Four years on, Indira still waiting to see daughter in bitter custody fight
Kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi has taught many children over the years in Ipoh but her mind is only on one child – her youngest daughter, Prasana Diksa, whom she has not seen in the last four years.
"She is always on my mind. Not a day goes by when we don't mention or talk about her," the mother, who is in the midst of a four-year custody battle over her youngest child, told The Malaysian Insider.
The custody battle came about after all her three children, who were Hindus by birth, were converted to Islam by her ex-husband in 2009.
And although Indira's divorce came through recently, the last thing on her mind now is to find love again, despite the fact that most people would find her attractive.
For Indira and K. Pathmanathan, as he used to be known, it was a true love story. Despite objections from her family, she went ahead and married him in 1996, when she was only 21.
Five years into the marriage, however, the relationship turned sour, with incidents of abuse and affairs with other women. Pathmanathan was also unemployed then.
"He was also in debt. He actually suggested that we convert to Islam together, because we would get some money and even land. He was desperate, but I told him I wanted no part of it.
"He left the house one evening, got drunk, came home, grabbed the documents, our daughter and left on his motorbike, and that was the last time I saw her," she said, referring to Prasana Diksa.
After converting to Islam in March 2009, Pathmanathan, who then became Muhammad Ridzuan, converted their three children to Islam at the Perak Islamic Religious Department, Ipoh, following which the Syariah court granted him custody of the three children.
The couple then separated and the husband took Prasana with him, when she was only 11 months old.
Indira mounted a legal challenge and managed to quash the decision of the Syariah court that gave Ridzuan custody of the children.
In July this year, the High Court quashed the children's conversion to Islam. But until today, he has yet to return Prasana, now 5, to Indira.
Since the incident in 2009, life has been a constant challenge for Indira, 38, but she soldiers on with the comfort of her two other children, Tevi Darsiny, 16, Karan Dinish, 15, and her family.
Indira revealed that Tevi Darsiny was carrying Prasana in the porch when the father grabbed her and left. "She blames herself until today for letting go, she loosened her grip on her sister because she was shocked to see his behaviour. She was only 11."
And now, despite the emptiness she feels from not seeing her youngest daughter for four years, Indira said she works "around the clock" to make ends meet.
"I am a kindergarten teacher by day and teach at tuition centres at night. We live in a rented house. I can't even get a loan to buy anything because I am a bankrupt," Indira said, revealing that her bankruptcy came about because her former husband took a car loan under her name and never paid up. "So our lives are stuck, we can't seem to go forward."
As such, Indira is constantly telling her two children to study hard, so that they can secure scholarships to further their studies, adding that " I won't even be able to sign as a guarantor for a study loan". But Indira offered that she is a stronger person today, because she is able to take on this fight and bring some hope to other women in a similar predicament.
"This is not about race or religion. This is about separating a mother from her child.
"And he did not convert because of love for the religion, it was a means to get some money," she pointed out.
According to Indira, her two children are also happier without their father, but they just want little Prasana back so that they can be a family again.
"We don't want him. In fact, a few months ago, I couldn't sleep, thinking, what if he comes for me and says I'm still his wife. I woke up and filed for divorce," she said, the face lighting up. Indira added that they missed Prasana even more during festivities and on her birthdays, and that she initially suffered sleepless nights when the child was taken away.
"That night I lodged the first police report and I hung around the police station compound the entire night hoping they will find my child. Since then I have lodged close to 15 police reports but there has been nothing."
Indira also revealed that she only found out her former husband had converted to Islam at the police station.
"They called him in front of me and kept referring to him by his Muslim name, I asked them why, then the policewoman looked at me and asked, 'you don't know that he is converted?'," Indira recalled.
"After taking Prasana, he asked us to come to the Perak Islamic Religious Department, saying he would return her. But when I got there, they served me with the Syariah court order.
”I will never trust this man again," she said, shaking the head.
Given what she has gone through, Indira feels the government should take heed of cases like hers, which is denying her rights because of bias.
"I am the mother of the child but because he is Muslim, they are not helping me reunite with her."
Indira said she is prepared to wait, as long as Prasana is returned to her.
"I think she lives in Kelantan now, so perhaps she does not speak Tamil and will not recognise me. But I am a kindergarten teacher, so I will take her to school every day and break the ice."
Indira's brother-in-law R. Sugumar, who lived with her during this interview before her court case on Friday, offered that while Indira could smile now, she was a wreck before, sitting around in a daze, depressed and not waiting to go out.
"We used to take her to shopping malls and walk around the whole day, buying nothing, just to be out with her," he said.
Sugumar also said that they have asked Indira to get married again.
But she interjected saying "that is the last thing on my mind now. I need to earn for my children and will wait for my daughter's return.Then we can talk about the future."
Yesterday, Indira had hoped to be reunited with Prasana in court, as her former husband was scheduled to attend proceedings with the girl.
But he never turned up. Ridzuan had applied to stay the High Court's decision which overturned his children's conversion to Islam.
Hearing now has been postponed to January 24. "I hope to see my daughter then.” Indira, dressed in a cream and green salwar kameez, had sound advice for other women: "If you suspect anything amiss with your husband, quickly check up on his status at the National Registration Department". – November 23, 2013.