Indira Gandhi, the Ipoh mother who fought to keep her family, deserves our respect on International Women’s Day
By Mariam Mokhtar
We celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 and one woman who deserves special recognition is kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi, who despite the challenges she faced, stood her ground to protect her rights and the rights of her children.
She worked tirelessly to recover her youngest daughter, who was kidnapped by her convert husband. Most other women would have given up, because they would have been working against a system which is biased towards one part of the community. No mother, should have to go through her ordeal. For the troubles and the pain she has been through, Indira deserves our respect.
In January, the Federal Court granted an appeal by Indira, who challenged the conversion of her three children to Islam, by her ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.
Indira’s nightmare seemed to be ending when the Federal Court ruling gave her some hope. The landmark decision, nullified the conversion of her three children, Tevi Darshiny, 20; Karan Dinesh, 18; and Prasana Diksa, eight.
In normal circumstances, one would expect Indira and her three children to put the past behind them and get on with their lives. The problem is that the youngest child, Prasana is missing. She has been kidnapped by her father, Riduan.
Pathmanathan converted to Islam, in 2009, without telling his wife. They had been married for 24 years but when the marriage started to fail, Indira filed for divorce but this was complicated by his conversion. Without his wife’s knowledge, he converted their three young children, by proxy. Their youngest, a daughter, Prasana, was only 11-months old at the time.
As a Hindu, she was unable to present a challenge in the syariah court. She is not the only person who suffers this injustice. Other couples face similar disputes, when one of them, converts their children to Muslim, without their knowledge.
Undaunted, Indira launched her legal battle.
In 2010, the Ipoh High Court granted Indira full custody of all three children, and Riduan was ordered to return Prasana to her mother.
In 2013, the High Court allowed her to bring them up as Hindus, as it quashed the conversion of her three children. Justice Lee Swee Seng said the conversion certificates were invalid because they were unconstitutional. He noted that they had been issued in the absence of the children and their mother. He stressed that the children had not been asked to recite the Kalimah Shahadah (affirmation of faith).
He specifically mentioned three articles of the Federal Constitution: Article 3, which allows people to practise their religions in peace and harmony, Article 5 which guarantees the right to life and liberty, and Article 11 on the freedom of religion, which confers one the right to educate a child in one’s own faith.
Lee reminded us of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He stated that under a Perak enactment, children had to be present, for the issuance of a certificate of conversion, and that under the Perak Syariah Law, they had to recite the Kalimah Shahadah, in the presence of an official witness.
A determined Riduan challenged this High Court ruling and launched an appeal.
The Ipoh High Court ordered the former IGP, Khalid Abu Bakar, to arrest Riduan and recover Prasana, but Khalid claimed that the Syariah court and High Court orders were conflicting.
The Court of Appeal set aside the mandamus order on Khalid; but in 2015, the Federal Court reinstated the mandamus order.
On Dec 2015, the Court of Appeal overturned the Ipoh High Court ruling on the case and ruled that the matter of conversion fell under the sole purview of the Syariah Court. Then, in 2016, the Federal Court ordered Khalid to arrest Riduan.
In the landmark ruling on January 29, the Federal Court unanimously declared that it was unlawful to convert children to Islam without the consent of both parents. Indira was granted custody over all three of her children.
So, will the new IGP, Fuzi Harun, find Prasana? The former IGP dragged his heels, and failed to execute the order to arrest Riduan and locate Prasana.
One Canning Garden Malay housewife said, “Islam is not a personal faith any more in Malaysia. It is a political tool to stay in, and gain more power. As a Malay, Muslim and a Malaysian, I feel despair.
“Malays have to take charge of their destiny. Stop listening and kowtowing to political or religious leaders. Allah gave us a brain to think. Leaders are not Allah’s representative on Earth. These leaders are flawed and their personal agendas make them more flawed than the next human being.”
It is over a month since the landmark ruling. Prasana has not been found and Riduan is still at large.
ES Shankar, the author of “Murdered in Malaysia” has suggested the following tips for the former head of Special Branch and current IGP, Fuzi, to locate the fugitive lorry-driver, Riduan.
i) His parent’s home.
ii) His sibling’s homes. Shankar alleges that some of them have also converted to Islam
iii) JAKIM/JAIS. His conversion notes will have a record of his Identity card
iv) The Income Tax Department/Employee’s Provident Fund/Socso.
v) The Identity card and Passport Departments
vi) To enlist the help of Bank Negara Malaysia to liaise with banks, hire purchase and credit card companies
vii) The Ministry of Health may have their medical records.
viii) The Ministry of Education for the daughter’s school registration
viii) The Lorry Drivers’ Association
ix) The Road Transport Department
x) Vehicles insurance companies
xi) The Ah Longs from Bukit Beruntung
Shankar said, “Have you ever wondered how the cops are able to apprehend those who ransack the homes of Ministers and VVIPs, within a few days of robberies, but cannot trace Pathmanathan/Riduan after more than a year?”