‘Ruling on unilateral conversion makes Thaipusam more meaningful’

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GEORGE TOWN: Thaipusam celebration this year is more meaningful following the Federal Court’s decision yesterday that both parents, not one, must jointly decide the religion of their child who is under 18, says Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Lim was referring to the apex court setting aside the unilateral conversion of M Indira Gandhi’s three children to Islam after ruling that any conversion of non-Muslim children must get the consent of both parents.

“The Federal Court’s decision yesterday that both parents, and not one, must jointly decide the religion of their child who is below 18 years old, is a relief to all parents.

“The decision will not only make the Thaipusam celebrations more meaningful but ensures the constitutional rights of both parents are respected. It also protects the children from the trauma of divorce and marriages breaking up,” he said in a statement today.

Lim, who is also DAP secretary-general, said that by reaffirming the original position of the 1957 Federal Constitution, the court’s decision had also restored the essence and substance of Merdeka in nation-building.

The landmark ruling also stated that only the civil court would decide on such matters.

It also ruled that the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution should be read as “parents”.

The court’s ruling put an end to the interfaith custody battle after Indira’s ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, formerly known as K Pathmanathan, converted their three children without her knowledge in 2009.

Meanwhile, on Thaipusam celebrations, Lim said Thaipusam in Malaysia began in Penang, with the procession of the Silver Chariot, and had continued ever since.

The state government, Lim said, gave full support to the Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) in organising the procession, including the Golden Chariot, which made its debut last year.

He said a building on Jalan Macalister, valued at RM50 million, had been given to PHEB to use since 2010. The state government has also increased the yearly allocation to the Hindu Endowment Board from RM1.1 million to RM1.5 million this year.

“Thaipusam in Penang is not only a celebration of faith and freedom of religion but also of diversity in our multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

“Not only is Thaipusam in Penang the oldest such celebration in Malaysia, but it has a long tradition of people from all walks of life and different backgrounds, including foreign multinational corporations, actively participating,” he added.