KUALA LUMPUR: M. Indira Gandhi had dedicated her International Women of Courage (IWOC) plaque honouring her courage in the nine-year battle against the unilateral conversion of her three children to Islam to all the single parents in Malaysia.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” said Indira, while accepting the plaque from US ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir at a reception in her residence.
“This (the plaque) not only represents me, but all the single parents like me,” she said.
Indira is the US Embassy in Malaysia's nominee for the US State Department’s IWOC award this year.
The IWOC Award recognises women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
Kamala said that the US embassy in Malaysia unanimously nominated Indira for this award.
“We recognise her struggle for over eight years in court to achieve justice for her and her family to bring her daughter home,” said Kamala.
“We feel great happiness that the court had a unanimous decision that ruled the conversion of minors to Islam required the consent of both parents,” she said.
The 41-year-old kindergarten teacher gave thanks to her lawyers, friends and family who have supported her over the years.
“When I started this case, I wasn’t expecting anything. I wanted to get justice for my children. I wanted to get Prasana back,” she said.
“Eventually I did win (the court case). Maybe I started just for myself but I helped many people with the judgement,” said Indira.
However, the “exciting” moment of being honoured has been a bittersweet moment for Indira.
“I thought I would get to hold my daughter today. I am still hoping. Every day I am hoping that I would get news of Prasana,” said Indira, fighting back tears.
Indira said that she is willing accept Prasana for who she is, no matter what religion she chooses to practice.
“No matter how long it takes. We want to embrace her, to love her. Her whole family is still waiting for her,” said Indira, with a quivering voice.
The legal saga began in April 2009, when Indira's ex-husband K. Pathmanathan @ Muhammad Riduan Abdullah converted their three children to Islam.
He later took their youngest child, Prasana, then 11 months old, from the family home.
Tevi Darshiny, then 12, and Karan Dinesh, then 11 – remained with their mother.
On January 29, the Federal Court ruled in Indira's favour, nullifying the unilateral conversion of her three children in a landmark decision.
The court ruled that the conversion of minors to Islam required the consent of both parents.
The court also ordered police to locate Riduan and Prasana, and to return the child to Indira, but has still not hear any good news from the police.
Even though Indira did not win the prestigious award, she said the nomination was honour enough.
Previous Malaysian IWOC Award recipients include human rights lawyer and former Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan who received the award in 2009, and transgender rights activist Nisha Ayub who received the award in 2016.
Since the inception of the IWOC award in 2007, the US State Department (which plays the role as a Foreign Ministry) has recognised more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries.
US diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.