PUTRAJAYA, Dec 30 ― It was in 2009 when M. Indira Gandhi’s estranged husband unilaterally converted their three children to Islam and fled home with the youngest and today, nearly seven years on, the kindergarten teacher is no closer to finally closing the chapter on that ordeal.
The distraught mother was fighting back tears this afternoon when she spoke to reporters after the Court of Appeal decided to uphold her children’s conversion orders, a major setback in her long drawn out battle with her husband over custody, the children’s religious statuses and for her right to see her youngest, Prasana Diksa.
"I am very disappointed and I want this to end. It's been dragging for so many years and I have no clue after this, what's going to happen to my children? When am I going to see my daughter? It's been seven years and it's like I cannot get justice in my own Malaysia.
"When is this going to stop? I want to continue my life with my children. I don't want to walk up to the courts every time. Each month, I have to come to the court.
“All this... when is it going to stop? I am really very disappointed," the tearful Indira told reporters.
In a 2-1 decision today, the three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal headed by Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi overturned an Ipoh High Court’s previous ruling that declared unilateral conversions unconstitutional.
The appellate court also ruled that the civil courts have no jurisdiction over the Islamic matter, which it said was solely the purview of the Shariah courts.
Indira had previously secured the Ipoh High Court order to quash the unilateral religious conversion of her three children in 2013, which the Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIPK) and five others then appealed.
The other judges on today’s panel were Datuk Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer and Dr Badariah Sahamid.
In his dissenting view however, Hamid Sultan said that the matter was not the jurisdiction of any court, but a mistake that is legally void and made on the part of the religious authority concerned.
He said that for a non-Muslim child to utter the “kalimah syahadah” or Muslim declaration of faith, the minor must apply to the state religious department accompanied by a parent’s consent, which he said did not happen in the case of Indira’s three children.
Hamid Sultan said the certificates of conversion issued were therefore null and void, and did not need deciding by either the civil or Shariah courts.
The court today also unanimously held that Indira's eldest daughter, Tevi Darsiny, who is now 18, was free to determine her faith as an adult.
Indira’s now ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah (formerly K. Pathmanathan), had in 2009 converted the couple’s three children — then aged 12 years old, 11 years old, and 11 months old — to Islam without their presence or Indira’s knowledge, just six days before he obtained a custody order for all three in the Shariah court on April 8, 2009.
He also snatched away the youngest child Prasana Diksa, now seven, about six years ago and has kept her away from Indira since.
The other remaining child, Karan Dinish, is now 17.