Banggarma saga continues while Masitah praises conversion!

November 25th, 2009 by poobalan | View blog reactions Leave a reply »
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She claims she said she was converted at the age of seven. The Welfare Department countered that her father converted her at the age of one! Now, which is which?

Her lawyer is demanding that the Welfare Department provide proof of their allegations:

Welfare Department director-general Meme Zainal Rashid should furnish evidence to substantiate her claim that S Banggarma was converted on Nov 30, 1983 in Rompin, Pahang.

Demanding this at a media briefing today, Banggarma’s lawyer Gooi Hsiao Leung pointed out that the conversion certificate dates the conversion at Dec 28, 1989.

“The Welfare Department now claims that she was converted by her Hindu parents when she was a year old. There cannot be two conversions into Islam for the same person,” he said.

Gooi chided Penang Islamic Affairs Council (MAINPP) president Shabudin Yahaya for saying that Banggarma, 27, is a Muslim and that her marriage to a Hindu is a legal issue.

He said the Welfare Department and Islamic authorities have failed to address the key question on the conversion of a minor by the administrators of the welfare home.

Section 80 of the Penang Administration of Islamic Affairs Enactment 1993 stipulates that anyone below the age of 18 shall not be converted to Islam without the consent of his or her parents.

Banggarma’s conversion, Gooi said, was illegal from the start.

“By converting her at (the age of seven), the Islamic authorities infringed their own law.”

Gooi hoped that MAINPP will assist Banggarma by expunging records of her conversion, so that the issue can be resolved amicably.

Banggarma, who was present, told reporters that her father had never mentioned anything about the 1983 conversion.

My father is a practising Hindu like me,” she said, showing a photo of her father with vibuthi (sacred ash) on his forehead. [not sure when the photo was taken though!]

He had enrolled her and three siblings – two elder brothers and a younger sister – at the home, after its welfare officers convinced him to do so, she said.

“He was shocked to hear that my siblings and I were converted to Islam in the welfare home,” Banggarma said, alleging that the four were then separated and have not met since.

Meme had told Malaysiakini yesterday that Banggarma, whose Muslim name is Siti Hasnah Vangarama Abdullah, was placed into the welfare home in Kepala Batas in March 1990 following a order under the Juvenile Courts Act of 1947, for her own protection.

Meme claimed Banggarma was found wandering aimlessly in Sungai Petani, Kedah.

Questioning this, Banggarma pointed to the conversion certificate which shows that she was converted in 1989.

“It’s a lie. The department is trying to cover this up,” said the mother of two.

… Her birth certificate shows that she was born on Aug 13, 1982 in Keratong, Pahang to plantation worker B Subramaniam and Latchumy Ramadu, both Hindus.

Describing herself as a staunch Hindu, Banggarma said she would fight till the end to restore her rightful identity.

“I was born as a Hindu, I live as a Hindu, I will die as a Hindu,” she said. [ahh..the famous quotes! I’m sure you have heard this before]

The Star reported Banggarma as saying below:

Banggarma claimed it would have been impossible for the 1983 conversion to have happened as her younger sister, who was five years her junior, was not even born then.

“Three of my siblings were placed in the welfare home along with me and we all have conversion certificates dated Dec 28, 1989. How could my father have converted us in 1983 when my sister was not even born?” Bang garma asked.

Err…tough question, that one.

But what really surprised (and angered me) is these words:

Mashitah said while it was commendable for the orphanage to take the initiative to preach about Islam and convert Banggarma to Islam, it was also its responsibility to teach her about the religion.

“It should be followed with the efforts to bring her up according to true Islamic teachings and way of life,” she said.

Its disgraceful to say the least!  I must say that its a blot to their religion from outsider’s (like me) point of view.

And rightly, questions are being asked on this irresponsible conduct of the Deputy Minister:

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was asked to clarify if it was government policy to convert young children, especially minors, into Islam while being under the care of government welfare homes.

PKR Kedah deputy youth chief Gooi Hsiao Leung said Shahrizat’s clarification was imperative following a controversial statement by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mashitah Ibrahim, who praised such conversions.

“Mashitah’s statement is scandalous and reckless. Shahrizat should take an immediate stand on it,” said Gooi.

He also wants Shahrizat to clarify whether Mashitah’s remarks were made in her personal capacity or from her official position in the Putrajaya administration.

Mashitah was quoted as saying it was commendable for the orphanage to take the initiative to preach about Islam and convert Banggarma to Islam and it was also its responsibility to teach her about the religion.

“It is shocking that a deputy minister had condoned conversion of young children living under the care of government run welfare homes,” said Gooi.

“Welfare homes’ primary functions are to provide care and protection to helpless abandoned children or where parents are unable to care for them until they turn 18.

It would be entirely outside the scope of their duties and a blatant abuse of their powers to convert young children’s religions, whether it is to Islam or to any other religion for that matter,” added Gooi.

He said Mashitah’s statement was also inconsistent with the remarks made by the Muslim Welfare Organisation of Malaysia’s secretary general Abdul Hamid Othman.

Abdul Hamid said it was inappropriate to convert a child before he or she reached 18, although the welfare homes can educate the children about the Islamic religion.

Gooi said as the minister in charge of women, family and community affairs, Shahrizat has a duty to explain the government’s religious policy to all Malaysians.

