by those who argue that their home governments have a moral responsibility to give them a second chance and as ‘national security threats’ by those implacably opposed to doing so ~ the right to return which merit attention.

First, the legal precedent. Shamima Begum, who appeared on television complete with apologia and condemnation of Islamism begging to be let back into the UK before moving the courts, is only one of an estimated 52,000-odd women, men, and children who travelled to (or were born in) the areas of Iraq and Syria under IS control between 2013 and 2018 and are today stateless, lodged in camps across the region.

The British Supreme Court has since dismissed her appeal in a unanimous ruling which held that her rights were not breached when she was refused permission to return to the UK and her citizenship revoked. Legally, New Delhi would be perfectly justified in refusing the Kerala brides, as it were, the right to return. But the deeper issue for the policy establishment in India, where Islamic radicalisation especially among women in states such as Kerala is a burgeoning problem, is that of the nature of citizenship and the duties and rights it bestows.

One could argue that women face double jeopardy in this case; because of their actions as enablers (at the very least) of Islamic terror, and because as women they have as a group faced societal discrimination, misogyny, and been socialised into submission whether overtly or covertly. The fact remains that whether brainwashed or not, those who have fallen in with a radical ideology which espouses religious intolerance and justifies violence must bear the consequences of their actions.

The call New Delhi has to take is a tough one. A thorough probe into all four cases to determine the tricky issue of whether their actions emanated from free will is vital. If proven so, the women must remain in the paradise they willingly opted for. But if a significant element of coercion is found to have led to their actions ~ and they are willing to publicly abhor Islamist ideology, apologise, call out the misrepresentation they were taken in by, and join the Indian state’s deradicalisation programme ~ the harshest prison sentences under the law, but in India, could be considered.