The United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur has reportedly nominated M Indira Gandhi for the US Department of State’s International Women of Courage award, according to a report by Free Malaysia Today.
The kindergarten teacher had recently won a long and highly publicised court battle against her ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, in which the Federal Court made a landmark decision to end unilateral religious conversions of minors.
Speaking to Malaysiakini, an embassy spokesperson confirmed the nomination, and noted that a reception will be held at the residence of US Ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, in conjunction with International Women’s Day 2018 and Women’s History Month celebrations in the US.
Indira’s ex-husband - then known as Pathmanathan Krishnan - had converted himself and the couple’s three children to Islam in March 2009, and took their youngest daughter Prasana Diksa away with him.
The court battle soon ensued, which involved Riduan and Indira each obtaining contradictory child custody awards from the civil court and the syariah court.
This culminated in the Federal Court decision on Jan 29 this year, nullifying the three children’s conversion certificates.
In its verdict, the court said the word “parent” in Article 12(4), which deals with the religion of minors ought to be interpreted as plural, meaning that the religion of a child should be decided by both the father and mother, if both are still present.
“To allow the other spouse to unilaterally convert the children without the consent of the wife would amount to a serious interference of lifestyle. In our view, the case of Teoh Eng Huat vs Kadhi Pasir Mas and another, does not stand for the proposition that the word 'parent' in Article 12 (4) means a single parent.
“It is noted that in translating Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, it would appear that the real essence of the English version is eluded. It is literally a case of being lost in translation.
“The reason parent is used in Article 12 (4) is to provide for a situation where indeed there is only one parent of the child i.e. single parent situation. But where both parents exist, then the Eleventh Schedule shall be relied upon,” said Federal Court judge Zainun Ali, who read the court’s unanimous decision.
According to its official website, the US Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award has been awarded annually since 2007.
The award honours “women around the globe who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk”.
Up to 10 women have been presented with the award each year, and each US Embassy and diplomatic mission may each nominate one person from its host country.
A past Malaysian winner of the award was former Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan, in 2009, for championing the rule of law, and she was the first Malaysian to win the award.
The second Malaysian to win the award was transgender rights advocate Nisha Ayub in 2016, who is also the first transwoman to win the award.
The late Tenaganita chairperson and human rights activist Irene Fernandez was nominated for the award in 2013, but she did not win.
Read Malaysiakini’s interview with Indira here.