PETALING JAYA, 21 April 2009: The DAP wants the cabinet to discuss the issue of unilateral conversion of children to Islam by one parent, and for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to issue a policy statement about it.
DAP national adviser Lim Kit Siang said the issue was an old one, and the failure to act immediately to resolve such cases contradicted Najib’s promise of “One Malaysia, People First, Performance Now“.
Lim was speaking at a press conference today about the recent case of kindergarten teacher M Indira Gandhi, 34, whose three children have been converted to Islam by her 40-year-old husband, whose Muslim name is Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah.
The children, Tevi Darsiny, 12, Karan Dinish, 11, and Prasana Diksa, one, were converted by their father who used their birth certificates, without the children themselves even being present.
“These are old issues and it has not been the only case,” Lim said at the DAP headquarters.
DAP Sungkai assemblyperson A Sivanesan, who was also at the press conference with Indira Gandhi and her two older children, said over the last three weeks, the Perak DAP office had received reports of two cases of unilateral conversions of underage children to Islam.
Apart from Indira Gandhi’s case, the other involved another Hindu couple, where the mother converted the children aged eight and seven without the father’s consent.
Lim and Sivanesan at the press conference with Indira Gandhi and her two eldest children
Sivanesan noted that in recent years, there have been several other similar cases, as well as “body-snatching” incidents where the body of a deceased person is withheld by the Islamic authorities even though his or her conversion to Islam is disputed by family members.
Lim today also criticised Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam from the MIC for saying that it would “take a while” before Indira Gandhi’s case could be resolved.
Subramaniam said in a news report that time was needed because several agencies were involved.
“If one parent objects to the conversion (of the children), then the child should not convert but wait until the age of 18, the age of consent,” Sivanesan said.
Sivanesan said spouses who used syariah law after becoming Muslims to unilaterally convert their children were “taking the easy way out”, leaving the non-Muslim spouse with no remedy.
He also noted that the previous Barisan Nasional administration under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had recognised this problem but failed to do anything about it.
“I’ve got no hope, frankly, [that anything will be done at all],” said Sivanesan, who first highlighted the case and is the DAP’s legal adviser on it.
Indira Gandhi said her husband stole the children’s birth certificates from her and converted all three children on 2 April. On 3 April, he obtained a syariah court order that the children were now Muslims and that he had rightful custody of them.
However, Indira Gandhi said she only knew of the two older children’s conversions on 10 April, when her children’s school told her of the syariah court order and asked her to surrender her children.
“The syariah court order was served on the school principal and now the school is telling her to give up her kids. She does not dare to send the children to school,” Sivanesan said.
Indira with her daughter Tevi Darsiny and son Karan Dinish
The daughter, Tevny Darsiny, is preparing for her Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination this year, and has not gone to school for the last two weeks, Sivanesan added.
The son, Karan Dinish, gave a short statement at the press conference after being urged to by Lim. “I don’t want to follow my father. I only want to follow my mother because I want to be an Indian. I don’t want to be a Malay. When I [was] born as a Hindu, I want to die as a Hindu. I don’t want [to be] born as a Hindu and die as a Malay,” the boy said.
Indira Gandhi said she was worried about her baby’s well-being. “I want my child back as a Hindu,” she said of her one-year-old who was taken away by her husband.
Not divorced yet
Indira Gandhi said she and her husband, who was a Hindu when they married, were not yet divorced but had been separated for more than a year.
She said her husband converted to Islam on 11 March this year, but she only learnt of it on the night of 31 March when she lodged a police report alleging that her husband had assaulted her earlier that day and taken the baby with him.
She added that her husband has since then been in contact to pressure her to convert as well, promising financial aid and scholarships for the children.
“He has been jobless for the past nine months, how do I know if he is even able to feed my baby?” said Indira Gandhi. Her husband is staying with his mother in Ipoh.
Indira Gandhi’s case has so far been highlighted by the Tamil press and Malaysiakini.