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Who was Mohan Singh?

Mohan, seen here on a production set (All pics courtesy of Baldi Kaur, J Belvikohr and Jaswant Kaur)

PETALING JAYA, 29 June 2009: In life, Mohan Singh a/l Janot Singh worked behind the scenes as an art director for films and television commercials.

In death, he is centre stage in a legal battle between Islamic authorities who claim he died a Muslim, and his family who claims he was Sikh till the end.

Mohan worked on many films, including popular ones like the local horror movie Susuk. He also worked on Hollywood productions that were shot in Malaysia namely, Anna and the King and Entrapment, and Bollywood hit Don.

One of the last films he worked on before his death was Yasmin Ahmad’s Talentime.

Mohan, 41, was the only boy in a family of five children, and had three sisters before him — Baldi Kaur, J Belvikohr and Jaswant Kaur. The sisters and their stepfather, Nagamuthu Punnusamy, are the applicants in a judicial review of the Sungai Buloh Hospital’s refusal to release Mohan’s body to them because of a counter-claim to his body by the Selangor Islamic Council (Mais).

The Shah Alam High Court is currently hearing arguments on jurisdiction as to whether the judicial review should be heard in the civil or syariah court.

“We are a very close-knit family. He’s the only boy, younger than all of us, our baby. How can we let go of our baby brother just like that?” said older sister Jaswant.

Anxious to cremate

The sisters, their stepfather, and their aunt who only wanted to be known as Eleena, agreed to talk to The Nut Graph about Mohan after a session at the Shah Alam High Court on 24 June.

The family is anxious to cremate Mohan. Sikh rites demand that the body be cremated within 24 hours of a person’s death, and that prayers be said for the deceased’s soul after 16 days, said Jaswant.

“It is more than a month already,” she said. Mohan died of a heart attack in his Damansara Damai apartment on 25 May 2009. His body was found at 1am on that date.

“We need to cremate him and then scatter his ashes in the river. Then he is really gone for us. Now he is lying in the freezer and we cannot do anything. A part of us is lying there with him and we can’t do anything about it,” said Baldi.

At work, on location

Unable to grieve

The family has visited Mohan in the Sungai Buloh Hospital mortuary three times since his death. Eleena said that was the least they could do, since they have no body to grieve over.

“It smells. He is deteriorating. We’ve asked the hospital to put more effort into ensuring that they preserve the body,” said Baldi.

Jaswant said the hospital is keeping Mohan’s body in the non-Muslim section of the mortuary. She cannot understand how Mais can still claim her brother’s body if it’s being kept in the non-Muslim section.

“We wouldn’t mind that he is buried like a Muslim if he really had a Muslim wife and kids, and had to convert because he married a Muslim,” Eleena said. But she insisted that there was no Muslim wife or kids, not that the family knew of in any case.

In court, the family is contending that Mohan was not a Muslim at the time of his death because he married a non-Muslim woman in 1997, after his alleged conversion in 1992.

Mohan’s lawyer Rajesh Kumar has submitted that the marriage certificate and the birth certificate of Mohan’s daughter born in 2000 bore his Punjabi name, and Sikhism as his religion. Mohan and his wife separated in 2002.


The family said Mohan never told them about his conversion. He had prayed with them at the gurdwara and observed Sikh festivals. According to the submissions in court, Mohan also performed Sikh rites for his mother when she died in 2005.

Mohan’s family are still in disbelief and wonder why Mais did not intervene when Mohan married the non-Muslim woman and when he made a new MyKad last October.

“When he was getting married, they put up his photo for display at the jabatan (National Registration Department) for three weeks for objections to the marriage to be made. How come Mais never said anything then?” said Eleena.

With daughter Sharon Simran Kaur from his 1997 marriage
Mohan’s stepfather Nagamuthu said Mohan lost his MyKad last October when his wallet was stolen.

“He made a new one with his own name, Mohan Singh a/l Janot Singh, and no ‘Islam’ on the card. Why didn’t Mais say anything?” Nagamuthu said.

The family said they also doubt the authenticity of Mohan’s signature on the conversion certificate used by Mais to lay claim to the body.

“We compared it with his signature for his other documents and it doesn’t look the same,” Nagamuthu claimed.

The sisters said they feel guilty about not being able to accord Mohan his last rites. They are frustrated that “strangers” are adamant about claiming his body based on a “piece of paper”, the conversion certificate.

“For them, it’s just about winning the case. Do they even know who Mohan was?” Baldi said.

See also:
Syariah court’s jurisdiction only over Muslims
Non-Muslims have no locus standi
Non-Muslim claim to inheritance must be considered

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19 Responses to “Who was Mohan Singh?”

  1. amir says:

    I knew him just as Jim-Bob. It’s awful and sad that his family has to go through this.

  2. ilann says:

    I worked with Mohan on several films over the last decade or so. Cool guy and great art department crew. I didn’t know he had passed away. My condolences to his family and his very many friends. I-Lann

  3. Nicholas Aw says:

    It is unfortunate that Mohan Singh’s death has created another tussle between family members of the deceased and the Islamic authorities. Obviously, this is not the last we are going to hear or read about unless clear and definite guidelines are drawn up and adhered to.

    What I find ironic is that this happens only in Malaysia. I was told that in countries like Indonesia one can renounce one’s religion without much hassle. Of course the authorities may say “It’s to protect the sanctity of Islam and its followers” or “Don’t make sensitive statements that could create unrest.” The people are not questioning the religion. In fact I believe that non-Muslims have respectfully accepted the fact that Islam is the official religion of this country and I don’t think the people are interfering in Islamic affairs that involve Muslims but when controversies such as Mohan Singh’s and others are brought to light, those involved feel that they have not been given a fair deal.

