Posts Tagged ‘Syariah Law’

Interview with Indira Gandhi

April 16th, 2010
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Reproduced from Malaysian Insider article.

By Clara Chooi

Indira with her daughter Tevi (left) and son, Karan (right) at their home in Ipoh. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — Unlike most traditional Indian marriages, kindergarten teacher Indira Gandhi married K. Pathmanathan out of love.

Theirs was not the stuff of novels; it was just a run-off-the-mill high school romance that eventually resulted in an exchange of wedding vows.

What they did not know was that three children and 14 years later, their marriage would be torn apart by a highly-publicised inter-religious custody battle that, until today, remains unsolved.

In an exclusive interview with The Malaysian Insider in her home city of Ipoh recently, Indira vented her frustrations over the ambiguity of the country’s religious laws, and recalled the many trials and tribulations of the past year that had very nearly caused her to give up Hinduism just to keep custody of her children.

The drama, said Indira, actually began from the day after she and Pathmanathan became Mr and Mrs Pathmanathan. Once a doting boyfriend and first-love, Pathmanathan wasted no time in shedding his sheep’s clothing, she said.

“Shortly after we got married, he began to beat me. Over and over again. Most of the time over small, petty arguments,” she claimed. Her allegations cannot be independently verified and is not a subject of her legal case.

Indira, however, said she kept quiet about the beatings, not wanting to blow the problem out of proportion and praying daily that her high school sweetheart would soon return.

And so the couple moved on with their lives without much fanfare. In 1997, Indira gave birth to her first baby girl, Tevi Darsiny. A year later, a baby boy, Karan Dinish, joined the growing family.

The couple struggled through difficult years as financial problems eventually began to cause serious dents in their marriage.

“I took a job as a kindergarten teacher. My husband switched from job to job and we had to move around Malaysia quite a bit. I hardly got to see my family members, not even during Deepavali,” said Indira.

To top it off, she had to settle the household bills and take care of the children all by herself, as Pathmanathan was frequently on the road.

Indira claimed she had to put up with abuse and infidelity.

“Not only that… he began to have an affair with a Thai woman. I knew about it but what could I do?

“Even my children knew about this. Imagine what it felt like when my daughter came home one day and told me — `Amma, I saw daddy with another woman’,” said Indira.

Still, like many broken marriages, Indira and Pathmanathan stayed married for the good of the children.

It was in March last year that the real drama really exploded, she explained, barely a year after she had delivered her third child, Prasana Diksa, a chubby little baby girl who should have been the uniting factor in a disintegrating marriage.

“He came home that day, telling me he wanted to talk to me. When we got the chance, he told me `Why not we all become Muslims? Life would be easier, we would get better opportunities, money would come easier’. He said `Come to Kelantan with me, they will give us land’. I was shocked,” she said.

“I refused and so did my two older children. We fought and he got angry… he began to beat me. My daughter yelled at him, saying `Don’t you ever lay your hand on Amma’. He got angry with my daughter but he did not beat her. He is a very good father to them,” said Indira.

In the midst of the argument, she said, Pathmanathan grabbed 11-month-old Prasana and stormed off.

“The other two did not want to come with him so he just took Prasana,” she said.

Losing Prasana was just a harbinger of worse to come.

At the police station later, Indira was dealt with a stunning revelation — that Pathmanathan had already embraced Islam earlier in the month and had become “Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah”.

“I was shocked because he has always been the religious… he would even go with us to the temples on occasions,” she said.

It was the first mile of a long, bad road from that day onwards, said Indira.

Mohd Ridzuan had even converted all three children into Islam without the presence or knowledge of their mother, after taking the children’s birth certificates from the family home.

“He changed all their names and even informed their schools they were now Muslims,” she said.

It was then that Indira discovered the flaws in the country’s religious laws and just how sticky a custody battle could be when it involved a Muslim-convert and a non-Muslim.

