Divorce law reform leaves Hindu moms in custody row with mixed feelings

File photo of Deepa Subramaniam outside the High Court in Seremban on April 7, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
File photo of Deepa Subramaniam outside the High Court in Seremban on April 7, 2014. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Hindu mothers S. Deepa and M. Indira Gandhi have reportedly expressed mixed feelings over the recently announced amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In a report by The Star Online, S. Deepa applauded the move but M. Indira Gandhi expressed her doubts, with both embroiled in lengthy legal battles over their children’s custody following their ex-husbands’ conversion into Islam.

“My prayers have finally been answered,” Deepa, currently a waitress, told the portal.

The 32-year-old woman, whose ex-husband unilaterally converted their two children into Islam, said she was happy that others would receive justice although she herself has “lost” her son.

“I lost everything ... my hairdressing salon business, my house and I even had to leave my family, friends and hometown of Jelebu because of the case.

“I am still struggling to make ends meet in a place alien to me but at least others will not suffer what I went through,” she added.

On February 10, the Federal Court granted Deepa granted custody of the couple’s 11-year old daughter Sharmila, also called Nur Nabila, while her ex-husband Izwan Abdullah got custody of their eight-year-old son Mithran, also called Nabil, after the judges interviewed the children.

File photo of Indira Gandhi during a press conference on her Application for Leave to Appeal to the Federal Court at Selangor Royal Club, Kuala Lumpur May 12, 2016. — Picture by Choo Choy May
File photo of Indira Gandhi during a press conference on her Application for Leave to Appeal to the Federal Court at Selangor Royal Club, Kuala Lumpur May 12, 2016. — Picture by Choo Choy May

In contrast, Indira Gandhi said she was not placing any hopes on the move, saying that the same tune was sung back in 2009, with nothing done by Putrajaya thereafter.

“I’ve heard the same thing since 2009. For years, the Government has been saying it will table the amendments but up until now, nothing has been done.

“I think my case will be over and done with before any amendments actually go through.

“I really hope this is not just talk for the sake of the other women and children facing the same predicament,” the kindergarten teacher was quoted saying.

On April 29, after years of tumultuous legal battle, the Federal Court ordered the national police chief to arrrest Indira Gandhi’s Muslim convert ex-husband for contempt of court over his refusal to hand custody of their youngest child to her in the high-profile child conversion case.

The Cabinet decided in 2009 to bar the unilateral conversion of children, but the proposed legal amendments to enforce this were later shelved following the intervention from the Conference of Rulers hours before they could be tabled in Parliament.

Putrajaya had then proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 to ensure that issues like child support and custody would be determined by the court in which the marriage had been registered in, regardless if one spouse embraces another religion later on.

Then de facto law minister Nancy Shukri told Malay Mail Online last January that the government was planning amendments to those three laws and had hoped they would be tabled soon.