KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 — Born in a plantation in Sungai Petani, Kedah and abandoned by his biological parents since young, 50-year-old Gopal Muniandy has spent his whole life in Malaysia without being recognised as a Malaysian.

Raised without a birth certificate and deprived of an education, Gopal had to start working at age 13 and wants to officially be a Malaysian in hopes of a better future for his Malaysian family.

Gopal currently only holds a green-coloured temporary resident identity card (MyKAS) that has to be renewed every five years, but had for years asked the Malaysian government to recognise him as a Malaysian citizen (who are given blue-coloured identity cards or MyKad).

Gopal has sent letters to the government (as far back as the Najib administration) but the National Registration Department (NRD) had indicated that there are no available procedures for MyKAS holders like him to be a Malaysian citizen. The tenure of four home ministers had ended prior to his failed court bid this year, and his plight remains unresolved.

After five decades, Gopal is still stateless, as he is not a citizen of Malaysia or of any other country in the world.

How did Gopal become stateless?

Here is Gopal’s story, based on court documents, official documents and official letters as sighted by Malay Mail:

Born in October 1973 at the Ladang Perbidanan UP Sungai Petani in Kedah, Gopal said his biological parents left him soon after he was born with a woman living nearby named Rukumani Periasamy.

Gopal said his parents left the estate and never came back for him, and that he does not know where they are. Rukumani’s vague recollection was that his father’s name is Muniandy and his mother’s name is Manoranjitham.

Raised by Rukumani, Gopal said he had at the age of seven briefly attended primary school for a year and worked at the age of 13 by helping lorry drivers in the plantation.

After following a lorry driver to Kuala Lumpur at age 16, Gopal has been living and working here since.

Gopal said he later contacted Rukumani to seek information on his parents, and that Rukumani had on April 23, 2000 — the year when he was due to turn 27 — made a statutory declaration saying she had known him since his 1973 birth in the estate, and that she knew his biological parents (which she named as Muniandy and Manoranjitham) as they lived near her house in the estate.

Also on April 23, 2000, a woman named Alamaloo Ayakanoo in a statutory declaration said she was Gopal’s adoptive mother and guardian since he was a two-year-old baby, as the biological parents (which she named as Muniandy and Manoranjitham) had left him behind with her as they went to other rubber estates to seek employment. The parents never returned to claim Gopal and she said she had raised him as her own child.

Alamaloo said she was illiterate and did not know how to apply for Gopal’s birth certificate, and did not register him in any schools as he did not have a birth certificate. She said her statutory declaration was made to enable her adoptive son to obtain an identity card.

Gopal said Alamaloo’s statutory declaration was made on the NRD’s advice for him to apply for an identity card as he had no parents.

In July 2001, Gopal had through Alamaloo placed an advertisement in the Tamil newspaper Tamil Nesan (now defunct since 2019 after 94 years in publication) to ask his biological parents to contact him, but there was no response to the advertisement.

As part of court papers, Gopal produced the bill for the newspaper advertisement, and the advertisement in the Tamil language, along with a certified court translation of the advertisement to the Malay language.

Gopal said Alamaloo lived in the same plantation or estate near Rukumani, and that Alamaloo died in October 2001.

According to Gopal, both Rukumani and Alamaloo were the ones who raised him since young.

After filing his court challenge, Gopal did try to contact Rukumani to testify in court through an affidavit to confirm he was abandoned and left with her since birth, but found out that the latter had died.

According to the Attorney General’s Chambers, Rukumani died in May 2019 — which was before Gopal filed his court challenge.

Finally on April 6, 2003, Gopal’s birth in Kedah was registered with the National Registration Department (NRD) and with Rukumani stated to be the informant, with his birth certificate stating his status as “Bukan Warganegara” (not citizen) and stating both his father’s and mother’s details including names and citizenship status to be “maklumat tidak diperolehi” (information not obtained).

On September 16, 2003 the NRD issued Gopal his first-ever MyKAS. He was due to turn 30 that year.

Later just months before he turned 31 in 2004, Gopal married a Malaysian woman, and their child is also a Malaysian. He is the only one in the family who is not a citizen of Malaysia, and his child became an adult while he has been appealing to the government to be a citizen.

NRD said its Putrajaya headquarters’ citizenship division had as of June 7, 2022 found no records of any citizenship application filed by Gopal.

However, Gopal said he had since 2009 made efforts to obtain the status as a Malaysian citizen from the Malaysian government, claiming he was unable to locate his citizenship applications but was able to produce official letters he had sent out to then-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (on June 30, 2010) and then-home minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (on January 21, 2013).

He also kept multiple official letters dating as far back as 2009, including letters from the aides of home ministers (Hishammuddin in 2013 and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in 2015 and 2017) to the NRD asking for feedback on his case, as well as replies from the NRD to those aides or to Gopal.

In those letters, NRD had in 2013 said Gopal’s status as a temporary resident as a MyKAS holder meant he was not eligible to apply for Malaysian citizenship, and that a study is being carried out on temporary residents for a guideline to be issued and that his MyKad application would be considered once the NRD receives such a guideline.

The NRD had in a 2017 letter (in reference to an earlier letter from the Home Minister’s office) told Gopal that those aged 21 and above could apply for citizenship via naturalisation under the Federal Constitution’s Article 19(1), and in a 2018 letter told him his application to be a Malaysian citizen cannot be considered as there was currently no provision or policy to enable MyKAS holders like him to apply for permanent resident status.

