Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian Hindu woman who is fighting her husband's conversion of their three children to Islam has been awarded custody of them.
This came a day after the government decided it would no longer allow disputed conversions of minors.
A high court in northern Perak state granted Ms M. Indira Ghandhi custody of her children, aged between one and 12, last Friday, her lawyer M. Kulasegaran said.
Ms Ghandhi's estranged husband, Mr K. Pathmanathan, who became a Muslim recently, had converted their children to Islam. The 40-year-old then got an Islamic court to give him custody earlier this month.
But the 34-year-old Ms Gandhi said she spent a sleepless night last Friday at the Ipoh police district headquarters, waiting for her one-year-old baby girl to be returned to her.
The kindergarten teacher said that shortly after the court order was granted, her husband contacted her at 8.30pm to say he was on his way to Singapore.
She claimed that when she asked him to return her daughter, he refused. It was not known why she did not ask for the whereabouts of the other two children.
The case caused a renewed outcry among Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minorities, who complain their religious rights are under threat as courts rule in favour of Muslims.
This led Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration to announce last Thursday that it would bar the conversion of children without both parents' consent. Amendments are expected to be made to the law.
Besides custody, Ms Ghandhi also obtained an order to bar her husband from entering her home and taking the children, Mr Kulasegaran said.
'From what the mother has told me, she wants the children to be Hindus until they are 18,' Mr Kulasegaran, who is also an opposition lawmaker, said. 'The Cabinet decision is just a directive. But I'm sure it will help.'
Malaysia has a two-tier court system for family and civil matters - secular courts for non-Muslims and Islamic courts for Muslims. But it is unclear which court has jurisdiction in interfaith disputes, and when Islamic courts get the last word, non-Muslims feel they cannot get a fair hearing.
AP, The Star/Asia News Network
[I admit that I did not like PM Najib or what I thought he stood for, but he has surprised me and I am changing my mind about him. His handling of this case was well done - getting 5 ministers to look into the matter showed that the govt took the matter seriously, and their recommendation was very commonsense (which might lead one to ask if it's so commonsense, why did it take 5 ministers to come up with it in the first place, but let's take the good news as a step forward and not focus on the past backwardness).
I was also impressed by his attempt to skip the by-election, tho the incredibly stupid Dr M seems determined to shoot off his mouth and give PM Najib no face.
The partial scrapping of the bumiputra requirements was a bold move and one that has been long asked for.
PM Najib has made some good starts, I just hope legacy and stupidity (Yes, I mean you Dr M!) does not derail his plans.]