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No dignity in life or death

August 20, 2012

This is the fate of the marginalised Indians of the country.

COMMENT

By N Ganesan

Early in the morning of Aug 14, M Nagamah, 64, of Byram Estate, Pulau Pinang passed away. Her remains were brought home from the Sungai Bakap Hospital. According to the family, she lived a life as a Hindu and she died a Hindu. They prepared to give her a Hindu funeral.

The Penang Islamic Religious Affairs Department officials, however thought differently. They claimed she was a Muslim, came to her house and demanded that the family surrender her body to them for a Muslim burial.

The family refused and went ahead with their plans for a Hindu funeral and the cremation of Nagamah, as department officials had no documentary evidence for the claim she was a Muslim on hand at that time.

The cremation was done by the family according to Hindu rites at the Batu Berapit Crematorium near their home and the family returned home as the cremation was proceeding.  The religious department officials then went over to the crematorium and, family is unsure as to what transpired at the crematorium subsequently, but they took away the cremated remains of Nagamah, clearly without the consent of the family and without authority of a civil court – the courts which protect the rights and interests governing non-Muslims in the country.

The family is not sure if the department had any other valid authorisation.

Here is again another clear episode of usurpation of the minority rights of freedom of practice of their religion. The eldest son M Kamasantheran who is a Hindu born of a first marriage of Nagamah is now not in a position to fulfill his religious obligations required of all Hindus  – the last rites with the cremated remains at a “Karumakirei” ceremony held 14 days after the death and after which her ashes are to be strewn into a nearby river so that her “Atma” may attain “Shanti”.

This is one of the major religious rites in the life of a Hindu and he has been denied that by the usurpation of his rights . This is clearly a state sanctioned act as the family understands the police accompanied the Islamic department officers at the crematorium at the time the cremated remains were demanded.

The key question here is, by what authority did the department claim for the body, superior to the claim by Kamasantheran that he has his final rites religious obligations? By what superior law or authority can the department order the crematorium and the family to turn over the cremated remains to them and for them to take away with the remains with the police watching over this entire episode on their side?

Department has committed a theft

The Federal Constitution is unequivocal in guaranteeing the right to practice the religion of choice of individual citizens without regards for  religion – Article 11. (1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.”

This clearly means that  Kamasantheran is guaranteed his rights to practice his religion and to perform his last rites for his mother as this is one of the most important obligations of a son to his parents in the Hindu religion. Article 8(1) on equality before the law states (1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law, further demands that equality be protected for all citizens.

And in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution, the jurisdiction of the syariah court is spelled out thus “………… the constitution, organisation and procedure of syariah courts, which shall have jurisdiction only over persons professing the religion of Islam ……”

The religious department acted unilaterally and with impunity in violating all these provisions.

Hindraf demands that the department returns the cremated remains of Nagamah to the family immediately, so that they may perform their final rites as demanded in the police report lodged on Aug 19 by the son, 17 relatives and friends of Nagamah at the Nibong Tebal police station.

Or if the department feels that they do have rights over the cremated remains, they should go to the civil courts protecting the rights of non-Muslims for adjudication on the matter.

Unilateral pronouncements by the syariah court does not apply to non-Muslims and therefore to Kamasantheran.

This effectively becomes a theft by the religious department as viewed by the gurantees to the non-Muslims in the Federal Constitution.

The writer is the national advisor of Hindraf.


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