Thursday, July 25, 2013

After conversion battle, Indira to fight for reunion with daughter

File photo of Indira (left) with her lawyer Kulasegaran. Indira has not seen her youngest daughter Prasana for more than three years now.

With her children’s conversion nightmare almost over, M. Indira Gandhi will soon file contempt proceedings against her estranged husband, banking her hopes yet again on the country’s justice system to reunite with her youngest daughter.

The kindergarten teacher chalked a major win for herself yesterday when the Ipoh High Court finally quashed the conversion certificates of her three children, declaring it unconstitutional to unilaterally force a minor to embrace a different faith.

Indira’s husband, Muslim convert Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, had converted the couple’s three children to Islam four years ago without their mother’s knowledge.

“I am extremely happy that we won. It has been a much-awaited verdict,” she told when contacted yesterday.

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But Indira added that the victory was also bittersweet as she has not seen her youngest daughter Prasana Diksa for more than three years now.

The whereabouts of the five-year-old, now believed to be living with her father, is still unknown, she said.

“Since I won custody, there has been no trace of him (Mohd Ridzuan), no sound of him. He doesn’t even call his children,” Indira said.

“We deeply miss her... it has been so many years that we have not heard from her, have not seen her face. But no... we will not give up.”

Prasana’s two older siblings, Tevi Darsiny, 16; and Karan Dinish, 15, have been living with their mother since their parents’ marriage crumbled in 2009.

In the drama that first unfolded at the couple’s home in First Garden, Ipoh, on April 3, 2009, Mohd Ridzuan, then known as K. Pathmanathan, made off with one-year-old Prasana and the birth certificates of all three children, which he later used to convert them to Islam.

His dramatic actions set the stage for a highly-publicised legal battle between the couple, and resulted in the March 11, 2010, decision by an Ipoh High Court to grant full custody of the three children to Indira.

But apart from the brief glimpse of then 21-month-old Prasana draped in a Muslim headscarf in court two months prior to the decision, Indira never saw her daughter.

Her husband allegedly went into hiding and was at one point believed to be in Kota Baru, Kelantan, but attempts by Indira and her lawyer M. Kulasegaran to find the elusive man proved futile.

“I have not celebrated a single one of my daughter’s birthdays,” Indira lamented.

“But to look at the bright side, we do believe that one day, Prasana will come back for us.

“Once she is older and she knows the truth, she will return to us where she belongs. We have faith in that,” she added.

Indira will head to the temple this morning for thanksgiving prayers with her two older children Tevi and Karan, whom she said were elated at yesterday’s court decision.

Speaking to The Malay Mail Online yesterday, Kulasegaran confirmed that contempt proceedings will soon be filed against Mohd Ridzuan in hopes he would finally be compelled to return Prasana to her mother.

He pointed out that with Prasana now legally back to being Hindu and custody rights still with Indira, the child should be returned to her mother.

“But he is still missing. We have not been able to contact him and all efforts to reach him have failed.

“We have lodged police reports... they are aware but seem to be pretending that this is a non-issue. These are the weaknesses of the present system,” he said.

Custodial tussles in cases of unilateral child conversions have been a growing concern over the years and provide a high-profile glimpse of the concerns of Malaysia’s religious minorities over the perceived dominance of Islam in the country.

It also highlights the complications of Malaysia’s dual legal systems where Muslims are bound by both civil and syariah laws, the latter of which do not apply to or recognise non-Muslims.

Indira’s historic win yesterday marks a major milestone in Malaysia’s inter-religious relations, which have suffered greatly over the years due to inconsistencies in decisions by the government and the country’s law books.

Earlier this month, Putrajaya retracted the disputed Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 from Parliament, yielding to criticism that it was attempting to legislate unilateral child conversion to Islam that the Cabinet had prohibited in 2009.

Minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom filed to have the Bill withdrawn, along with two others. Jamil Khir was also the minister who tabled the proposed laws last month.

The uproar over the proposed law was such that it even saw rare public division over the issue within Cabinet, with ministers Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, Datuk Paul Low and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz all publicly speaking out against the Bill.

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