    If the government is really sincere in wanting to prevent this conversion issue from raising its ugly head time and again, they should once and for all find remedies to put this matter to rest. Otherwise this is going to be a never-ending story.

  4. Kubhaer Jethwani says:

    Hang on a bit longer JimBob, we are going to wrap soon … promise 🙂

  5. fame says:

    Lucky for this fella, he shot to fame after his death and because of religion. Didn’t even know that he was a director. Maybe there’s a blessing in disguise in this matter.

  6. Arion Yeow says:

    What does Mais get if they can claim the body? Do they claim the estate he leaves behind?

  7. My sympathy to the family and next of kin. I refer to your statement “The family said they also doubt the authenticity of Mohan’s signature on the conversion certificate used by Mais to lay claim to the body.”

    Why would anyone forge the signature. Out of millions of non-Muslims, why would Mais or anyone else forge the signature for religious purpose.

    I think it is unfair to make such an accusation without actually confirming that it was indeed a fake signature.

    I am also wondering why the deceased did not declare to anyone that he is a Muslim. He may have hid it from his wife and parents/siblings, which I can understand but how about his friends?

    A man does not convert his religion without being introduced into the religion, going through the due process of conversion. There are bound to be records of his attendance of conversion courses if indeed he had converted.

    It would help, if both parties can verify and accept accordingly.

    Dr Mohd Rafick

  8. menkent says:

    Mais is trying to flex its muscle due to some sado-masochistic urge to be dominant over the dead and the grieving. Pray tell, on Islamic ‘scales-of-justice’ how does harassment of the grieving weigh against the option of showing compassion? Mais’s actions certainly cause vicarious liability onto the government; no doubt the government should be sued for tens of millions of ringgit under the law of tort.

  9. armstrong says:

    When the family claims his body, who is Mais to say no to the family members? Is Mais more superior than the family to the deceased?

    Mais, have some respect for the deceased and his family members.

    And besides, whether Mohan is a Muslim or not, at the end of the day is between Mohan and his maker. Who is Mais to cause greater grief to the family members?

    Now you know why in Malaysia, many non-Muslims are so pissed off with not Islam but with all these religious institutions; Mais included.

    Mais is just trying to bully and show the non-Muslims they are the big bullies but to family members, it’s every emotional. Mais to me, is inhumane and don’t even have some sense of respect for others.

  10. Farouq Omaro says:

    It is time to enact a Burials Act where a deceased person should be buried or cremated according to his [or her] family’s wishes unless he or she had stated otherwise during his or her lifetime.

    For example, if the late Mohan Singh had left a written document during his lifetime saying that if he died he would wish for a Muslim burial, then he should be given a Muslim burial. Or else he should be cremated according to his family’s wishes.

  11. Wartanegara says:

    Where were Mais when he got married and when he renewed his IC? Why doesn’t his IC state his religion as Islam? Institutions like Mais make non-Muslim have a wrong perception about [Islam].

  12. Antares says:

    I’m convinced […..] groups like Mais and Jais really should have become extinct 300 years ago! They serve only to besmirch the good name of Islam.

  13. JOE says:

    To Mohan Singh’s family,

    My deepest and sincerest condolences to you. I’m sorry to see that your family has to go through so much suffering. I hope everything turns out OK soon enough.

  14. arah says:

    Sorry, I hate to read one-sided articles. Whoever the writer is should do their homework and interview Mais or close friends of Mr Mohan.

    Mais or any Islamic authority will not [intervene] if there was no report from someone that Mr Mohan was a Muslim.

    Since Islam is a religion of peace, we can’t allow a Muslim [to be] burnt not in hell but in this world.

    If anyone believes that there is only one God, the Almighty Creator and Muhammad is a messenger, it is the responsibility of every Muslim to ensure [Mohan’s] body will not be burnt or hurt if he died.

    Malaysia should have a separate burial ground for those who become Muslim without the consent or knowledge of, [and whose conversion isn’t] disputed by their non-Muslim family.

    Allah knows best.

  15. kelvin devassy says:

    They may have his body, but be rest assured, his soul is free…RIP, Jim Bob!

  16. Gallivanter says:

    I wonder whether this really only happens in Malaysia. Sigh. Wonderful. Now I’m afraid to die and suddenly be “tormented” by body snatchers who would claim I converted because I used to date a Malay.

    Is there a “bonuslink” mechanism in place for Mais to gain their “rewards and redemption” in the afterlife?

  17. ahoo says:

    Interestingly, the fight is not over his body alone! For Mais, the issue of the late Mohan’s estate is [also of] concern. Non-Muslims may or may not benefit from it at all and subject to their (Mais’s) final decision if I understand correctly from so many cases to date.

    Thus, the tussle over dead bodies may just be a side issue but the estate attached to it is important as well. Anyone care to elaborate on it and provide us with clearer answers?

  18. Linda J says:

    Only in Malaysia do they do this. I know people who converted because they want to get married to a Malay man or woman wihout having any faith in Islam. What’s the point of forcing them to stay in a religion they don’t believe in but convert for expediency sake. [Isn’t that] stupid [?]

  19. What difference does it make if the cadaver of this long-dead person is burnt or buried […..]?

    Some writers say that Mais has a far greater interest in this cadaver because this action by Mais helps it to loot the worldly remains of the cadaver. Cadavers are cadavers. They have no worldly stakes any more and should rightly be treated as [such].

    That is why all religions urge that the [dead] be cast away as soon as possible. We are doing the opposite. We always tend to do that in most things.

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