March 30, 2011
IPOH, March 30 — The religious statuses of M. Indira Gandhi’s three children continue to hang in the balance despite her two-year-old attempt to nullify their conversions to Islam, as the High Court continued again today to dither on the matter.
As such, the kindergarten teacher’s lawyers are now demanding that the case be moved to the Federal Court to be disposed of instead, on grounds that it was a matter of public interest and would likely involve a landmark decision.
Indira, who celebrated a short-lived victory last year when she was granted leave for judicial review to quash the conversions, was initially due to attend the first day of the review hearing this morning.
But her counsel, M. Kulasegaran, later informed reporters later although the matter was due before High Court Judge Zainal Adzam Abdul Ghani, it was instead handled by assistant registrar Helmi Ghani.
“We are not sure why the judge ordered for the matter to be moved before the registrar or why there continues to be a delay in the matter.
“From what I understand, I think the judge wants all affidavits from both sides filed before the matter is called for hearing,” he said when contacted later.
He explained that Indira’s lawyers had submitted their reasons why the hearing should be moved to the Federal Court before the registrar in chambers.
Helmi later fixed May 6 for their application to be heard, this time before the judge.
“There are one of two outcomes from this application - for the judge to decide whether to move the matter to the Federal Court or to hear the case in full in the High Court,” said Kulasegaran.
In Indira’s original application for leave in 2009, she had named six defendants: conversion authority Perak Muallaf registrar, the Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIP), the Perak government, the education minister, the Malaysian government, and her estranged husband, K. Pathmanathan (now known as Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah).
Indira, who was granted custody of her three children — Prasana Diksa, two; Tevi Darsiny, 13; and Karan Dinish, 12 — by the court on March 11, 2010, is seeking to nullify her children’s conversion to Islam by their father without her consent on April 3, 2009.
She is arguing that the conversions had been made only in her husband’s presence and without her knowledge.
Mohd Ridzuan was previously granted a similar custody order but from the Syariah High Court and has since chosen to ignore the civil High Court’s decision, claiming that as a Muslim-convert, he was now bound by Syariah law.
Indira’s leave application was postponed numerous times last year but was finally allowed in July 28.
Kulasegaran continued to complain today of the government’s apparent lackadaisical attitude on the matter, pointing out that earlier proposals for amendments to the law on matters of conversion had been quickly swept under the carpet.
The Cabinet had decided in April 2009 that children should remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage, should one of them decide to convert to Islam. It also decided that outstanding issues in a marriage must be settled before conversion to avoid children from becoming the victims.
But a subsequent decision by the Conference of the Malay Rulers to seek the view of state authorities had delayed the government’s plan to table amendments to three laws — the Islamic Family (Federal Territories) Law 1984, Administration of Islamic (Federal Territories) Law 1993, and Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.
So far, the government has given no indication of when the laws will be amended.
“There has been no necessary follow-ups taken, no initiatives in place since then,” Kulasegaran complained.
Meanwhile, Indira is still yet to meet with her youngest child Prasana, who turns three next month, despite last year’s custody order.
“It is her birthday and all I want to do is see her again,” she said.
On March 11 last year, High Court Justice Wan Afrah Wan Ibrahim granted full custody of the couple’s three children to Indira and ordered Mohd Ridzuan to immediately surrender Prasana to her mother.
The couple’s other two children, Karan Dinish and Tevi Darsiny, have been residing with Indira.
Mohd Ridzuan, however, refused to abide by the order, claiming it had no authority over him for he had a similar custody order from the Syariah Court last year.
He refused to reveal the whereabouts of Prasana and had only admitted to The Malaysian Insider that the child was in the care of school authorities in Kelantan.
“We still do not know where he (Mohd Ridzuan) is keeping her,” Kulasegaran said.