Lawyer: Decision in Deepa’s case failed to address unilateral conversion, legal reforms still needed

S. Deepa speaks to members of the media at the Federal Court in Putrajaya. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
S. Deepa speaks to members of the media at the Federal Court in Putrajaya. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 ― Legal reforms are urgently need to address issues of unilateral conversion in interfaith custody battles, a lawyer has said, and that the Federal Court’s decision in S. Deepa’s case did not resolve this.

Lawyer M. Kulasegaran, who represented Indira Gandhi ― whose children were also unilaterally converted to Islam, believes that MPs needed to implement amendments to ensure such cases did not occur again.

He said this after Deepa’s two children, who were converted to Islam by their father, were split up with each parent receiving custody of one child.

“Rounding up all this, all these issues don’t bring finality to this matter. Necessary amendments must come forth by the March parliamentary session.

“Nowhere in the decision today the word unilateral conversion was used,” the Ipoh Barat MP said in a phone interview with Malay Mail Online.

He added that until clear reforms were put into place, interfaith custody will continue to be an issue which will plague the lives of families.

“This matter will crop up again from different angles and will blur and make situation worse.

“The courts should be the last one to be involved, the best is for Parliament to spell it out correctly and without ambiguity,” he said, recounting the arduous seven year journey his client Indira had to endure after her ex-husband unilaterally converted her children to Islam and was initially granted custody by the Shariah courts.

Indira later was granted custody of all three children but the police have yet to retrieve her youngest child from her ex-husband

Yesterday, the Federal Court  also ruled that matters involving custody or divorce in civil marriages should only be handled by the Civil Courts and not the Shariah Court, unless both husband and wife are Muslims.

Deepa also pleaded for a legislative change in Malaysia to prevent such unilateral conversions in the future as she was distraught when she did not get custody of her son and only her daughter.

Deepa, who is the only remaining Hindu in her family after her mother and siblings converted to Islam, said that she wanted her son, eight-year-old son Mithran (Nabil) and her 11-year old daughter Sharmila (Nur Nabila) to be together and not separated.

The five-man bench led by Tan Sri Raus Sharif reached the decision after interviewing the children in chambers at the start of the case.

The panel also set aside a Negri Sembilan High Court decision that granted Deepa full custody of her children.

In his decision, Raus said that based on the panel’s interview with the children in chambers, Mithran wanted to be with his father while Sharmila wanted to live with her mother.

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