With little choice in her hands, Indira was forced to take her struggle to the courts, and until today, her dilemma has not been solved.

She sought two things — that her children remain as Hindus and that she gets to keep custody of all three.

Since her husband absconded with Prasana, Indira has been living with her two older children in Ipoh.

To date, two conflicting custody orders have been granted to the couple — one to Mohd Ridzuan from the Syariah Court last April and one to Indira from the civil High Court on March 11 this year.

Which order should prevail, however, is still unknown as the country’s laws are silent on that matter.

Meanwhile, Indira’s application to seek leave for judicial review to quash the conversion of her three children to Islam has been set for April 3.

Indira contemplated embracing Islam, in order to be allowed to keep her children.

“I was happy when I was granted custody but yet a part of me also knew that the fight was far from over. I just wish that this never happened. I do not know why he has to do this. If he has found happiness in another religion, I do not care, go ahead with it, but leave the children out of it. I want my baby girl back…” she said.

Indira said that the last time she had caught a short glimpse of Prasana after a year-long separation was in January this year, when Mohd Ridzuan was ordered to bring the toddler to court to meet with High Court Justice Wan Afrah Wan Ibrahim.

Although she had been forewarned by her lawyers, the sight of her 21-month-old baby girl weighed down by a large tudung (Malay headscarf) had moved her to tears.

She voiced frustration at having missed out on so many firsts in Prasana’s growing years, like her first words, her first steps, and even her first birthday.

“I just missed so much… I missed so much. She was taken when she was just 11-months-old. I missed everything. She was such a pleasant child, very easy to care for and we all loved her. As a mother… and a kindergarten teacher, I see children everyday but I can’t see my own baby. Now, I do not know anything about her, how long her hair is, what she likes… I miss my child,” she said.

In fact, Indira said she had very nearly given up at one point and had even toyed with the idea of converting to Islam for the good of the family.

“It was my two older children who stopped me. My son said `If you want, you can go ahead. I do not want to be a Muslim’. He is a bold child… but my children were right… why should we convert?” she said.

She lashed out at the glitch in the country’s religious laws and condemned the government for not acting quickly on the matter.

To date, the government has given no indication on when it would amend the laws governing such religious conflicts.

Indira’s lawyer, M. Kulasegaran, recently said that he would bring the battle back to Parliament again soon, and blamed the legislative body for not moving fast to solve the deadlock.

In the meantime, Indira’s fight continues in the courts.

Today, the Ipoh High Court will hear Mohd Ridzuan’s application for a stay of the custody order granted by the civil High Court to Indira.

But the feisty 35-year-old said she was ready to do just about anything to win custody of her children, especially baby Prasana.

“There is no fight too difficult for me to handle, I will not give up, not surrender because my children’s futures are at stake here. I love them too much,” she said.

She said that she intended to fight this to the very end, even if it meant challenging the country’s 52-year-old system.

The system, Indira firmly added, may fail, but never the love of a mother for her children.

The Star Editor Gunasegaram in hot soup

February 25th, 2010
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I like to read Mr Gunasegaram’s articles. I still remember the ones on analysis of statistics. However, I think this time he ventured into forbidden territory. He wrote about the recent caning of 3 Muslim women over pre-marital sex.  The article is below (taken from Bar Council website as Star has removed the article):

Persuasion, not compulsion

For me and for millions of Malaysians of all races and religions, Feb 9, 2010, was a sad, black day in the history of our country [yeah, maybe or maybe not]. On that day, three women were caned legally for the first time ever in this country. They, all Muslims, were caned for engaging in illicit sex, an offence under syariah law, it was announced.

It is shocking that such sentences are being meted out for such offences. While religious laws may allow for such sentences, it is possible for judges to mete out lower sentences, especially when such “offences” are of a very personal nature and harm no one else. [that’s for the judge to decide, did the ladies appeal?]

