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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 ― M. Indira Gandhi's two elder children can now proudly declare their Hindu identity, after the Federal Court yesterday nullified their conversion to Islam that was done without their Hindu mother’s consent.
Tevi Darsiny, the eldest child now aged 20, said she felt “overwhelmed” when she heard about the Federal Court ruling voiding her conversion by her Muslim convert father, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.
“When my mom called me this morning to tell me about the decision, I started crying with her. After all these years, we finally got justice to what has been done to us.
“For the past nine years, people (friends and acquaintances) ask us what are we, as in what religion are we? And my answer would be 'I'm a Hindu', with confidence. After today, I can say it with assurance that 'I am a Hindu',” she told Malay Mail in a written response yesterday.
Karan Dinish, the second child now aged 19, said he was left “speechless” after hearing about the decision from his aunt who called him as soon as everyone was out of the courtroom.
“I will be more confident of my identity and I think I wouldn't have to be afraid of people asking me whether I'm a Muslim or an Indian,” he said.
On April 2, 2009, K. Pathmanathan, or Muhammad Riduan Abdullah as he is now known, had covertly converted his three children to Islam without their knowledge and without Indira’s consent, before going to the Shariah court just a few days later to obtain custody rights for them. The Shariah court only has jurisdiction over Muslims.
Indira had in May 2016 told Malay Mail however that both her elder children have been practising Hindus since birth, with their identity cards still carrying the names they were born with and stating their religious status as Hindu. While confirming to Malay Mail then that they had been spared from going to Islamic classes in school, she had then said it was unjust for them to spend “miserable years” with uncertainty over their official religious status.
The youngest child, Prasana Diksa, was abducted by Muhammad Riduan as an 11-month-old nine years ago and was last seen in a photo wearing what appears to be a “tudung”, or headscarf usually worn by Muslim women.
The Federal Court yesterday unanimously declared that it was unlawful to convert children to Islam without the consent of both parents.
The lost years, a family apart
Tevi and Karan were first thrust into the limelight as children because of the court battles over their custody and their religious status, which lasted throughout their teenage years until now.
“We try to be as discreet as we can, but we can't have all that we want, right?” Tevi asked.
For Karan, the publicity of their family's case was necessary to ensure no other Malaysians would suffer the same ordeal that they went through.
“People have to know about this issue. There shouldn't be another problem popping out similar to our family case...So it's not about losing privacy, it's about opening the eyes of Malaysians on issues like this,” he said.
As their mother Indira trudged through the courts for years just to have her children recognised as Hindus, Tevi and Karan had slowly reached and surpassed the age of 18 ― the age of majority in Malaysia where one can decide their own religion.
Tevi, who will be turning 21 in May, is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Decision Science) degree in Universiti Utara Malaysia. Karan, who will be 20 this October, is now studying for his A-Levels in Brickfields Asia College and hopes to pursue a law degree.
Torn apart forcibly from their youngest sibling who will be turning 10 this year, Tevi and Karan are still unhappy with Muhammad Riduan's actions.
“I have always been disappointed with my father that he would want us to go through this and that has never changed,” Tevi said.
Karan said he was “extremely frustrated” with his father's “irresponsible attitude”, adding: “If he wanted to convert, it wouldn't have been an issue, why did he have to convert us as well?”
Our sister Prasana
Prasana Diksa, who was born on April 8 and has spent all her birthdays away from her mother and elder siblings, remains with her father.
Tevi said the last time they saw Prasana was when the latter was just one and a half years old, when the judge had ordered all the children to be present in court for a custody case then.
“She had little memory of us then, I guess, because she kept coming to where we sat and showed us her scribble on papers. That was the last we had contact with her as well,” she said.
“A few years later, we saw a photo of her and my father sent by his lawyers.
“After everyone saw the picture, they said she looks like me, but we have yet to confirm it. And I don't think I would recognise her now. I can only still picture her as the baby I looked after,” she added.
Karan said the last he spoke to Prasana was nine years ago, adding: “I hope she looks like my sister. Hahaha when Prasana was young, she looked alike my sister Tevi. I'm not sure whether I can recognise her or not as 9 years have passed.”
Both Tevi and Karan remain focused like their mother on the hope of eventually being reunited with Prasana.
“Today has been a very blessed day and for that, I thank all who have given their all to fight for the cause. But as much as peace we now can have, my sister, Prasana Diksa, is not with us yet still. So till then we still have a fight to be fought,” Tevi said.
Karan added: “As everyone knows, the whereabouts of my sister and father is still a big mystery. As long as my sister isn't back to my mom, the fight will go on!”
Following yesterday's court ruling, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun told Malay Mail that he will instruct the police force to track down both Muhammad Riduan and Prasana. He later said that the police have been trying to locate Muhammad Riduan since 2014 but were unable to make any progress on his whereabouts.