All eyes are on the Cabinet meeting today – will the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his 36 Ministers in the jumbo Cabinet end one of the greatest injustices of the seven-year Najib premiership – the Indira Gandhi injustice where a mother had been forcibly separated from her 11-month old baby daughter not for one or two years but for seven long years!
For seven long years, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, Parliament and the Judiciary have all failed Indira Gandhi and her daughter, and the Constitution, the laws, the courts and the system of governance have been manipulated to deny Indira and her daughter their fundamental rights as a mother and a child to be to see, hold and touch each other!
There is no need for the Cabinet today to invent the wheel. Just have the political will to do what is right and just to implement the Cabinet decision of April 22, 2009 that there should be no unilateral conversion of children and that the children of parents where one parent chooses to convert to Islam must continue to be raised in the common religion at the time of the marriage. Or resign as Ministers!
Furthermore, the Minister should demonstrate that it is not only a Cabinet of compassion and humanity, but of justice and competence by directing the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and all relevant agencies to ensure that within 48 hours, Indira Gandhi should be able to re-unite with her daughter whom she had not seen for seven long years.
I said yesterday that our forefathers would have been utterly shocked at such injustices suffered by Indira Gandhi for seven years could happen in our country.
Nobody would believe if he or she were told when Malaya achieved independence in 1957 or Malaysia was formed in 1963 that under the nation’s Constitution, laws and system, a mother could be forcibly separated from her child for seven long years as not able to see, hold or touch her, and that the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Parliament, Judiciary, the Constitution and the laws could conspire whether wittingly or unwittingly to deny a mother her basic maternal rights.
The first three Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein, would be horrified that such an injustice could be perpetrated in Malaysia under our Constitution, laws and system of governance, and I have no doubt that as Prime Minister they would have acted to ensure that injustice would be ended immediately and not marred Malaysia and our system of governance.
I fully endorse the statement by the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) released by Ivy Josiah, Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari and Datuk A Vaithilingam yesterday on the Indira Gandhi issue, which should be tabled in today’s Cabinet meeting for reference and guidance of the Ministers.
Proham fully supports every individual’s absolute right to profess the religion of their choice and the law must both offer redress to the non-converting spouse whose rights are taken away by the converting spouse as well as uphold the rights of affected family members.
The recent court ruling meant that Indira’s rights as a wife and mother under civil law came to nothing, while the rights of her children have also been overlooked, if not ignored.
While child’s best interest should be the central consideration in decisions involving their welfare, the authorities should not ignore Malaysia’s signing of two international conventions – UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – relating to women and children and which impose an obligation to governments to ensure each parent has equal rights and responsibilities to raise their children.
Proham also cited the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961’s Section 5 where each parent is conferred equal guardianship rights over their children and Section 11 where the courts consider both parents’ wishes where applicable.
Proham said: “A mother’s equal right to guardianship, to make decisions relating to long term and at times irreversible issues such as religion, welfare and education and must be fully upheld and protected, one parent’s consent cannot suffice.
“Another important consideration is that rights conferred to a woman under civil law in her legal position as a wife and mother cannot be erased and retreated in favour of another interest, non-retrogression is an essential principle in constitutional law.”