By Mariam Mokhtar
For the past seven years, mother M. Indira Gandhi, has been subject to untold suffering, as a result of her husband’s action, the ruling of the Court of Appeal and inaction by the police. No mother, non-Muslim or Muslim, should have to go through this ordeal. Even Muslims are furious with her nightmare.
The Indira Gandhi case has exposed many flaws in our system, issues which have yet to be resolved.
First. The dual system of justice has failed many Malaysians. It does not work. It makes a mockery of justice.
Second. Conversion cases have a tendency to drag on for years. The government needs to address this issue seriously, before more families suffer unnecessarily.
Third. The Syariah courts are poor at dispensing justice. In most cases, they act as if they supercede civil law. How can a non-Muslim expect redress in a Syariah court, after one partner has converted to Islam?
Fourth. The police cherry pick whom they will arrest, and the urgency of the matter. They enforce the law at their leisure, as has been shown by the IGP’s handling of the Indira case.
Fifth. The people who claim that Syariah laws will not affect non-Muslims need only look at Indira’s case, to be proven wrong.
The 41-year-old Indira’s story started 23 years ago, when she married K. Pathmanathan. They were both Hindus, at the time.
When the marriage started to fail, Indira filed for divorce but this was complicated when Pathmanathan converted to Islam, in 2009, without telling his wife. He also converted their three young children, by proxy. Their youngest, a daughter, Prasana Diksa, was only 11-months old.
By this time, Pathmanathan had taken the name, Mohd Ridhuan Abdullah, and he went to the Syariah court to obtain custody of his children.
This was the worst predicament any non-Muslim could find herself in. Indira is Hindu and could not challenge Ridhuan in the syariah court, as this was considered a Muslim case.
Indira is not the only person who is suffering as this is a common problem faced by many Malaysians, who are locked in bitter disputes over the conversion of their children, if one partner is a non-muslim.
Undaunted, Indira launched her legal battle and in 2013, the High Court awarded the custody of her children, to her, and allowed her to bring them up as Hindus, as it quashed the conversion of her three children.
At the time, 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 witnesses.
Ridhuan was determined to challenge this High Court ruling and launched an appeal.
In 2014, the Ipoh High Court ordered the IGP to arrest Pathmanathan and to recover Prasana Diksa, but the IGP claimed that the Syariah court and High Court orders were conflicting.
A few months later, also in 2014, the Court of Appeal set aside the mandamus order on the IGP; but in 2015, the Federal Court reinstated the mandamus order. Then, in 2016, the Federal Court ordered the IGP to arrest Pathmanathan.
The lawyer and MP, M. Kulasegaran, acting for Indira, has sent two letters to the IGP, demanding that he execute the order. He complained that he had not heard from the IGP and said, “...However, there has been no reply from the IGP. If I, as an MP and a lawyer, received this fate, what more the public?” (sic)
In court, the Chief Judge of Malaya, Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, who is leading the five-member bench, asked for Ridhuan, and was told by his laywer, Hatem Musa, that he was not present.
An irritated Justice Zulkefli said, “We do not want the people to say the court is not concerned, as we want to know. (sic) So the warrant of arrest remains unexecuted, and with all the enforcement you (police) cannot trace.” (sic)
So, why is the IGP dragging his heels, and not executing the order to arrest Ridhuan and locate Prasana?
Perhaps, it is time the government treats the child conversion issue with less indolence. Instead of fast-tracking the Hudud Bill, MPs should debate the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 at the current sitting of parliament, rather than wait for the March sitting.
Haven’t Indira and her children, suffered enough?