9 May, 2007 l 1437 hrs IST,www.timesofindia.com
My last visit to Kuala Lumpur and its outskirts showcased a vibrant, futuristic society which boasted a booming economy and the strength to resist "western pressures", as they tried to put it. "We are different and more progressive than any other Muslim country in the world", said an official, presenting me with a souvenir model of the much-hyped Multi-Media Super Corridor and a heap of statistics which claimed, among other things, an "average annual growth rate of about 7%, while GDP doubled to reach an estimated RM219.4 billion (US $57.7 billion) in 2002. Exports and imports have almost quadrupled to reach RM349.6 billion (US $92.0 billion) and RM298.5 billion (US $78.6 billion) respectively, placing Malaysia among the world's top 20 trading nations. The manufacturing sector now accounts for 30.4% of Malaysia's GDP while exports of manufactured goods make up 86.5% of the country's total exports. From being the world's largest producer of rubber and tin, Malaysia is today one of the world's leading exporters of semiconductor devices, computer hard disk drives, audio and video products, and room air-conditioners." With 85.4 per cent women literacy rate and a separate ministry for women, Malaysia claims to be the most progressive Muslim majority country. Unfortunately, it has one again proved that high education, modernity or the rising standards of living have no direct bearing on human values or an egalitarian civil behaviour. Like the 9/11 "martyrs", who were born and bred in a free, democratic civil society, Malay rulers too have fallen victim to extreme forms of religious fanaticism, at the same time wishing to project their country as a "truly Asian" destination. Of late, minorities are subjected to persecution and barbarism that was unheard of a couple of years ago. Temples are razed, Islamic rites are forced through Sharia even on those who are non-Muslims, and freedom to worship and propagate one's religion has to pass through the laws of Mullahcracy, which has shown a power to undo any modernism and mullah-promised tolerance to a different view point and freedom of religious practices. On April 18, Associated Press released a news item which concerned Indians, as much as the Virginia Tech incident, yet none of the Indian newspapers carried it. It spoke about the breaking of an ethnic Indian family because of the strange law regarding Islamic belief and social life. It also highlighted the divisive confusion prevailing in Malaysia which wants to modernize on the western model as well as keep its Islamic character warped in the 12th century model intact and be visibly vibrant at the same time. And this has affected in a brutal fashion the lives of more than 1.7 million Hindus, mostly of Tamil origin, there. The story involves Revathi Masoosai, an ethnic Indian, who is being forced to live as a Muslim by the Islamic Religious Department in southern Malacca state, after it was discovered that although she was born to Muslim parents, she has chosen to live as a Hindu. In Malaysia, Islamic law forbids people born to Muslim families to change religion, hence not only was Revathi detained by the Islamic Religious Department and sent for "religious counselling in a rehabilitation Centre" (which translates to being forced to reconvert to Islam by the state authorities), her 15-month-old daughter too was taken away from her husband and handed over to Revathi's Muslim mother to be raised as a Muslim.
According to the report, "Revathi married Suresh in 2004 according to Hindu rites but the marriage has not been legally registered because Suresh would have had to convert to Islam first. Revathi's official identification documents state she is Muslim because Malaysians who are born Muslims cannot legally change their religion." So here is a state government which intervenes in citizens' private lives, forces them to choose a faith recommended by the state, and breaks a family if they refuse. If this can happen in a country which boasts of modern education, scientific and technological progress and propagates itself as representing the spirit of Asia through ad campaigns like –"Malaysia-Truly Asia", one can imagine what would be the situation in other lesser modern or educated Islamic countries. Democratic Action Party officials said that Revathi was born to Muslim parents who gave her a Muslim name Siti Fatimah, but she was raised as a Hindu by her grandmother and she changed her name in 2001 to Revathi. After her marriage to Suresh in 2004, she wanted to live happily, even though the law didn't allow them to register their marriage, as that would have necessitated Suresh converting to Islam. Why? Because the law prohibits a girl born to a Muslim family from marrying a non-Muslim. But they married, had a sweet girl child born out of this wedlock. Revathi was arrested this January and sent for "rehabilitation", but she refused to leave her newly chosen religion and her husband during her 100-day detention which expired last Wednesday (April 18), so the infuriated Sharia court has extended her detention by another 80 days and, meanwhile, her little daughter was "seized" by the police from Suresh's place and given to Revathi's Muslim mother to raise her as a Muslim. Parliamentary opposition chief Lim Kit Siang, who chairs the DAP has said in a statement that, "It is sad and tragic this heart-rending tale of the father, mother and baby girl being forcibly separated into three different locations by law and religion...when law and religion come together to break the family, it gives a bad name to our country. Something is very wrong and it must be put right." That's the latest from "Malaysia - truly Asia". And this is not the first case of brutal assault on Hindus in "modern" Malaysia. Some time back, a Hindu mountaineer was forcibly buried as per Islamic rites because the local court felt he had converted to Islam some time back. Malay Hindus have approached the UN to have such atrocities stopped and given a long list of the temples razed by local authorities since 1985. Temple destruction and forcible conversion to Islam have become a routine so much so that Waytha Moorthy, the chairman of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), had to give a warning to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to halt the temple destruction move and respect the rights of Hindus otherwise the Hindus would not just keep on waiting, wailing and pleading. There was a time when the Asian spirit was represented by Buddha and Gandhi. Now should we allow it to be expressed through Islamic terror?