When there are loopholes [loopholes??? this may be considered offending] in religious laws which allow such punishment out of all proportion to the “crime” committed, and which go against the sensibilities of most Malaysians, then it is incumbent upon the Government of the day to use the legislature to do the needful. Otherwise it abdicates its responsibility.

Illicit sex means sex out of wedlock and if we are all not hypocrites, we will admit that it happens all the time, among both Muslims and non-Muslims. To prescribe caning for such an offence is something that most Malaysians [but not Muslims] are likely to consider just too much.

It also opens the door for caning for more minor offences in the eyes of religious officials, such as drinking alcohol. In fact one Muslim woman, who has refused to appeal her case, is currently awaiting a caning sentence to be carried out after she was found guilty of drinking alcohol.

That case attracted international attention and made it to the front page of two international financial dailies – The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times – on the same day last year. The current case, announced on Wednesday, is already beginning to attract world attention.

With three women already having been caned for illicit sex, the way has been paved for more caning of women in the future. That will not endear Malaysia to Malaysians, let alone foreigners who are inevitably going to equate us with the Taliban. And who can blame them? [who cares?]

And are we going to go further down the slippery road and cane women for dressing immodestly too, as has been done in some countries? [maybe..but that may very well include members of royalties, who’s-whos and fashionistas who frequently appear in Tattlers, movies, stage and TV shows.]

There are already indications that Malays, especially women, are migrating and leaving their homeland, not because they don’t have opportunities here but because as Muslims, their personal freedom is restricted – and there is danger that it will be curtailed even more.

Yes, it has been said the three women did not suffer any cuts or bruises following the caning but that is scant consolation to those who have to undergo such humiliating punishment on top of the intrusion into their personal affairs.

As if the caning was not bad enough, alarmingly they spent months in prison. One of them is still serving her jail sentence and will be released only in June.

All three were found guilty of committing illicit sex by the Federal Territory Syariah High Court, which issued the caning order between December last year and last month. Perplexingly, they were not made public at that point of time. The public had no idea of the caning before it was done.

Also, it was not clear if the women had exercised their full rights under syariah law by appealing the court’s decision.

These are behaviours which should not be treated as if they were criminal offences; but they have been. The offenders have not only been caned but also jailed, which is rather harsh punishment for something which did not harm anyone else and was done in privacy and behind closed doors.

This is clear indication that there are laws in our statute books – both syariah as well as civil – which are outdated and need to be revised[these are the offending words I guess] in keeping with the times and the recognition that individuals have personal rights.

Personal behaviour between consenting adults that do no physical harm to them and to others should not be legislated. This is in keeping with the development of personal rights throughout the world, and anything that takes away these rights is a step backwards. [more offending words]

Religion is open to interpretation, man interprets it and man can – and does – make mistakes.

Even if religious rules are flouted, we should have a system which does not mete out punishment for offences, and focus instead on rehabilitation and counselling. That will be in keeping with the universal tenet that there is no compulsion when it comes to religion.

Custodial and punitive sentences by religious courts should be limited via statutes because personal behaviour of adults is often involved and there is no hurt or harm to any others arising from such behaviour.

Religion is about persuasion not compulsion, about faith not certainty, and that is the way we should keep it. Otherwise, bigotry is going to get in the way and we won’t be following the tenets of religion but of those who choose to interpret it the way they want to.

We have all seen what happens when religion – no matter what religion – is carried to extremes and hijacked by bigots. We don’t want public flogging, we don’t want arms chopped off, we don’t want people to be stoned to death, and we don’t want people to be burned at the stake.

We have already moved way past that. Let’s not allow a small number of religious bigots to take us back into the dark ages. And for that, we all need to stand up and speak up when our individual rights are trampled upon.

Managing editor P. Gunasegaram is appalled by the number of sins committed in the name of God. [which God is he referring to? He didn’t use Allah 🙂].

While he may have had good intention on protecting Malaysia’s name in the global stage, he shouldn’t have commented on other people’s religion as he’s not qualified. Even their religion has many sects and ulamaks with differing views at times. So, better let them handle their own issues. We should just mind our own business.

