Indira wants multi-racial bench to rule on kids’ conversion

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PETALING JAYA: M Indira Gandhi, who is challenging the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim convert ex-husband, has applied to the chief justice for an enlarged multi-racial and mixed-gender bench to hear her case scheduled next month.

Her lawyer M Kulasegaran told FMT the request was made to the nation’s top judge Arifin Zakaria in view of the legal issues of far-reaching implications to Malaysians.

“We have requested for a larger coram of the Federal Court that will reflect a multi-racial Malaysia and gender composition,” Kula said, adding that a letter was sent to Arifin three weeks ago.

In March 2014, Arifin led a seven-man bench to hear a leave application by the Roman Catholic Church to challenge the Home Ministry over the ban on the use of the word “Allah”.

The bench constituted a woman and two non-Muslim judges although the court finally refused the church leave to hear the merits of the case.

Kula, who is also the Ipoh Barat MP, said the court had notified him that the case would be only heard for a day, on Nov 14, instead of two days.

On May 19, the court gave leave as Putrajaya did not object to three legal questions posed by Indira.

The questions are: “whether the civil High Court has exclusive jurisdiction to review the actions of the Registrar of Muallafs (converts) or his delegates as public authorities exercising statutory powers vested by the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Perak) Enactment 2004;

“whether a child of a civil marriage that has yet to turn 18 must comply with both Sections 96(1) and 106(b) of the Perak Enactment or similar provisions under other state laws before the Registrar of Muallafs may register the child’s conversion to Islam; and

“whether the mother and the father (if both are still surviving) of a child of a civil marriage must consent before a certificate of conversion to Islam can be issued in respect of that child.”

In December, the majority Court of Appeal ruling held that the validity of conversion of the children by Indira’s former husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah could only be determined by the Shariah Court.

Setting aside the 2013 Ipoh High Court ruling, justices Balia Yusof Wahi and Badariah Sahamid said the civil court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the conversion.

However, judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, who dissented, said the conversion was purely an administrative matter and the civil court could inquire into the matter.

Ipoh High Court judge Lee Swee Seng had held the conversion certificates of the children – Tevi Darsiny, Karan Dinish and Prasana Diksa – were null and void.

Tevi Darsiny and Karan Dinish are in Indira’s care while Prasana Diksa is with Riduan, whose original named was K Pathmanathan.

In 2009, Riduan snatched their youngest daughter Prasana, then aged 11 months, before unilaterally converting the three children in their absence.

Just six days after converting them, he obtained a temporary custody order in the Shariah court on April 8, 2009, and subsequently obtained a permanent custody order in the Islamic court on September 29, 2009.

In the long drawn-out child custody battle, Indira subsequently won full custody of her three children in the Ipoh High Court on March 11, 2010, with the same civil court issuing a recovery order in her favour.

Riduan has failed to challenge the custody order at the Federal Court, but has yet to return Prasana despite being found in contempt of court for failing to comply with the Ipoh court ruling. Eight-year-old Prasana’s location remains unknown.

In her legal challenge against the children’s unilateral conversion, Indira had named the Perak Islamic Religious Department (Jaip) director, the Registrar of Muallaf, the Perak state government, the Education Ministry, the government of Malaysia and Riduan as respondents.

Indira’s eldest daughter Tevi Darsiny is now an adult at 19 while her brother Karan Dinish turned 18 last month and both will be old enough to decide their own faiths.