(In Malaysia, before one can even apply to be a Malaysian citizen via naturalisation under Article 19, one would need to first apply for permanent resident status. Gopal however believes he is entitled to Malaysian citizenship by operation of law under the Federal Constitution’s Article 14(1)(b) --- which means he should automatically be a Malaysian citizen without having to apply for it and because the law says so.)

In 2019, the NRD (in making reference to an earlier 2019 letter from the home minister’s office) said in a letter to Gopal that the government had yet to determine any procedure for MyKAS holders to apply for Malaysian citizenship, and apologised for any inconvenience faced by him and said it would notify him if there are any latest developments on citizenship application procedures for MyKAS holders.

Gopal through his lawyer in December 2021 sent a letter to the Malaysian government to demand to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen under the Federal Constitution, within 14 days of the letter. But he received no reply and viewed this as the government’s refusal to recognise him as a citizen.

On March 14, 2022, Gopal then filed a court challenge through an application for judicial review, naming the five respondents as the Registrar of Births and Deaths, the Registrar-General of Births and Deaths, the national registration director-general, the home minister and the government of Malaysia.

In the court case, Gopal had sought for four court orders, namely declarations that he is a Malaysian citizen under either Section 1(a) or Section 1(e) of Part II of the Second Schedule in the Federal Constitution; a mandamus order to direct the registrar or registrar-general of births and deaths to reissue his birth certificate to reflect his status as a Malaysian citizen within seven days; and a mandamus order to direct the national registration director-general to issue an identity card with the status “Warganegara” or “citizen” within seven days.

The High Court on June 21, 2022 granted him leave for judicial review, which meant it decided it will proceed to hear his court case.

NRD had in 2013 said Gopal’s status as a temporary resident as a MyKAS holder meant he was not eligible to apply for Malaysian citizenship. — Bernama file pic
NRD had in 2013 said Gopal’s status as a temporary resident as a MyKAS holder meant he was not eligible to apply for Malaysian citizenship. — Bernama file pic

Rooted in Malaysia, but still not a citizen

In court papers, Gopal said he has been greatly prejudiced by Malaysia’s refusal to recognise him as a Malaysian, including facing great difficulties in obtaining loans from banks and being unable to own properties in his name as a citizen.

He had also in June 2010 told then-PM Najib that his previous attempts to apply for the blue identity card had been rejected as he did not have his biological parents’ details, but that he wanted to obtain it for the future of his Malaysian wife and child.

In January 2013, Gopal told then-home minister Hishammuddin that he could only afford to pay for rental and food, and having a blue IC would enable to raise his family’s living standards and benefit his child’s future.

Gopal’s lawyers said he had not attempted to obtain citizenship from any other country and that it is an “indisputable fact that he is not a citizen of any other country”, and argued that meant he should be considered a Malaysian, based on Section 1(e) and Section 2(3) of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution (anyone born in Malaysia who is not born a citizen of any country and had not acquired any citizenship within one year of his birth).

Why the High Court said no and what’s next

On June 23 this year, the High Court dismissed Gopal’s judicial review, which means his struggle to be recognised as a Malaysian continues.

In a written judgment dated November 22 and released on the judiciary’s website on December 6, High Court judge Datuk Amarjeet Singh Serjit Singh decided that Gopal had not met either the Section 1(a) or Section 1(e) requirements to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen.

In short, this was because Section 1(a) along with Section 19B of Part III of the Federal Constitution would require proof that Gopal was found abandoned as a newborn, with the judge noting that this assertion by Gopal was “implausible” due to contradictory information regarding the circumstances of whether he was abandoned since birth.

As for Section 1(e), the judge said Gopal failed to meet its requirements, citing past Court of Appeal decisions on citizenship cases where Malaysia-born individuals were ruled as not fulfilling citizenship requirements and it could not be shown if they were stateless as their biological parents’ identities are unknown.

Based on those Court of Appeal decisions, the judge said the evidence showed that Gopal has no knowledge of his biological parents and no evidence of lineage of his parents was produced, saying that this was why Gopal failed to meet the Section 1(e) requirement: “Thus, the applicant had failed to prove that at the time of his birth, based on his lineage, he does not acquire citizenship of any country.”

(Based on the Malaysian government’s position in multiple court cases, it had often argued against Malaysian citizenship for stateless persons born in Malaysia, based on the argument that those with foreign mothers — especially those born out of wedlock or where the biological parents’ details are unclear — should take on their non-Malaysian mothers’ citizenship and would therefore not fulfil the Section 1(e) requirement.)

In Gopal’s case, the Attorney General’s Chambers had argued that he had to prove that he did not acquire citizenship of any country at the time of his birth, based on his lineage. The AGC argued there was a need to show his biological parents’ citizenship status and marital status, and that it would be insufficient for him to say that he was born in and had lived only in Malaysia to establish that he was not born a citizen of any country.)

Gopal’s lawyer Surendra Ananth confirmed that his client had on June 27, 2023 filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal, with the case scheduled for case management on March 14, 2024.

Gopal’s current MyKAS was issued on February 8, 2021 and he has slightly more than two years before it expires on February 7, 2026 and he has to apply to renew it for another five years (unless Malaysia recognises him as a citizen before then).