The Star, obviously issued an apology, but some quarters are not satisfied. Just like we are baying for Nasir’s blood, some of the them also doing the same against The Star/Gunasegaram.

Next, I wonder what to make of those two undercover journalist who insulted Christian ceremony. It seems AG office said “No Further Action” on the investigation outcome. I hope case of Gunasegaram is not selective persecution. More on that later.

PAS cannot compromise on its position

December 16th, 2009
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I really can’t see how DAP and PAS can work together. Its still OK now since they are not the ruling coalition. But for how long this will remain status quo? If one cannot compromise, then its left to the other. Would DAP drop its Malaysia for Malaysian idea? Would it accept a middle path of one country two laws?

I don’t like the idea of an Islamic state. Its a bad, bad, idea to run a country according to a specific religion especially when the population is nearly equally divided. It may have been practical 1500 years ago, but not now. The leaders now are not as good as those in the history books. This would only lead to disaster as rights can be usurped, laws can be misinterpreted, rules dictated according to one faction.

Today the Tok Guru is around, so things can still be talked and negotiated. What if later some Taliban-style leaders lead the party? We can easily end up like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, or other Islamic countries that have loads internal problems.

PAS is immovable on its stance, same as DAP on its stance. Both opposite sides of the pole. This is a dead end.

Within Pakatan Rakyat, there is frequent objection to issues like hudud law or the Islamic state. How far is PAS willing to compromise? For example, DAP usually has a different opinion on these issues.

No man can have it easy all the time. Some times we fall ill. Even doctors fall ill. God has created the world this way – there are angels and demons, good and bad, heaven and earth. As Muslims, we live by the teachings of the Prophet. When someone is lazy, we preach about diligence. They then become hard-working. Cowards are told tales of bravery. They become brave. The wayward are taught about the pious (and) become religious.

There is no need (to quarrel). Say what you want, but listen to our reply. Don’t make accusations and (then) when I reply, you don’t listen. Tak boleh! (This won’t do). Islam means you should ask questions. If you don’t understand (our policies), ask.

So you mean that PAS cannot compromise on its position on hudud law and the Islamic state?

How can we compromise? This is our ibadat (religious obligation). If we reject the meaning of Islam, we are rejecting our ibadat. God created man to follow ibadat, which is not restricted to just praying.

So how will PAS go about this? Some younger people in DAP can accept PAS, but veterans like national chairperson Karpal Singh, are more adamant about the party’s secular position.

Tidak apa (It is no big deal). Karpal Singh is someone very senior. Sometimes, when people kacau (agitate) us, we have to look at them first. Sometimes, we look at them at say, ‘Let him be. He is old. Let’s respect him’.

People who speak like Karpal Singh are getting fewer. He is a watak lama (old player).

So Tok Guru, you are willing to talk…

Yes. We can discuss. I like it very much when people ask me questions. If I can answer, I will. If the topic is beyond me, I will ask the person to ask someone else.

Brave questions by the Sikhs

November 26th, 2009
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I’m sure we remember the cabinet directive which has no legal effect during the case of  Indira? Remember her? The husband ran away with her 11 months old baby. After that, we don’t hear anything now. What happened to her and her kids?

And just yesterday, we read about the proposed amendments aimed at solving the conversion problem.

While the MCCBCHST did not directly ask any questions on the amendments, the Gurdwara Council did. And must say, really respect them for highlighting this:

The Malaysian Gurdwara Council has called on the government to state whether it is sticking to the April 23 directive that both parents must consent to a child’s conversion .

If so why is this not reflected in the proposed conversion laws, asked the council today.

On April 23, the cabinet had announced:

  • the religion of a child under 18 years of age would continue to be that at time of birth and one parent cannot convert the child unilaterally; and,
  • the converted spouse cannot use his conversion to run away from his obligations under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976, the law which have contracted their marriage.

