Fight against forcible Islamic conversion

S Banggarma, who was declared “a Muslim” by the Penang High Court on Aug 4, defied the Islamic authorities and demonstrated her Hindu belief by carrying “paal kudam” (pot of milk) at a temple festival here last Friday. 

The mother of two offered her penance to Hindu goddess Mariamman at Sri Muthu Mariamman Kovil fire-walking festival in Dennis Town Estate in the morning together with hundreds of Hindu devotees.

She carried the paal kudam for a kilometre from nearby Sri Muneeswarar Kovil to Sri Muthu Mariamman Kovil seeking the divine’s blessing and intervention to help her overcome her battle with the Islamic authorities.

“I want to show to the world that I am a Hindu... no one has the right to change it. I will live and die a Hindu,” she told FMT later.

Judicial Commissioner Yaakob Sam declared in his 40-minute oral judgment that the 28-year-old mother of two was a Muslim and therefore would have to resolve her “unwitting conversion” dispute with the Syariah Court.

Banggarma, whose Muslim name is Siti Hasnah Vangarama Abdullah, instantly brushed aside the verdict as “unfair and unrealistic”.

Her lawyer Gooi Hsiao Leung has prepared documents to file an appeal soon against Yaacob’s decision at the Court of Appeal.

Banggarma is married to fisherman S Sockalingam in Tanjung Piandang, Perak, in 2000 and has two children -- Kanagaraj, nine, and Hisyanthini, three.

'Unwittingly converted'

Banggarma claimed that she was unwittingly converted by the state Islamic religious authorities at the age of seven while she was staying in a welfare home in Kepala Batas, Penang.

Banggarma’s birth certificate revealed that she was born a Hindu on Aug 13, 1982, in Keratong, Pahang, to plantation workers B Subramaniam and Latchumy Ramadu.

She fled the home with a few inmates when she was 16.

She discovered her “conversion” only when she wanted to register her marriage with Sockalingam.

Several involuntary Muslim converts such as Rani from Malacca, Ragina Mohd Zaini alias Krishnan, her sister, Rajiwah a/p Krishnan alias Mohd Zaini, and brother Rajeni Mohd Zaini, all, from Johor Baru, were also at the festival.

Rani was born to a Muslim mother but as a 16-day-old baby, was adopted and brought up as a Hindu by a Hindu family.

She has practised Hinduism even though her identity card stipulated her as a Muslim.

However, recently the state Islamic authorities stormed into her house and forcibly circumcised and converted her Hindu husband M Muniandy into Islam.

Rani’s children, too, are facing the same predicament.

The Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf ) and its political off-spring Human Rights Party (HRP) are carrying a nationwide signature campaign protesting forced conversion of Hindus to Islam in the country.

Bullying tactic

Hindraf legal adviser and HRP secretary-general P Uthayakumar slammed the Umno-led federal government for its bullying tactic to convert Hindus into Islam.

He alleged that since independence, the Umno government had systematically built up an overwhelmingly Malay-dominated civil service, army and police to instil fear and carry out the bullying tactic on non-Muslims.

“Such forced conversions in a democratic society only happen in Malaysia... not even in the largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia,” he said.

He said the Indonesia Parliament had even passed the Race Discrimination Act in 2008 to outlaw all forms of racism, racial discrimination and religious extremism in the country.

“As the largest Muslim country, Indonesia could have easily implemented the Islamic state and hudud law, but it chose to remain universally secular and protect the minority.

“Indeed in all democratic societies, the majority protects the minority rights, interests and benefits.

“But not in Malaysia. Here the majority suppresses and oppresses the minorities.

‘If you don’t call this ethnic-cleansing, what do you called it then?” asked Uthayakumar, who performed prayers at the festival.

Hindraf and HRP erected a panthal (canopy shed) at the festival displaying anti-forced conversion banners.

Prayers were also performed by their supporters for the rights of Banggarama and others to practise Hinduism in accordance with Article 11 of the Federal Constitution (freedom of religion).

So far 5,000 signatures have been collected in Perak alone, including 1,200 at Friday’s festival, for the anti-forced conversion campaign.

Perak Hindraf-HRP coordinator P Ramesh said the group, together with Muslim converts, would submit a memorandum on the issue to Sultan Azlan Shah at Istana Kinta, Ipoh, on Sunday. 

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