Ladakh woman shares why she decided to marry a Muslim man

A Buddhist woman whose marriage to a Muslim man stoked communal tension in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh told The Indian Express on Tuesday she ‘abhorred’ the politics being played on her personal decision.

Shifah, formerly called Stanzin Saldon, wrote in an article for the newspaper she had decided to become a Muslim as an outcome of her “spiritual quest” and not because she “disliked her religion”. She added that she converted long before she met her husband Syed Murtaza Aga.

Shifah, 30, converted to Islam in 2015 and married Aga, an engineer, last year.

Earlier this month, the region’s apex religious body Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) had threatened communal unrest unless Shifah was “brought back”. LBA wrote to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, asking for an annulment of Shifah and Mustaza’s marriage.

“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,” Shifah said, adding that the portrayal of women as a “mere baby-making machine to save the community” was another reason she questioned her life choices.

The controversy arose amid tensions between the Muslim-majority Kargil region and the Buddhist-dominated Leh region over the LBA’s demand for Union Territory status with legislative power to Ladakh region — an appeal opposed by Muslim leaders from Kargil. Ladakh-based groups say they have been historically discriminated against and received little funds to develop the sparsely populated region.

Shifah had also written to CM Mehbooba Mufti on September 10. She dismissed the LBA’s claim and alleged that she was being unduly threatened, saying that choosing Islam was her spiritual choice that had little to do with her marriage.

“I am Saldon and also Shifah. I choose to be both and will always be a daughter of my family and Ladakh,” she concluded.

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