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Conversion without consent

STORIES that dominated the Tamil press for the week of 13 to 19 April 2009 continued to be about the conversion of children to Islam without a parent’s consent and a mother’s fight for these children.

The Tamil press also looked at the neverending cycle of violence in the Indian Malaysian community.

Forced conversion

The drama behind the forced conversion of an 11-month-old breastfeeding baby continues to be played out in the Tamil papers. The situation has taken another dramatic twist. The Tamil papers reported that the father has also converted his two other children, aged 11 and 12. What is shocking is that the conversion was done without the children being present — the father was reported to have converted his children with just their birth certificates.


Sivanesan (Source: epla.perak.
gov.my)
Tamil Nesan was the first to report on the new developments of the case when it ran a story on 15 April titled The conversion of children: Sivanesan urges MIC and other parties to fight for rights. A Sivanesan, the state assemblyperson for Sungkai, urged political parties such as the MIC and DAP to work with religious organisations to fight for the rights of parents whose children are converted to another religion without their permission.

In Perak, there have been two reported cases involving the conversion of children without the knowledge of one parent. M Indira Gandhi’s baby was forcefully taken away from her and converted to Islam; while T Tharmakanoo’s two children were converted to Islam by his estranged wife.

“The Islamic religious department should not allow the conversion of children without the permission of both parents,” Sivanesan said at a press conference at the DAP headquarters in Ipoh. Tamil Nesan noted that officials from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s Islamic affairs section were present at the press conference.

“When such incidents happened before, the government gave assurances that the matter would be looked into. However, because nothing has been done yet, such forced conversions are still happening and causing a lot of hurt and resentment among the people.”

It was at this press conference that Sivanesan revealed he had received a report that Indira Gandhi’s two older children had also been converted to Islam.

Tamil Nesan had another lead story on the issue the next day on 16 April. The report, titled Complaints on the conversion of children; ministry orders immediate attention, highlighted the effort by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to look into the matter after it was brought to the prime minister’s attention.


Muhyiddin (Pic courtesy of theSun)
Tamil Nesan quoted Muhyiddin as saying he had directed the ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department — Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom — and Human Resource Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam to investigate the matter thoroughly.

In the report A political solution needed to solve the conversion issue in Tamil Nesan, Sivanesan urged the government to work out a political solution for this thorny issue as the courts were unable to solve it. He said because of amendments to Article 121A of the Federal Constitution, civil courts did not have the jurisdiction to listen to any matter relating to Islam.

“The law should be fair to everybody. However, due to this amendment, non-Muslims who face conversion issues are left in a limbo,” he said. 

Mother fights back

The mother of the three converted children has started legal action in order to get her children back as Hindus.

Indira Gandhi’s story was front page news on two days in Makkal Osai. The first on 16 April was headlined My children should be returned to me as Hindus, Indira Gandhi appeals. In that report, she said she had no objections to her husband becoming a Muslim, but she wanted her three children back as Hindus. “This is a mother’s fight for her rights and I will not back down,” she said.

On 18 April, Makkal Osai ran another story on Indra Gandhi under the headline The conversion of three children by husband: I will appeal to the PM, decides housewife Indira Gandhi. In this interview, she revealed her reasons for wanting to see Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. “Our PM has announced his 1Malaysia plan. But I am faced with this tough situation. I want to tell him about this … I am not against Islam and neither am I blaming anyone. But I just want to ask why such a situation should happen to non-Muslims like me?” she asked tearfully.


(Pic by Tigerzeye @ Flickr)
She also revealed that the police never took any action despite her lodging numerous reports against her husband for his abusive ways. Having lost her baby to her husband, she now lives in fear of losing her two other converted children to the religious authorities. She accused her husband of resorting to such tactics for financial reasons.

Makkal Osai also got a scoop when it managed to contact the husband, Pathmanathan, known by his Muslim name of Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, to get his side of the story. He denied all his wife’s charges and said he had never physically hurt her. “I love my wife dearly. I want her to follow me [into my religion].”

When asked why he converted his children without his wife’s permission, he replied, “Whether a person is a Hindu, Christian or Muslim, a child has to follow the religion of the father. This is not a political issue. This is my family matter. I do not want to embarrass my wife.”

The paper gave Indira Gandhi the last word. “My children do not want to go to their father. They want to stay with me. Because of the problems that I am facing now, I am concerned about their upbringing. Even if, by chance, I am given physical custody of my children, will I be able to bring them up as Hindus?”

Violence

Not a day goes by without the report of a murder of an Indian Malaysian youth in the Tamil papers. Of the numerous murders reported during the week, one in particular hogged the headlines in all three papers.

The headline of Malaysia Nanban on 17 April read Son murdered: mother dies of shock. K Loganathan was slashed to death by a parang-wielding gang of four men. He was sent to the hospital but he died shortly after. His mother, upon hearing about his death, had a heart attack and died. The funeral for both was held on the same day.

Tamil Nesan‘s editorial on 16 April, titled The culture of violence has to stop, touched on this cycle of violence within the community. “What’s happened to the Indian [Malaysian] youths? Why are they acting so irresponsibly? For a community that is striving to better itself economically and through education, such violence, often stemming from one’s desire for revenge, is leading our community to a terrible future. The Indian [Malaysian] youths should realise this.”

The paper urged the youths to consider the repercussions of their actions on their families and the community. It also warned the youths against being someone else’s hired thugs.

