FEBRUARY 26 ― Disenchanted. Even bitterly disappointed. These were the feelings I had when I learnt of the Deepa Subramaniam case. It is mind boggling to think the Federal Court decided to award the custody of Deepa’s son to her former husband Viran Nagapan despite him going against the court’s earlier decision to award her custody.
Worse still, the way in which Viran was said to have abducted his son is heart wrenching to read.
How on earth can he win custody with these heinous acts in his history? The answer is simple: he converted to Islam.
According to reports, Deepa and Viran married in 2003 as Hindus in a civil ceremony. No one expected the other to convert to Islam 10 years later. They had two children, a daughter (Sharmila) in 2006 and a son (Mithran) in 2009.
Viran was no husband or father of the year either. Twenty or so police reports of domestic violence were made against him. Coupled with his abduction of his own son from Deepa ― a traumatic incident for the boy as well, to be sure ― one can only presume the worst.
He already had an Interim Protection Order (IPO) against him which prevented him from visiting Deepa’s residence in Seremban but this did not stop the abduction. On top of which, he had disappeared from his family for 16 months without due financial care. How can a man with such little respect for the law be awarded custody despite an earlier decision?
The answer lies in the co-optation of Islam as a legal instrument. Viran converted to Islam in 2012 and unilaterally converted his children as well. This is a provision in the Federal Constitution but here we must ask, is this provision harmonious with the freedom of religion?
Freedom of religion is unconditional but it appears that if one’s spouse embraces Islam, one’s freedom no longer extends to one’s own children. Worse still, one’s recently-converted spouse can act exactly like Viran Nagapan and still win custody while overturning an earlier decision. This is even with a contravention of two previous court orders!
If this is not a blatant contradiction or at least a limitation of the aforementioned freedom of religion, then I don’t know what is.
As a Muslim, I am totally appalled by this miscarriage of justice. As far as my reading of the Quran goes, I cannot see any kind of legislation with regards to one’s Muslim identity. One is free to enter or leave the faith. In fact, if one observes Muslim behaviour, one would see that people fluctuate in terms of devotion towards religion practice.
People may suddenly “catch religion” during Ramadan and attend the masjid every night and lose the fever right after Hari Raya. On a spiritual scale, one’s faith is measured by actions. Yet when Islam is limited to the MyKad or simply putting on the skullcap and growing a goatee, then this fluctuation is not reflected at all.
This just means that Viran can simply take the syahadah profession of faith, make his children do the same and effectively remove them from any kind of scrutiny thereafter. Being Muslim in the eyes of the state has nothing to do with being Muslim in the spiritual sense.
The function of a democratically elected government is to protect the welfare of the people. Deepa Subramaniam as a citizen of Malaysia should not be less deserving of justice simply because she is not of the Islamic faith. The utilisation of Islam as a political instrument will simply lead to the besmirching of Islam as a dignified faith.
People should not be allowed to unilaterally convert their children to Islam for whatever reason. Allowing this to happen is akin to asking one’s mother to preside over a court case and still having the audacity to say “this is justice.” Viran Nagapan’s smug statement to Deepa after the Federal Court decision says it all; he unashamedly invited her to convert to Islam. Ironic because if Deepa develops any hatred towards the faith, it would be due to him.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.