Tuesday, August 10, 2010

US-based HAF calls Banggarma verdict 'religiously discriminatory'

KUALA LUMPUR: US-based The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has condemned the Penang High Court decision to deny 28 year old Siti Hasnah Banggarma the right to change her religion back to Hinduism.

After a long, drawn out court battle, Banggarma was left with little hope as Justice Mohammed Yacoob Sam referred the case contesting her conversion to the Syariah Court.

Banggarma, born a Hindu, claimed that state authorities forcibly converted her to Islam at the age of seven while she was under the care of a government-run orphanage.

She later married a Hindu in a traditional Hindu ceremony, but could not officially register her marriage nor could she list her Hindu husband as the father of their children on birth certificates.

Malaysian law requires any non-Muslim marrying a Muslim to convert to Islam before a marriage is legally recognized.

“The right to religious freedom has continued to erode in Malaysia, and minorities continue to suffer,” said Professor Ramesh Rao, HAF’s Human Rights Coordinator.

“This case, which was covered in HAF’s 2009 human rights report, is yet another of example of officially sanctioned religious discrimination and coercion."

Although Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, minorities, particularly ethnic Indians and Hindus, have continued to face serious discrimination over the years.

HAF’s annual Hindu human rights report, 'Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2009', documented the discrimination, intimidation and persecution faced by Malaysia’s minority Hindu population.

The Foundation has also supported the work of Hindraf, a human rights organization that monitors, documents and publicly highlights human rights abuses faced by the country’s minority Hindu population.

“We hope that Banggarma will eventually be permitted to return to the faith of her birth,” added Rao.

“HAF will continue to monitor this case along with the litany of human rights abuses in Malaysia.“

The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.