AUGUST 11 — I had, in 2009 in my capacity as president of both the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and the Malaysia Hindu Sangam, taken up the issue of unilateral conversion of infants to the cabinet through a discussion arranged by the then Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Khoon. It was attended by four other ministers, including Muslim ministers, on a Friday afternoon.
This was held about a week after Indira Gandhi's 11-month-old baby daughter (still being breastfed) was taken away by the father and converted to Islam. The other two children were converted "using birth certificates," and without the children being physically present. I have always made it clear in all my statements that I considered that action as grossly unethical.
In that discussion in 2009 which lasted almost two hours, all present were disturbed in the manner the conversion was done, particularly grabbing away a breastfeeding baby. I was hopeful then when the ministers concerned said they were of the view that a way to stop unilateral conversion would be discussed by the cabinet. In the meantime, our MCCBCHST members had several discussions with these cabinet members before the meeting the next Wednesday.
The cabinet then announced that it had made a decision that a child of a non-Muslim marriage would remain in the religion of the parents at the time of the marriage until the child attained the age of 18. Together with many others, I welcomed this decision as a suitable position given our multi-religious community.
Many long discussions were held with the Attorney General’s Chambers, and eventually a set of proposed amendments were agreed by the Cabinet. Then, for some reason, the cabinet decided then that the matter should go to the Conference of Rulers. No further news was heard about the proposed laws after that.
The leadership of the MCCBCHST, and women’s groups, have over the years continued to persuade the cabinet to reintroduce the Bill.
Finally, late last year, amidst the uproar over the government’s support of the proposal by Hadi Awang to legalise hudud, the cabinet agreed to table a proposal in the parliament. Even the PM made a public statement that the issue was resolved. The first reading was done, but deferred to the next session.
It then appeared that the government received objections from certain Muslim religious groups stating that their decision on the way forward is unconstitutional.
Like other non-Muslim citizens in the country, I am shocked that some say it is unconstitutional for our children to be deemed as remaining in the religion they were born in and the religion in which we brought them up just because one parent changes his religion.
How could this be so? I believe the Muslim NGOs and the attorney general have quoted the Federal Court decision on Subashini's children stating that one parent's approval is enough.
In my opinion the constitution never said "one parent." It says "parent." It also says words in the singular include the plural, where necessary.
Subashini was also a parent to her child, as is Indira Gandhi to hers. Where was their approval to the conversion of their children? How could the court effectively decide that the father there is the only parent? Surely, the views of the other parent must be obtained and her consent must also be obtained.
We in Malaysia consider the courts as impartial and fair and as not being biased. We look to them as not having abdicated from their duties of being neutral and fair to all irrespective of one's race or religion. Similarly, the attorney general is meant to protect the law for all Malaysians, and the prime minister is meant to administer the country for the good of all Malaysians.
Therefore, I appeal to all concerned to reconsider their views and opinions. Laws must be made and policies implemented in a manner that is just, humane and compassionate.
* Press statement by Datuk A. Vaithilingam, former president of MCCBCHST and Malaysia Hindu Sangam, on August 11, 2017.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.