Thursday, December 24, 2009

Banggarma sues to declare conversion unlawful

The Sun
Himanshu Bhatt

GEORGE TOWN (Dec 23, 2009) : S. Banggarma, 27, who claims to have been illegally converted to Islam while at a government welfare home about 20 years ago, today took legal action to declare her conversion unlawful.

Banggarma, whose identity card carries the name Siti Hasnah Vangarama binti Abdullah, is seeking a court declaration that the conversion process was unlawful as she was then a child, and that the conversion certificate is "ineffective, null and void ab initio".

In a civil suit filed at the Penang High Court today, she is also seeking to have the name on her IC changed to her Hindu one, and for the designation 'Islam' to be deleted from the card.

Named as defendants in her suit were former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his capacity as president of the Muslim Welfare Organisation Malaysia (Perkim), then Perkim official Raimi Abdullah, the Penang Islamic Council (MAIPP) and the Penang City Kadi (Islamic judge).

The suit does not seek any monetary compensation.

Banggarma who was accompanied by her husband, fisherman S. Sockalingam, 31, and their two children S. Kanagaraj, 8, and S. Hisyanthini, 2, and some supporters, later performed a Hindu ritual of smashing a coconut in front of the court house, to invoke blessings.

In her affidavit, Banggarma said she was taken by Raimi and Muballigh officials from the MAIPP, to the Kadi to be converted into a Muslim on Dec 28, 1989 where she was then instructed by the Kadi to take the affirmation of faith, the 'Kalimah Syahadah’ in their presence.

She stressed that she did not and could not have, at that time, understood the contents and meaning of the words in the Declaration to Convert into Islam certificate which she was asked to recite, utter and execute.

"As a child of merely seven years of age, I did not have any choice except to obey the directions given by the defendants to take the affirmation of oath," she said.

She said she was ignorant that her conversion process was defective and bad in law, and that she could legally challenge it, until she had been advised about it by her solicitor.

"Banggarma is seeking the court’s assistance to solve her predicament of having been unlawfully converted into Islam when she was seven years old, so that she may be able to live her life and practise her Hindu faith freely and openly," said her lawyer Gooi Hsiao Leung in a statement.

Gooi said the decision was made after the MAIPP had been unhelpful when approached.

"Even more worrying is that the fact that after Banggarma’s case was highlighted, the police went to Banggarma’s home looking for her without giving any reasons whatsoever," he added.

"We are concerned about Banggarma’s safety and we call upon the authorities to show restraint and not to harass our client, pending this legal action," he added.