Civil courts failed duty, group says after Indira Gandhi case


(Malay Mail Online) – The civil courts abandoned its judicial role to uphold the Federal Constitution when it decided earlier this week in the case of M. Indira Gandhi that only the Shariah Court could determine if her children’s conversion to Islam had been valid, Centre For A Better Tomorrow (CENBET) Co-President Gan Ping Sieu said today.

The decision made by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday was a clear denial of justice for Indira, Gan said, pointing out that the Shariah Court has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims and as such, the Hindu mother would not be able to seek legal redress there.

He also noted that unlike in other conversion cases where the individuals involved were clearly Muslims, the religious identities of Indira’s three children have been fiercely contested.

“The abdication of judicial role by our judges is lamentable. Access to justice is not only delayed but completely denied in the present case,” the lawyer said in a statement today.

Gan added the civil courts have the power to decide the fate of Indira’s three children, as the dispute was over whether they had become Muslim converts and were validly registered in a state’s register of Muslim converts.

“In such cases, only the Civil High Courts are rightfully vested with jurisdiction to adjudicate such disputes and not otherwise,” the former deputy youth and sports minister said in disputing the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

“Similarly, if the National Registry Department were to erroneously register one’s religious status, e.g. one’s MyKad shows that one is a Muslim when one is clearly not, the aggrieved party must be allowed to seek legal redress at a civil court and not otherwise,” he added.

“It is deplorable that Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution has been interpreted by some quarters in a way that was not originally intended in its amendment. This has emboldened some to rewrite our supreme law of the land without any legislative amendments,” he said.

The creeping judicial inclination in cases of this nature has created a gap in Malaysia’s justice system, when a case like Indira’s was essentially a family dispute that has become a racial-religious monster driving deeper wedges between the different communities and providing a fertile ground for rising extremism, he said.

Gan urged the government and politicians from both divides to make the necessary laws to “rectify the gross injustice currently occasioned” in such disputes.

He also said the government should abide by the April 2009 Cabinet decision that said that the children of divorced parents should be raised in their religion at the time of the marriage, regardless of whether a parent had converted or not.

On Wednesday, the Malaysian Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said it is “saddened” that a 2009 Cabinet decision against the conversion of a child by a single parent has been rendered illusory, insisting that Putrajaya roll out laws that would require both parents’ consent before an underaged child can be converted.

“This decision of the majority of the Court of Appeal is unjust to the non-converting spouse, the MCCBCHST therefore calls on the Cabinet to put an end to this kind of abuse by parties and to introduce clear laws to say that both parents must consent to conversion of minors of the marriage,” the group’s vice president Jagir Singh had said.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday reversed a lower court’s order that had quashed the unilateral conversion of Indira’s three children to Islam by her Muslim ex-spouse.

Indira’s ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah (formerly known as K. Pathmanathan), had in 2009 converted the couple’s three children — then aged 12 years old, 11 years old, and 11 months old — to Islam without their presence or Indira’s knowledge, just six days before he obtained a custody order for all three in the Shariah court on April 8, 2009.

Muhammad Riduan had also snatched away the youngest child Prasana Diksa in 2009 — now aged seven — and kept her away from Indira since then, despite the latter winning custody of all three children in the civil courts.