ON the night of March 31, 2009, M. Indira Gandhi was at home feeling apprehensive, knowing that her estranged husband would probably be showing up soon.
She was a little bit afraid that Muhammad Riduan Abdullah might get aggressive. Her husband had a history of domestic abuse, she would later claim in police reports and when speaking to others.
Earlier in the morning, they had an argument. He wanted a divorce.
That night he returned home, Riduan quarrelled with Indira Gandhi’s mother and two sisters. It was alleged that he hit his mother-in-law several times and slapped his two sisters-in-law.
The enraged Riduan then grabbed his 11-month-old daughter, Prasana Diksa, and fled on a motorcycle.
“At that time, I thought he would bring back our baby. He was like that. He came in and out of the house whenever he liked,” she said.
Two days later, without Indira Gandhi’s consent, he converted to Islam their three children – a 12-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son and Prasana – using their birth certificates.
Twenty days earlier, Riduan, who went by the name K. Pathmanathan when he married Indira Gandhi in April 1996, also converted to Islam.
It was a year after that fateful night that Indira Gandhi saw her baby again. This was when the Ipoh High Court granted her full custody of her children. It was also the last time she was with Prasana.
It was the beginning of her decade-long legal battle against Riduan and the system to get back her daughter.
Here are the key developments:
- Sept 29, 2009 – The Ipoh Syariah Court grants Riduan permanent custody of the three children.
- March 11, 2010 – The Ipoh High Court grants Indira Gandhi full custody of her children.
- July 25, 2013 – The Ipoh High Court annuls the children’s conversion, ruling that unilateral conversion was unconstitutional.
- May 30, 2014 – The Ipoh High Court orders Riduan arrested unless Prasana is returned by June 6.
- June 12, 2014 – After Riduan misses the June 6 deadline, the Ipoh High Court orders the police to locate Prasana.
- April 29, 2016 – The Federal Court orders the Inspector-General of Police to arrest Riduan for contempt of court.
- Jan 29, 2018 – The Federal Court unanimously declares unilateral conversion was unlawful.
When reading out a summary of the 99-page landmark decision, Justice Zainun Ali said consent of both parents must be sought and the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution should not be construed literally.
March 31 marks the 10th anniversary of Prasana’s abduction. Indira Gandhi said the last decade can’t be described with words.
“Until now, I have not seen my youngest daughter. If she is beside me today, I will not be able to recognise her. That is very heartbreaking. That is my trauma,” she told me in a telephone conversation.
The issue of her missing daughter, according to Indira Gandhi, has nothing to do with Prasana’s religion. She doesn’t care whether Prasana is a Muslim or a Hindu.
“As a mother, I want to hold my child, I want to see my child. All I want to know is how she looks like and what she has gone through in the last 10 years. I just want to talk to her,” she said.
What Prasana is missing, she said, are her biological mother, sister and brother.
“I don’t know whether she knows that we exist,” she said.
Last Saturday, the Indira Gandhi Action Team (Ingat) announced a RM10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Riduan or on the whereabouts of Prasana.
Ingat chairman Arun Dorasamy said the team was set up in the first week of August – about 100 days after the formation of the Pakatan Harapan government.
“There is a new government and we were really hoping that it would find the missing girl. But it wasn’t happening,” he said.
Instead of waiting for something to happen, Dorasamy and friends formed an investigation team to find Prasana.
“We can’t sit and watch a mother cry for her daughter,” he said.
The tip-offs from the public have been encouraging.
Since Saturday, Ingat has received hundreds of promising leads as well as some information that has turned out to be false.
So far, the investigators have found out that the 50-year-old fugitive has been spotted around southern Thailand and the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. He was said to be repeatedly slipping past the Thai-Malaysia border without proper documents.
Ingat has no information yet on Prasana. Her last known appearance was at a court in March 2010.
The Indira Gandhi story is not about conversion, Dorasamy said. It is instead a simple story of a working-class mother who lost her daughter 10 years ago.
Against all odds, Indira Gandhi won the legal cases. And yet, she has not been reunited with Prasana.
It is also a story about an 11-year-old girl who the system apparently has trouble locating.
How difficult is it to find her?
First published in The Star