Court: Muslim conversion of Indira’s children unconstitutional
July 25, 2013 UPDATED: July 25, 2013 07:06 pm
Malay Mail Online
PETALING JAYA, July 25 — In a landmark decision today, an Ipoh High Court quashed the Muslim conversion certificates of M. Indira Gandhi’s three children, ruling it unconstitutional to convert a child without the mother’s consent.
Today’s decision comes after the federal government bowed to public pressure and was forced to withdraw a Bill that was aimed at legalising the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam.
According to a report on The Star Online here, Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng declared the certificates of the three children - Prasana Diksa, five; Tevi Darsiny, 16; and Karan Dinish, 15 - null and void after finding them unconstitutional and against the right of natural justice for being issued without Indira Gandhi’s knowledge or consent.
“This decision is no victory for anyone, but we have to learn to live in harmony,” Justice Lee said in a report on anothe news portal, Malaysiakini.
The kindergarten schoolteacher has been trapped since 2009 in a legal nightmare that started with the falling out with her husband, Muslim convert Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, who was formerly K. Pathmanathan and a Hindu like her.
She has been fighting to keep her children Hindus, a struggle made more complicated by a messy custody battle, which had at one point saw her lose guardianship over her youngest child Prasana, when she was merely two-years-old.
When arguing her case, Indira has been repeatedly pointing out that her children’s conversion had been without her or her children’s presence or knowledge.
In court today, Lee cited Articles 3, 5 and 11 of the Federal Constitution to back his ruling, noting that the country’s highest law prescribes that a mother has the equal right to raise her children according to her own religion, said the English daily’s report.
The court also pointed to the Perak Syariah law, which Lee said stipulates that child to be converted should be present to utter the affirmation of faith.
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Minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom filed to have the Bill withdrawn, along with two others.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.
The attempt to legislate single parent consent for child conversion to Islam had caught the attention of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and Bar Council shortly after it was tabled, with both calling the move unconstitutional.
The MCCBCHST went a step further and slammed the Cabinet as “insincere” for introducing the law despite a 2009 announcement by then law minister Nazri banning the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam.
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.
Cases since Nazri’s 2009 announcement, such as that of a Hindu mother in Negri Sembilan who discovered in April her estranged husband had converted their two underage children to Islam after he had done so a year earlier without her knowledge, also illustrate the lack of adherence to the ruling.