However it was reported in the media on Tuesday, quoting a federal counsel of the Attorney General Chambers Mohamed Naser Disa, that the proposed amendment to Section 51(2) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 included a suggestion that the civil court not be empowered to determine the religious status of a child when divorce between a Muslim and a non-Muslim couple takes place.

“The court could also decide on the custody right as stipulated under the constitution, where either the father or mother could determine the religious status of the child. Hence, the parent who has converted to Islam need to register their child as Muslim,” Mohd Nasier was quoted to have said.

The Malaysian Gurdwara Council president Harcharan Singh today said that they strongly oppose any provision allowing unilateral conversion of a child.

“Hence we reject any such proposed conversion laws. We also strongly oppose and reject any amendment allowing a child to be placed in an institution and hence negating the presumption a child below seven is best left with the mother,” he said.

Even a day old child can be converted

Harcharan said this would mean that even a day old child can be converted to Islam unilaterally by a single spouse.

“We do not think any religion allows conversion of such minors. Even the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia director-general Dr Syed Ali Taufik Al Attas had stated in a newspaper interview that “a child is deemed ignorant, cannot convert to Islam as the child does not understand the “Kalimah Syahadah” and cannot bear witness of his /her own free will and understanding.”

Harcharan said under Article 12 (4) of the federal constitution should be interpreted that a child can be converted only with agreement between both parents.

“If the law only provides that all that is needed is one parent’s consent for conversion to take place, then that would be unjust and undesirable,” he said.

Harcharan also said the Attorney-General should be working for all Malaysians and questioned why non-Muslim communities were being kept in the dark.

“The so called proposed amendments are being revealed only to one party. The other party who will be adversely affected is not being consulted or briefed, nor a copy of the proposed amendments given to them.”

“The cabinet should clarify whether the decision made on April 23 still stands. If it so why is this not reflected in the proposed conversion law?” Harcharan asked.

Tough questions for the authorities to answer. Why no transparency? Do they plan to just bulldoze the amendments and ignore any opinions/protests from the other groups? Or expect the other groups “to understand” and “look at the bigger picture”?

Not sure how this fits in the new tagline 1Malaysia. Doesn’t seem correct to me. Don’t tell me everything also need PM to step in and clarify!

Oh ya, where’s MIC ah? MIA again? They part of federal government, so surely will know something? Or were they too sidelined?

Proposed amendments to solve conversion problem

November 24th, 2009
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The proposed amendments are being drafted now, after so many cases of conversion that left families in tatters. Some of the suggestions were presented today in a session for the religious entities like Malaysian Muslim Welfare Organisation (Perkim), Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi), and Attorney-General’s Chambers, among others:

1. The proposed amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1967 is to allow Muslim converts to file for divorce in the civil courts. Currently, the law was only applicable to non-Muslims.

“It (amendment) is meant to avoid Muslim converts from being abused by their spouses who refuse to file the petition for divorce, (but) with the amendment, they (converts) can do so in the civil courts,” senior federal counsel Mohamad Naser Disa said in a special briefing on laws pertaining to religious conversion at the Federal Territory Mosque today.

The proposed amendment would also affect the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 and the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984.

2. The amendment also aimed to make effective the annulment of a civil marriage to three months after the conversion of a spouse to Islam.

3. Giving the civil courts the power to decide on matters pertaining to the division of jointly acquired matrimonial property, alimony and child custody.

4. Giving the civil courts the power to prohibit the mother or father from registering the religious conversion of their children.

5. The amendment would also give power to the civil courts to administer assets belonging to a Muslim convert who died before the annulment of his civil marriage.

“This is to avoid a tussle for the body of the convert,” he said.

6. Mohamed Naser said Section 14 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 would be amended to give power to the syariah court judge to allow a convert to marry.

7. Sub-section 46(2) of the Act would be deleted to avoid overlapping of jurisdiction between the syariah and civil courts.