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Witness #11 | Indira Gandhi

My name is Indira Gandhi and I have not seen my daughter Prasana Diksa for 13 years. It all began on 31 March 2009, when my ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah took her away from me after an altercation in our home. He had an argument with my mother and sisters. He then assaulted all of us and grabbed my youngest, 11-month-old Prasana, and left on a motorcycle. We went to make a police report to look for my daughter, and this is when we learnt that my ex-husband had converted to Islam. I had no idea that he had converted, and to make matters worse, he had used my children’s birth certificates to convert all three of them afterwards.

I was devastated to hear that my three children who were born into our Hindu family were converted without their presence and without my consent. My ex-husband then went to the Syariah Court to obtain custody over them. My daughter, Tevi Darsiny and my son, Karan Dinish were converted to Islam without even being physically present. They were 12 and 11 years of age at the time, and living with me. I too went to court, as I believed that as a mother, I had the right to be consulted before my children were converted.

Since 2009, I have been going to court to seek justice. I have only seen Prasana once, when I was at the Ipoh court when she was one-and-a-half years old, and she was there. I haven’t seen her since. It has been 12 years. I have made more than 20 police reports, including for assault, in the past decade, but none has been acted upon.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal verdict gave me some hope, as it gave me custody of Prasana and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) was instructed to locate her whereabouts, but the police could not find her. On 29 January 2018, the Federal Court ruled that unilateral conversions of children to Islam are unlawful.

Yes, I won, we won — but my search for justice is not over.

Even after this landmark judgement and a court order to find my daughter, the police have been unable to find her. I am devastated that a judgement from the highest court in the country can be so blatantly ignored, and I cannot move on from this. So much of my time has been spent in courts, numerous press conferences, seeking help from the police — and nothing has been done. Having no other legal means, I decided to sue the IGP and Home Ministry last year (2020) for negligence. The police say that they know where my daughter and ex-husband are, they claim that they are arranging a meeting somewhere in Thailand, and yet the IGP has not revealed details of Prasana’s whereabouts.

In addition to the pain of not being able to hold my daughter, I have faced severe financial difficulties as I was unable to remain at a 9-to-5 job due to the demands of the court case. I am now working as a tutor; I cannot be attached full-time due to my schedule, as I need to travel from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur for court cases. Prior to this I had to frequently change kindergartens and employment due to [my need for] leave. I had to put my two children through school and university — they have graduated now — and also look after my aged mother.

My ex-husband bought a car in my name in 2005 and defaulted in the loan repayment, and abandoned the car in Thailand three years later. This affected my credit score and I had to declare bankruptcy — I wasn’t allowed to open a bank account, and my card was frozen for a long time. This issue was only resolved early this year.

The impact was huge on my two older children who were robbed of a normal childhood. I was so afraid of them being taken away that for a long time I wouldn’t let them play with other children or be out of my sight. They lived with my relatives in a different state for about a year after Prasana was forcefully taken away. They were also often questioned in school by their peers over religion, with other children asking my daughter to pakai tudung (wear a head covering), and harassed by others because of the case.  Tevi and Karan were afraid of being taken away by the Jabatan Agama (religious authorities) for a long time, and had to be absent from school for three months. In 2009, my eldest sat for his UPSR examination (Primary School Achievement Test) under a lot of pressure and having missed school. It was very traumatising for them.

I believe that if this were not a religious issue, it would have been settled amicably a long time ago — we could have followed a proper family court system where the family could have sat down and talked. I cannot come to terms with the kidnapping of my 11-month-old child — she was still breastfeeding. She’s almost a woman now, 13 years old, and that is depressing, because she doesn’t know her mother.

No mother should go through what I have gone through, legally, financially, emotionally. We cannot have unilateral conversion — the system must be built and changed in [the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976], and I desperately hope that something is brought to and tabled in Parliament.

Through this Women’s Tribunal, I hope that law reform is seen as important, to set a precedent for minorities and mothers such as myself. 

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