“It is of utmost public importance for Shahrizat to immediately clarify the government’s position,” he said

BTW, MCCBCHST’s president wrote in Malaysiakini on the council’s view:

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindusim, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) refers to the case of Banggarma Subramaniam, 27 (a.k.a. Siti Hasnah Vengarama Abdullah) who has said that she was converted to Islam at the tender age of 7. 

Banggarma says this was done by the welfare home, whilst the welfare authorities say it was done by her father. In any case, Banggarma has vigorously and categorically asserted that for most of her life, she has lived as a Hindu and that she is now a Hindu.

We object most strongly to the suggestion by the deputy minster for Islamic Affairs (as reported by the media on Nov19) that Banggarma must go to the Syariah Court to ascertain her status, a statement repeated by Welfare Department’s Director-General Meme Zainal Rashid. 

Penang Islamic Council President Shabudin Yahaya, meanwhile, stated that she will have to undergo the standard procedure to leave Islam and to undergo counseling.

We recall that Dr Syed Ali Tawfil Al-Attas, the director-general of Ikim, was quoted by the media on May 1, 2007 as saying that a child deemed ignorant cannot convert to Islam as the child does not understand the ‘kalimah shahadah’ and cannot bear witness to his/her own free will and understanding.

According to Article 11 of the federal constitution, every person is guaranteed the freedom to profess and practice his or her religion. 

It is our view that Banggarma, upon reaching the age of majority, should have the complete freedom to choose her own religion without having to go through any procedure or counseling

In some states, people deemed to be Muslims face possible terms of imprisonment and punishment for ‘apostasy’ or for ‘attempting to leave Islam’ or ‘insulting the religion of Islam’. This renders illusory their exercise of the freedom of religion protected by our federal constitution and by all international norms.

The Syariah Courts only have jurisdiction over ‘persons professing the religion of Islam’. Banggarma does not profess the religion of Islam – she professes herself to be a Hindu. It is not proper to require her to go to the Syariah Court before she is allowed to profess her religion of Hinduism. 

We therefore reiterate our calls, made many times before, for the authorities to put in place legislative reforms to ensure that Islam, and Islamic law, is not forced upon people like Banggarma who do not profess themselves as Muslim.

The writer is president, MCCBCHST.



  1. Killer says:

    Well you are right, the whole thing just don’t add up. I am also shocked by the statement of Mashitah, it is shocking to say the least.

    As for this case of conversion,my guess is that both sides are lying.

    She was placed in the welfare home in 1990 but then how can the welfare home can convert her back in 1989 ? It doesnt make sense unless the cert has been back-dated. Who signed as the guardian in the cert ? I would like to find out as well.

    On the other hand, can the Welfare dept must provide proof of conversion.

    BTW,I am shocked that some parents can leave 3 kids on the streets to survive on their own.

    And finally, why did Banggama did not raise the issue of religion all along ? Perhaps had been enjoying her bumi status until now ?

    As I had said before, I have no respect or sympathy for such people. Almost all of them converted for some personal gain and then try to get out using all kinds of reasons when they run into problems. Worse still they turn this issue into a racial problem to get their way.

    I have seen too many such cases.

    • poobalan says:

      it can be both correct or false. maybe documents mistakenly written dates, or process/procedure took longer (like court order). she could have been temporarily place in shelter while waiting for court order. anyway, welfare says 1990, she says 1987. clearing up this timeline will solve the problem i guess.

      leaving kids on the road – well, i have some cases and doesn’t shock me anymore. murdering young ones are worse. i’m sure you have seen abandoning cases – its the usual factor – poverty, irresponsibility, alcohol, drugs, lack of education, depression etc.

      there’s two year gap between her fleeing the home and her marriage 8 years ago. she did say that tried to change name in IC and NRD, but no good news. So, maybe she did try.

      if she did enjoy her bumi status, and evidence is there, then her case is broken. let’s see if she got buy house with 7% discount or got aid for jabatan agama/perkim etc.

      i too not appreciative of people who convert. but in her case, if converted as child, then its not her fault. how to blame her?

      • Killer says:

        Well I wonder why didnt she complain about being converted as a child all these years ? Surely when she applied for IC or other offical applications, she would ahve realised her religion right ? Why only when she wants to get married ?

        • poobalan says:

          probably she wasn’t bothered. surely it would have surfaced in school, and she would have attended agama class instead of moral. maybe never saw the need or the seriousness of the issue. when want to get married and registered, then only the seriousness of the problem appears.

  2. Killer says:

    Probably she was enjoying and utilising the bumi status until when it came to marriage.

    • poobalan says:

      yup, that’s one of the possible probabilities. i wonder what benefits she could have enjoyed from age 7 till she wanted to get married at age of 18. no houses or 4 wives. maybe cash aid. did she go to school properly and got herself educated? can she read and write properly? she ran away at age of 16 it seems, so nothing much on the education front i guess.

  3. Killer says:

    Poobalan…I just read in the papers today that she has 2 kids with the eldest being 9 years old ! This perhaps highlight the point that I had raised earlier, that is, why only now she has come up with the issue of conversion. This probably points to the fact that she was never really legally married as well. How about their kids’ religion and their status ?

    I really wonder how can these people so irresponsible and imagine also the problems of their kids will have to face.

    • poobalan says:

      Yeah Killer, i also asked the same about the kids’ religion. And she already mentioned in previous articles that she got married according to Hindu rituals, not legally. So, its given that her marriage is not legally done. the situation came about as she wanted to register the kid in school.

      now the kids are considered anak luar nikah, i guess.