Indira Gandhi wins legal battle to keep children in her own religion

M. Indira Gandhi smiling as she walks out of the Ipoh High Court with her mother R. Rengamah, 70, and lawyers after the court handed a landmark decision quashing the certificate of conversion of her three children who had been converted by their father.

IPOH - Kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi has won her four-year legal battle to keep her children in her own religion.

The High Court here, in a landmark decision, quashed the certificates of conversion of the three children who had been converted to Islam by their father in 2009.

A teary-eyed Indira Gandhi, 40, who was with a few family members outside the court, said: "I have been waiting for four years. This is a very touching moment for me and my children, and I can't wait to tell them the good news."

In his one-hour-and-forty minute judgment, Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng ruled that the certificates were null and void because they were unconstitutional.

He said the certificates were against the right of natural justice because they were issued in the absence of the children and the mother.

In accordance with the Perak State Enactment, he said, it is a statutory requirement for a child to be present before a certificate of conversion could be issued.

And under Perak Syariah law, the children must be present to utter the affirmation of faith (Dua Kalimah Syahadah), he added.

Lee said the conversion was unconstitutional because, under Articles 3, 5 and 11 of the Federal Constitution, the mother has equal right to raise her children in her own religion.

Article 11 gives freedom of religion that includes the right to educate a child in one's own faith, Article 3 allows other religions to be practised in peace and harmony, and Article 5 states the right to life and liberty, he said.

As the Malaysian Government is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on the Rights of the Child, it must therefore give effect to both conventions by applying them in our law, Lee said.

Granting the order to nullify and void the conversion certificates, he said: "This is not a victory for anyone but for all to be living in peace, and our differences need not divide us.

"It is also a struggle for all to live in a diversified country peacefully to give space to one another to practise his or her religion.

"Regardless of our faiths, we must have the highest regard for one another."

Indira Gandhi was granted custody of her three children Tevi Darsiny, 16, Karan Dinish, 15, and Prasana Diksa, five, last year.

However, her estranged husband K. Patmanathan, who also goes by the name of Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, has yet to return the youngest child.

Mohd Ridzuan had in 2009 converted the children to Islam without her consent, and she had made an application for a judicial review to quash the conversion certificates.

Counsel K. Shanmuga, M. Kulasegaran and N. Selvam represented Indira Gandhi.

The respondents - Perak Registrar of Converts, Perak Islamic Religious Department, the Perak state government, the Education Ministry, the Federal Government and Mohd Ridzuan - were represented by Norazura Mokthar and Hatim Musa.