Indira Gandhi wins leave to challenge children’s unilateral conversion

Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi at the Federal Court in Putrajaya today, May 19, 2016. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi at the Federal Court in Putrajaya today, May 19, 2016. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PUPUTRAJAYA, May 19 — The Federal Court today allowed Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi to go ahead with her challenge against the validity of the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim convert ex-husband.

The Federal Court gave its order after senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan said the federal government was not objecting to two of the eight questions of law previously posed by Indira.

“Application is allowed in terms of question one, five and the additional question submitted,” Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said.

The two other judges on today’s panel are Tan Sri Abu Samah Nordin and Datuk Aziah Ali.

Today’s decision means the Federal Court will consider three questions of law in its hearing of Indira’s appeal.

They are:

― Whether the civil High Court has exclusive jurisdiction to review the actions of the Registrar of Muallafs (converts) or his delegates as public authorities exercising statutory powers vested by the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Perak) Enactment 2004;

― Whether a child of a civil marriage that has yet to turn 18 must comply with both Sections 96(1) and 106(b) of the Perak Enactment or similar provisions under other state laws before the Registrar of Muallafs may register the child’s conversion to Islam;

― Whether the mother and the father (if both are still surviving) of a child of a civil marriage must consent before a certificate of conversion to Islam can be issued in respect of that child.

The last was submitted today by Indira’s lawyer K. Shanmuga as an alternative to two earlier questions.

Shanmuga had also asked the Federal Court to consider an initial eighth question of law: whether the Malaysian government’s ratification of international conventions on children and women gave rise to a legitimate expectation that the Perak state government would act according to these conventions.

But Zulkefli said Indira’s appeal bid has “nothing to do with international conventions”.

Perak state legal adviser Datuk Rohana Abd Malek and Hatim Musa represented the state government and Indira’s ex-husband respectively.

Lawyers Andrew Khoo and Goh Siu Lin held watching briefs for the Bar Council and 10 women groups respectively.

Outside the courtroom, Indira’s lawyer M. Kulasegaran later said he hopes that a “full Bench” will hear his client’s appeal instead of the typical five-man panel at the Federal Court.

“The only thing we are hoping is for early trial and a full Bench to sit on this matter because it is fundamentally important,” he said, noting that there could be as many as nine judges on a full panel.

Indira had applied for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s 2-1 ruling last December, where it said only the Shariah courts have the jurisdiction to decide on the validity of a person’s conversion.

The Court of Appeal had set aside the Ipoh High Court’s 2013 judgement, which found that the three children had not been validly converted to Islam and declared their conversion certificates null and void.

In her legal challenge against the children’s unilateral conversion, Indira had named the Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIPk) director, the Registrar of Muallaf, the Perak state government, the Education Ministry, the government of Malaysia and Indira’s ex-husband K. Pathmanathan as respondents.

After converting to Islam on March 11, 2009, Pathmanathan — now Muhammad Riduan Abdullah — left the house almost three weeks later with their youngest child.

On April 2, 2009, he then converted all three children to Islam without their knowledge and presence, and without Indira’s consent, before going to the Shariah courts several days later to obtain custody over them.

Indira’s eldest daughter Tevi Darsiny is now an adult at 19 while her brother Karan Dinish turns 18 in October; both will be old enough to decide their own faiths. Eight-year-old Prasana Diksa’s location remains unknown after being snatched by Muhammad Riduan seven years ago.