Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kula: Back to square one if marriage and divorce bill not tabled

KUALA LUMPUR: For DAP MP M Kulasegaran, it is back to square one dealing with cases involving non-Muslims and their Muslim partners.

Disappointed that there were tell-tale signs that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2016 would not be tabled at the Dewan Rakyat this sitting, he recalled his first two cases he had to deal with in the mid-1980s that set him on his journey to push for the bill.

The first was a Sikh man caught in close proximity with a Muslim woman. Kula said the Sikh man was forced to convert and get married to the Muslim lady.

Not knowing his rights, Kula said the man had converted but divorced his wife several years later.

The second case was a Hindu man who married a Muslim lady after his Hindu wife packed her bags and left to her parents’ home with their three children.

“After she left, he used to buy nasi lemak. He got married (to the nasi lemak seller) and became a Muslim.

“After having two children, he wanted to go back to the first wife but couldn’t.

“He went to the third floor and committed suicide. He was only 34,” Kula told FMT.

Under Malaysian law, he said the father’s property goes to the Muslim side of the family.

“Is this fair? The Hindu wife and her kids do not get anything. It is no fault of the children.”

Kula said this issue is addressed in the reform bill waiting to be tabled.

The civil litigation and criminal lawyer for 33 years said there was so much excitement on Nov 21, 2016 when the government finally said they will table the bill.

“For many people, it was a dream come true. So many people are suffering. Family trauma and all that would have been put to rest with this amendment.”

He said the bill was one of the most progressive and far-sighted bills which filled the hearts and minds of everyone.

“It is rarest kind of bill filled with retrospect effectiveness.”

Clarifying “retrospect effectiveness”, he said it would have had answers to many cases he handled in court where a man and wife were not able to fight their case in civil courts after one of them brought along a certificate proving he or she had converted to Islam.

He said the bill, which addressed the issue, would have allowed families to conclude their case in civil courts.

“Anyone wanting to be a Muslim, they can do it. No qualms. That is between that person and God. But these people underwent a civil marriage and they should settle their differences in the civil court first.”

Unfortunately, he said these cases will be left unsolved if the bill is not tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.

He cited another case where a multi-millionaire father had refused to support his children’s education.

“I took up the case. I lost in court. Now, the reform bill looks into this issue.

“To see this in print in the act was a joy as a father is compelled to finance his children’s education if he is capable under this bill.”

He also touched on young children who are converted without their knowledge and input. “They are caught in a limbo. What do you do with them? Why don’t the authorities address the issue?”

Kula is the lawyer for M Indira Gandhi, whose former husband K Pathmanathan converted to Islam on March 11, 2009, taking the name of Muhammad Riduan Abdullah. He left the house three weeks later with their youngest child.

On April 2, 2009, he converted all three children to Islam without their knowledge and presence, and without Indira’s consent. He went to the shariah court several days later to obtain custody over them.

Indira’s eldest daughter, Tevi Darsiny, is now an adult at 20 while her brother, Karan Dinish, turns 19 in October. They are old enough to decide their own faiths.

Nine-year-old Prasana Diksa’s location remains unknown after being snatched by Riduan seven years ago.

Kula hopes Barisan Nasional component parties, MCA and MIC, will come forward to make sure no one “rolls back the carpet”.

Kula had said in the third week of the parliamentary session that the bill was pushed down to No 8, which indicates there is no priority in getting the bill passed.

The current sitting of the Dewan Rakyat ends on April 6.

The bill puts in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversion of minors to Islam, and addresses disputes due to the dissolution of marriage arising from a conversion by making clear that the couple can divorce in a civil court and not in a shariah court.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

‘Why no priority in pushing marriage and divorce reform bill?’

KUALA LUMPUR: DAP’s Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran is concerned that an important legislative amendment that would address problems on the issue of a married spouse converting to Islam will not be presented in the current sitting of Parliament as has been scheduled.

Kula said there are tell-tale signs that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2016 may in fact never be debated and passed.

“The above bill was to be debated this week as it was listed as No. 4 in the Order Paper of Parliament for the last two weeks,” he said in a statement today.

“Now, in the third week of the parliamentary session, it has been pushed down to No. 8. This clearly indicates there is no priority in getting this bill passed,” he added.

The current sitting of the Dewan Rakyat ends on April 6.

The bill was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said on Nov 21.

It puts in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversions of minors to Islam, and addresses disputes due to dissolution of marriage arising from a conversion by making clear that the couple can divorce in a civil court and not in a shariah court.

Kulasegaran said he had been made to understand there are “powerful people” who want the bill to be withdrawn at all costs.

The DAP vice-chairman said he had been hearing from the grapevine that the bill may not see “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

He urged Prime Minister Najib Razak to keep to his promise on seeing the amendment through and not to give in to “ultras”.

“Any delay in approving the bill, which is already eight years too late, will make many to continue to suffer in silence,” he said, noting that the cabinet had decided in 2009 that unilateral conversion would be banned.

“This bill would have addressed this and many shortcomings surrounding non-Muslim issues,” said Kula, who is also the counsel for M Indira Gandhi, who is challenging the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim convert ex-husband.

He said Najib had given an assurance at the government’s Women’s Day Celebration on Aug 25, 2016, when he said the cabinet had agreed that the amendment would be tabled at the next parliamentary sitting.

Najib had then said the amendment to the law would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and shariah courts.

“The decision was made after demands that we resolve the problem… If the couple is married under civil law, then we should settle the divorce under civil law,” Najib had said.

“I believe this is a just move that is in line with what Islam demands of us,” he said in his speech.

Kula added that he had met the presidents of MCA and MIC in the last days of the parliamentary sitting in December 2016 to push for the bill to be approved.

“They assured me there was no hurry as definitely in the next session all will be achieved by passing of the bill,” he said.

“It looks like now both the MCA and MIC presidents have been side-stepped and their assurances has gone down the drain,” he said. “Thus the promise by the PM and his cabinet is just an eye wash.”

Kula questioned why there was a sudden change of mind. “Who is blocking this bill from being debated and passed?”

He said many Malaysians would be disappointed by a move to defer or to withdraw the bill.

“Has the government of the day lost its political will to bring a harmonious life for distressed married couples?”

He added that he was the first to congratulate the government when the bill was tabled in Parliament on Nov 21.

“Many Malaysians are suffering in silence, especially unfortunate children who have been converted to Islam by a parent,” he had said then. “Many are also unable to move on from this predicament and with their lives.”