Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kula: Back to square one if marriage and divorce bill not tabled

KUALA LUMPUR: For DAP MP M Kulasegaran, it is back to square one dealing with cases involving non-Muslims and their Muslim partners.

Disappointed that there were tell-tale signs that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2016 would not be tabled at the Dewan Rakyat this sitting, he recalled his first two cases he had to deal with in the mid-1980s that set him on his journey to push for the bill.

The first was a Sikh man caught in close proximity with a Muslim woman. Kula said the Sikh man was forced to convert and get married to the Muslim lady.

Not knowing his rights, Kula said the man had converted but divorced his wife several years later.

The second case was a Hindu man who married a Muslim lady after his Hindu wife packed her bags and left to her parents’ home with their three children.

“After she left, he used to buy nasi lemak. He got married (to the nasi lemak seller) and became a Muslim.

“After having two children, he wanted to go back to the first wife but couldn’t.

“He went to the third floor and committed suicide. He was only 34,” Kula told FMT.

Under Malaysian law, he said the father’s property goes to the Muslim side of the family.

“Is this fair? The Hindu wife and her kids do not get anything. It is no fault of the children.”

Kula said this issue is addressed in the reform bill waiting to be tabled.

The civil litigation and criminal lawyer for 33 years said there was so much excitement on Nov 21, 2016 when the government finally said they will table the bill.

“For many people, it was a dream come true. So many people are suffering. Family trauma and all that would have been put to rest with this amendment.”

He said the bill was one of the most progressive and far-sighted bills which filled the hearts and minds of everyone.

“It is rarest kind of bill filled with retrospect effectiveness.”

Clarifying “retrospect effectiveness”, he said it would have had answers to many cases he handled in court where a man and wife were not able to fight their case in civil courts after one of them brought along a certificate proving he or she had converted to Islam.

He said the bill, which addressed the issue, would have allowed families to conclude their case in civil courts.

“Anyone wanting to be a Muslim, they can do it. No qualms. That is between that person and God. But these people underwent a civil marriage and they should settle their differences in the civil court first.”

Unfortunately, he said these cases will be left unsolved if the bill is not tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.

He cited another case where a multi-millionaire father had refused to support his children’s education.

“I took up the case. I lost in court. Now, the reform bill looks into this issue.

“To see this in print in the act was a joy as a father is compelled to finance his children’s education if he is capable under this bill.”

He also touched on young children who are converted without their knowledge and input. “They are caught in a limbo. What do you do with them? Why don’t the authorities address the issue?”

Kula is the lawyer for M Indira Gandhi, whose former husband K Pathmanathan converted to Islam on March 11, 2009, taking the name of Muhammad Riduan Abdullah. He left the house three weeks later with their youngest child.

On April 2, 2009, he converted all three children to Islam without their knowledge and presence, and without Indira’s consent. He went to the shariah court several days later to obtain custody over them.

Indira’s eldest daughter, Tevi Darsiny, is now an adult at 20 while her brother, Karan Dinish, turns 19 in October. They are old enough to decide their own faiths.

Nine-year-old Prasana Diksa’s location remains unknown after being snatched by Riduan seven years ago.

Kula hopes Barisan Nasional component parties, MCA and MIC, will come forward to make sure no one “rolls back the carpet”.

Kula had said in the third week of the parliamentary session that the bill was pushed down to No 8, which indicates there is no priority in getting the bill passed.

The current sitting of the Dewan Rakyat ends on April 6.

The bill puts in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversion of minors to Islam, and addresses disputes due to the dissolution of marriage arising from a conversion by making clear that the couple can divorce in a civil court and not in a shariah court.

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