PETALING JAYA, Nov 21 ― Until 2009, M. Indira Gandhi’s name was the only thing that made people pay any attention to her, as it was similar to that of India’s sole female prime minister.
Today, she is known as the Malaysian Hindu mother from Perak whose fight against her children’s unilateral religious conversion offers a ray of hope to other parents caught in a similar situation due to a legal ambiguity.
Indira has not seen her youngest child, Prasana Diksa, for the better part of seven years. Prasana was only 11 months old when Indira’s convert ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, ran away with her.
She has climbed the steps of the courts in Ipoh and Putrajaya for over eight years, fighting multiple battles to quash the conversion of all her three children ― two of whom are with her and are now over 18 years old ― and also fighting to be able to see her youngest daughter.
“In the media, you always see me coming to court and leaving from court, but this is the story about how our lives are jeopardised,” said Indira at the screening here last night of Diary for Prasana, a 40-minute documentary of her court struggles produced by former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and made by activist Norhayati Kaprawi.
And in telling that story, Norhayati highlighted the other women who fuel Indira’s resolve to make that arduous journey to Putrajaya on every court date to seek justice as a mother.
There is Indira’s own ageing mother, who occasionally stayed with her and also occasionally joined the trips to Putrajaya with her daughter in hopes of seeing her granddaughter.
“That lawyer ran away,” she was recorded saying just outside the Federal Court after Muhammad Riduan’s lawyer evaded media questions about the whereabouts of his client, who had not shown up in court, or brought his daughter to court, for years.
It was a lighthearted moment, but also showed where Indira draws part of her fighting spirit.
There is also Indira’s eldest daughter Tevi Darsiny who had spent the entirety of her teenage years watching her mother battling to quash her conversion.
Tevi, now 20 years old, went to court for the first time last year to observe the case where her mother attempted to declare her Islamic conversion null and void.
“It feels weird ― they are talking about me in there as if I’m not there,” she said in the documentary.
Her brother Karan Dinish has also turned 18, meaning both of Indira’s children should have the freedom to determine their religion.
But Indira is trying to save them the hassle of continuing the battle in the courts.
“I don’t know how long more this will go on. After this, I might have to continue this battle, then my brother, and so on,” Tevi said.
But Indira’s primary motivation remains to see her daughter, Prasana Diksa, and she is hoping that all the court battles would eventually lead to her husband being forced to show up with her daughter.
Norhayati showed all the people who have been affected by the ongoing court battles and the reluctance of the government or authorities to take a firm stand on the matter ― showing us that the story is never just about Indira.
It is also a story about her children growing up without their father, fighting for their own identities, and a story of what another mother might be going through.
Many mothers like Indira have fought this exhausting battle and exhausted all their options. But it seems for Indira, her only way is to continue her battle, one way or another, until she obtains a satisfactory resolution.
Indira is not the first non-Muslim to battle the unilateral conversion of her children to Islam by an ex-partner who converted to Islam. And she won’t be the last either.
After Putrajaya backed out of pressing ahead with a crucial amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act in order to guarantee that a child’s conversion needs to be consented by both father and mother earlier this year ― Indira’s fate may yet befall another mother.