“Associations working with Indian [Malaysian] youths should arrange for a nationwide road tour of lectures against this culture of violence,” the paper advised.

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5 Responses to “Conversion without consent”

  1. Corrine says:

    Why did they have to take away a breastfeeding child from its mother? Taking the children in such a way is like stabbing a knife into the heart of the mother. My prayers to her and may she have her children back in her arms soon.

  2. Brown Superman says:

    A child should always have its birth right to be brought up in the same religion it was born into if any one of the parent objects to conversion. Even if both parents agree to their conversion of the child, the child should mandatorily have its rights to revert upon attaining majority and until reaching 25 years of age. (The reason being, the parents may not want to further support the child’s education expenses upon knowing the reversion)

    Anyway, how could one forcibly impose one’s own beliefs onto another? The child should have its right to believe whether humans were created by “god” or evolved from apes or anything else. Let is be the child’s choice as it is an individual with its own brain and mind. If the child wants to convert by his or her own choice, let it be so… so long as the child has the right to revert. There should never be a compulsion in choice of religion or sects of any religion. If institutions have given money (whether as gift or inducement) for conversion, request back for the same when reversion happens.

    As educated (not mere being literate) people of a nation holding democratic principles, every attempt should be made to respect the individual’s rights and to help liberate the individuals mind to set it on a journey of discovery. We all think we know the truth and only ours is right, including the atheist. The truth may be something else. Yet shouldn’t we have the right to discover some beliefs that may be of comfort to ourselves, individually?

  3. OrangRojak says:

    Have any rights been infringed in the case of the conversions? Rights don’t really have any great meaning beyond their establishment in law, and I suspect no Malaysian law has been broken in these cases. Rights vary from country to country and from time to time. A person “acting within his [or her] rights” may do something that causes another person great upset, but the hurt person has no recourse other than to personally deal with their upset, strive to make the law more “right” (they are human-made, after all) or migrate to somewhere where the laws are more in line with what they perceive to be “right”. Three not terribly attractive options, compared to a lucky ideal where nobody ever does anything to you that upsets you.

    As for disenfranchised youths hacking each other to death, that’s the fourth option that nobody would recommend. When you’re standing on the brink of being aware of your own existence, it doesn’t seem like it would be such a great loss to throw it away.

    Everybody needs something substantial to look forward to. How about lowering the voting age to 18 or 16, like the rest of the world? It wouldn’t cost anything to make them stakeholders in Malaysia Bhd. 21 can seem like a long time to wait when you’re young.

    @Brown Superman – I don’t think anybody believes they are descended from apes, unless they are confused or extremely hirsute and lack thumbs. If you accept evolution as the most likely mechanism for producing the life you see today, you expect that at some point in the past, apes and man [and women] shared a common ancestor. The difference is subtle.

  4. kamal says:

    The law has to be colour blind and free from any bias. The father converting his children without consulting the mother or seeking her approval, tells us we are still a society steeped in male chauvanism and if the state Islamic authorities support him, it only goes to reflect poorly on the practice of this religion in Malaysia.

    I feel the religion doesn’t promote disunity nor does it encourage chauvanism of any sort. The person who approved the conversion of the children should seriously sit down and think about the consequence of his/her actions, what was he/she thinking? These are just children, one is even still breastfeeding.

    The authorities need to do the right thing, pull back the documents that approved the conversion, and give the child back to the mother. This is not political, and should not be politicised. We should recognise the unnecessary pain and suffering these actions have caused the mother. There is no need to seek the PM’s intervention if in the first place, civil servants have good common sense and respect for plurality.

    What has happened over the past three decades that today’s civil servants do not have respect, love and humilty as they once did? Are we that far regressed today not to realise we are in a state of decline both at the level of the individual and institution?

    If it is as the father says a family matter, don’t bring it to court. But he did, and so it becomes a public matter. And by the sound of it, the authority figure – the judge or civil servant – has legalised the conversion of these children. What do these actions say about the way people working in the government see Malaysia and the values of Malaysia? These are the questions for our generation today.

  5. arah says:

    In Islam, all children are born Muslim and sinless even though their parents are non-Muslims and do not believe in Allah, the Almighty Creator.

    If a child dies, they will go to heaven. Unless they choose to go against the Almighty Creator when they become adults.

    Islam is not like Christianity where all children are born sinners and will go to hell unless they are baptised.

    Forced conversion for children should not happen unless the parent and society do not understand the true teaching of Islam.

    Muslims in Malaysia have a long way to go and to really study the Al-Quran and Sunnah of Rasulullah and follow how Rasulullah treated non-Muslims, especially the Christians.

    Narrated Abu Huraira, Allah’s apostle, who informed (the people) about the death of An-Najashi on the very day he died. He went towards the Musalla (praying place) and the people stood behind him in rows. He said four Takbirs (i.e. offered the funeral prayer). [Sahih al-Bukhari]

    Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: Allah’s Apostle offered the funeral prayer for An-Najashi and I was in the second or third row. [Sahih al-Bukhari]

    Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: The Prophet said, “Today a pious man from Ethiopia (i.e. An Najashi) has expired, come on to offer the funeral prayer.” (Jabir said): We lined up in rows and after that the Prophet led the prayer and we were in rows. Jabir added, I was in the second row.”

    Cheers


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