Hindu mother Deepa Subramaniam may have lost custody of her son to her Muslim convert ex-husband following the Federal Court decision on Wednesday, but for her, the battle is far from over.
And she makes two other matters very clear: her children are Hindus and that Izwan Abdullah has no business advising her to embrace Islam.
The 32-year-old restaurant manager hit out against those who declared her children – Mithran, eight, and Sharmila, 11 – Muslims.
Who do they think they are? I am a Hindu and will raise them as Hindus,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
She also took issue with the justice system in Malaysia, which rewarded Izwan custody of her son despite him defying a court order in 2014, which granted Deepa custody of both children.
“We need better laws to safeguard women like me, when husbands go off and fall in love with Muslim women, and we end up being denied all our rights.
“What kind of justice is this?”
Despite what has happened to her, Deepa said she still loved this country for its diversity.
She said, however, there were still problems for people like her and M. Indira Gandhi who have been dragged into bitter custody battles simply because their former husbands converted and unilaterally converted their children.
“But what is worse is that there are many other women in our predicament who are afraid to come out in the open. They are so afraid to lose the children to their Muslim-convert spouses, that they are also embracing the religion, this is not right. It makes Islam look as if it forces people to convert,” Deepa said.
“There must be a more organised system and clear laws about conversion. And when someone wants to embrace Islam, they should do a background check on their reasons for wanting to convert and also interview the family members.
“And I wish to say this, the Islamic authorities should focus on Muslim children born out of wedlock, they should look after their wellbeing as Muslims. But instead these children are being cast aside.
“Look after your own people first, that is the beauty of any religion. And no religion would separate children from their mother.”
On Wednesday, the Federal Court awarded custody of Sharmila to Deepa and the son to Izwan in the interfaith custody dispute.
The apex court ruled that it was the civil court which decided the custody of children converted to Islam and that the Shariah court could not dissolve a civil marriage even when one party embraced Islam.
Both parents could visit their children at the home of Deepa’s mother, Siti Aishah Abdullah, in Jelebu once in two months on a Saturday, between 10am and 3pm, the court ordered.
Below are excerpts from the interview at which Deepa spoke candidly about the whole episode and her future plans.
TMI: How do you feel about the court awarding custody of your son to your ex, Izwan Abdullah?
Deepa: It’s heart-breaking and frustrating. I was looking forward to being reunited with my son because he was kidnapped and I trusted the court to rule in my favour.
I don’t understand how they could have just asked the children right then about who they wanted to live with.
They should have given my son space to live with me and then interview him later, since he was forcibly taken away from me.
TMI: What do you think your son said to the judges that made the court give Izwan custody?
Deepa: I think my son was brainwashed during the time he was separated from me.
I don’t understand why the court did it this way. Izwan defied a court order which gave me custody of my children.
But the court only ruled on custody, so I will be meeting my lawyers and the Women’s Aid Organisation to discuss what to do next.
TMI: In the meantime, how will you raise your children?
Deepa: To me, both of them are still Hindus. Who are they, those who pronounced my children as Muslims, to decide on the faith of my children?
I am a Hindu, I got married as a Hindu to a Hindu man.
I conceived and gave birth as a Hindu. So how can my children be Muslims?
I will raise and treat my children as Hindus.
After all, he is the one who left me, had an affair with a Malay girl and so on.
And by the way, in my 10 years of marriage, he not only physically abused me, he also did not provide for us financially.
He is also a known bad hat with a police record. Just get him to open his shirt, it’s full of gang tattoos. But suddenly now his past record seems to have been forgotten after he converted.
TMI: Most of your family members have converted to Islam as well. Were they supportive of your legal battle?
Deepa: I do not want to comment too much on my family as it is a separate matter. They found their calling in Islam and they converted.
But they did it out of their own free will – no one forced them to embrace Islam. But in my case, my children were unilaterally converted.
Having said that, my family do not discriminate against me or see me differently because I am a Hindu.
And they have been very supportive of me, for that I am grateful to them.
TMI: After the court case, your husband advised you to embrace Islam. Would you consider it?
Deepa: I just have this to say to him: mind your own business.
He should just look after his pregnant wife. He is nothing to me.
TMI: What is your next course of action?
Deepa: I still want justice and I will continue to fight for it without fear. If this country does not give people like me justice, Malaysia will be the laughing stock of the world. I will consult my lawyers and Women’s Aid on what to do next legally.
In the meantime, I will continue to work hard to give my children a good education and to raise them right. I am not rich but I work very hard.
I am also thankful to the lawyers and NGOs who have helped me a lot.
TMI: Your daughter is studying at an international school. Why did you make this choice and how can you afford the fees?
Deepa: As I said, I work very hard, I am a restaurant manager and also have income from a side business. But I also get help in the form of donations from NGOs and well-wishers.
I am proud to say my daughter is doing very well in school, there are no distractions, no pressure, no ridicule.
Unlike when she was enrolled in a government school in Negri Sembilan, one ustazah asked her to wear a tudung and they also tried to make her eat beef burger. I didn’t want her to go through this so I put her in an international school.
TMI: What is your advice to other women facing a similar predicament?
Deepa: Don’t be scared. Your husbands can leave you and enjoy themselves, but never give up on the children.
Stand up for your rights and be counted. The system in this country must be changed so that others like us can get justice. – February 14, 2016.
Source: The Malaysian Insider