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.