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Indira Gandhi’s search goes on

BETWEEN 27 April and 3 May 2009, the Tamil papers continued to devote space to M Indira Gandhi’s quest to get her daughter back from her estranged and Muslim-convert husband.

The absence of Tamil-language classes in a local university, and land right issues involving the Catholic Church were also highlighted during the week.

Hunt for a baby

Indira Gandhi and her fight to be reunited with her baby are still making news in the Tamil papers. For Indian Malaysians, she has come to personify the helplessness of non-Muslims when a spouse converts to Islam and unilaterally converts the children. In Indira’s case, despite the Ipoh High Court’s order to her husband to return the baby, he still absconded with the 11-month-old child. The police seem unable, and according to some, unwilling, to find him. What’s a woman to do in such a situation?

The Tamil dailies reported on 28 April Indira’s plans to find her baby. Posters to be put all over the country in an effort to find Indira Gandhi’s child, read the front-page story in Malaysia Nanban.

“Looks like we, the people, have to do the work which should, by right, be done by the police,” said A Sivanesan, the DAP Sungkai state assemblyperson.

Indira Gandhi

In Makkal Osai, the story was given prominence on the second page with the headline Posters to get back baby, reveals Indira Gandhi.

“I begged the police to please help find my baby, but up until now nothing has come out of it. I have no other choice but to print posters with pictures of my baby and my estranged husband and stick them all over the country.

“I really hope that people who see the posters will be able to help me,” Indira said.

The posters bear the words Surrender the child, and the paper reported that 5,000 posters would be sent out nationwide. More would be printed if necessary.

On 5 May, Indira’s story was front-page news again in both Makkal Osai and Tamil Nesan. Makkal Osai‘s headline was Get Pathmanathan’s lawyer’s help in getting back Indira Gandhi’s child: Sivanesan and Kulasegaran advise police.

According to this report, Indira’s husband Pathmanathan, now known by his Muslim name of Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, had sent an affidavit through his lawyer to challenge the Ipoh High Court’s order.

Indira’s lawyers M Kulasegaran and Sivanesan pointed out that in the affidavit, Pathmanathan did not include his address but used his lawyer’s instead. “With the help of Pathmanathan’s lawyer, we will be able to get back Indira’s baby. We therefore ask the police to please question his lawyer,” Kulasegaran and Sivanesan said.

Tamil Nesan highlighted S Vel Paari’s anger at Pathmanathan’s refusal to give up the baby. Going against the directive of the cabinet? Pathmanathan should be charged for sedition, read the paper’s headline.

Vel Paari, who is the MIC community unity committee chairperson, said, “By not respecting the directive of Datuk Seri Najib (Razak)’s cabinet and refusing to comply with the orders of both the cabinet and the courts, Pathmanathan should be tried for sedition and contempt of law. Both the police and the legal fraternity should take a serious view of this man’s actions.”

Vel Paari, who is the son of MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu, also revealed that he was directing MIC Youth to lodge a police report against Pathmanathan and his lawyer to force the latter to reveal his client’s whereabouts.

Language issue

Malaysia Nanban highlighted the lack of opportunities for Indian Malaysian students to study Tamil at university level. Specifically, the paper took to task Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) because the university provides Mandarin classes but not Tamil.

The front-page headline news on 28 April was titled Does UPM prevent the teaching of Tamil at the degree level?. “UPM allows for students to study the Chinese language at degree, Masters and even PhD levels. But this university does not allow for students to study the Tamil language even up to degree level, and this is really disheartening. Many students have expressed their dissatisfaction over this situation,” noted the paper.

“If this university can respect the teaching of mother-tongue languages such as Chinese at degree level, why is this respect not being accorded to the Tamil language as well?”

The paper followed up on the issue with an editorial on 30 April titled Tamil’s rightful place in universities. The editorial noted that currently, only Universiti Malaya offers degree courses in Tamil.

“UPM’s refusal to allow for the study of Tamil shows that the authorities there do not know of the classical status of the Tamil language and its place as one of the oldest languages in the world,” noted the paper.

The editorial pointed out that 60% to 70% of students at STPM level who took Tamil were eligible for university, and many wanted Tamil at the degree level as either a major or minor subject.

Homeless in Penang

Eighteen families who have lived for nearly 100 years on the land inside the Saint Francis Xavier church grounds in Penang face a bleak future after they were told to vacate the premises. Their plight was highlighted in Makkal Osai on 30 April in a front-page story titled Where will we go? Eighteen families in distress.

“We have lived here for more than four generations. The church sent us a notice via its lawyers ordering us to vacate the premises by 30 May,” said Anthony Muthu, the spokesperson for the families, who number around 100 people.

The people are not angry with the church for sending them eviction notices. They are just saddened that despite repeated requests for a meeting with Catholic Bishop Anthony Selvanayagam to discuss this problem, the bishop has refused. “This is why we had to go public by inviting the press to highlight our problem,” said Anthony Muthu.

The families expressed hope that the church would let them live in their houses permanently.

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