My heart goes out to you, Indira

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 03 Jan 2016

Pining for her child: Indira is hoping to reunite with Prasana Diksa.

I ask myself: what kind of country have we become to produce such harsh laws and heartless judges?

M. INDIRA Gandhi’s case never fails to make me feel angry and very sad.

It’s heart-wrenching to know that a mother has been denied custody of her child simply because her ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah (K. Pathmanathan), converted their daughter, then aged 11 months, to Islam.

An emotional Indira Gandhi was seen at the Court of Appeal after a three-judge panel ruled that the civil courts have no jurisdiction over the matter of her children’s conversion.

The unilateral conversion of the minor, made soon after the parents’ divorce, has been held to be valid by the court. In a majority decision, Court of Appeal judges Balia Yusof Wahi and Badariah Sahamid denied Indira the right to be with her daughter, to live and care for her — to hug her as other mothers would do — forever.

It has been almost nine years since Indira separated from Riduan, and I expect that the Court of Appeal decision will be upheld by the Federal Court. I ask myself: what kind of country have we become to produce such harsh laws and heartless judges? If Indira had been a Muslim mother, and the former husband did the unilateral conversion of the daughter to say Christianity, would the decision still be the same?

Of course not. Indira did not get justice because she is not a Muslim.

I have made reference to Indira’s case in the books I have written, and I will not dwell on the law any further. I just feel sick, thinking how the legal system cannot grant relief to a mother who has been deprived of her daughter for so many years.

What kind of judges have we produced? Do they not feel the need to be human and compassionate? Have they become comfortably numb, ensconced in the multimillion-ringgit Palace of Justice? Don’t tell me the law, and please don’t tell me they had no choice.

The word “parent” used in the Constitution could easily be interpreted to mean the plural (“parents”), and such a construction is commonly used in other jurisdictions. If plural can serve the interests of justice, why not do it?

I remember very well, in my short stint as minister, that when I asked the Attorney-General’s Chambers if we could make a Constitutional amendment to ensure that the conversion of minors occurred only with the agreement of both parents — and to make it very clear to judges like Balia Yusof and Badariah — I was told that a Cabinet Committee had already been formed under the chairmanship of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time.

This was in 2008. Najib was probably too busy to worry about changing the singular to the plural when bigger things like 1MDB had to be implemented.

I wonder if these judges have children of their own. I don’t know if Balia Yusof or Badariah are parents. If they are, how can they not feel the pain felt by Indira? How would these judges feel if their spouses, on divorce, converted to another religion and at the same time converted their young children without them knowing? What would they do? Would they say that singular means singular and nothing more can be done?

The Court of Appeal judges now want Indira to go to the Syariah Court for relief. It’s a proposition that’s ridiculous and without legal basis. I urge her not to waste her time. The civil courts have made it very clear, in this case and in that of Lina Joy’s, that they will not touch on the conversion of a Muslim, regardless of what the issues are.

They will come up with some excuses that will ultimately pass the problem to the Syariah Court. But the Syariah Court (being a religious court) will not even listen to Indira’s plea, and they have a legal right to do that. Why should they do the work of the civil courts?

Indira, I don’t know you, but I share your pain. My mother, who passed away last year, always reminded me that, as parents, we must never be separated from our children.

Nothing is crueller to children than to deprive them of the love of their mothers. My parents divorced when I was young mainly because they were poor and had to work in different places, but they did their best to make sure we got to see them whenever possible.

My case was different from Indira’s, as neither of my parents would dream of separating us using religion.

Even if they did, our courts and our judges in those days would never have allowed it. Back then, judges dispensed justice with their hearts, but not now.

I would like to appeal to all Malaysians who care about this case to start raising funds; not to cover the legal costs of the appeal to the Federal Court, which will be futile, but to make a film about the tragedy suffered by Indira.

The world must know the story of how a nation lost its soul and how justice became so alien to our elites, who now care for nothing but themselves.

Let the arguments put forth by Indira and the decisions of the judges be documented and aired for the world to see. If Indira’s lawyers agree with this initiative, start the fund rolling. I am sure we can raise enough for a good film about love and wickedness. Let it be shown in New York and London.

Indira must fight her battle beyond the shores, and we must help her.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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Opinion , Zaid Ibrahim , Indira gandhi , conversion


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