Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bad taste

I’m sorry. Perception of Raimah is fast changing from tragic-heroic exemplar into a full-blown tragic-mistake. According to a Malaysiakini interview, it seems her plight was a result of a blunder brought on by the poor woman’s ignorance.

Raimah claimed that she was “misled” into signing the custody agreement and wants to take action against her husband’s lawyer, Karpal Singh.

“I am illiterate, and my husband’s lawyer did not explain the letter to me in detail. He told me to sign and I signed it. I am going to file a case against him. Now, I don’t have any rights over the children, you have all the rights,” an upset Raimah told her husband.

“Nobody comes to see me, not even the children. Even if the children are sick, only my husband can take them to the clinic. When the children were with me, many people came to see us. They gave rice and other things. They gave RM150 for expenses. But since the court case ended, nobody has come.”

Raimah remained unconvinced when her husband explained that the letter was read to her in court and that she was still their mother, no matter what.

“What more do you want? You get to visit them. I have only been given custody of the children. After they turn 18, they can decide for themselves,” said Marimuthu, 44, to his wife.

“Is seeing them enough?” retorted Raimah in tears.

“When they are above 18 and suppose they want to follow my religion, would you allow them? I was the one who got cheated. I was stupid to sign the (custody) letter.
“He (Marimuthu) wanted the children and I signed the letter, and now his problem is solved but I am left alone. I have just have one daughter staying with me but I have no rights over her either.”

A lot of bloggers (me included) went to town speculating about possible duress, Raimah’s ‘ultimate sacrifice,’ etc. The whole business is dreadful nonetheless as you can see. Whether she was misled is not the point, I think, but what followed in the wake of the controversy. To think that at the end of that tug-of-war, her well-being has become totally inconsequential. Where are the religious authorities now, so keen to assert control? Was a family broken up just to score a point?

Asked if he knew that his wife is a Muslim when they got married, Marimuthu said her identity card states her name as ‘Raimah Bibi a/p (or ‘daughter of’) Noordin’ and not binti (the Muslim equivalent).

“In her MyKad (which she obtained recently), her name is stated as Raimah binti Noordin and her religion as Islam. This is what caused all the problems,” he said.

Raimah, who is shown wearing a tudung (head scarf) in the MyKad photograph, said she has been a Muslim from birth, but her husband claimed that she never informed him about this.

“He said ‘if you had told me this, I would not have married you’. In the old identity card, all my family members have a/p (typically used for Indian Malaysian names) instead of binti.

“I got mine changed to binti a few months back but he (Marimuthu) claims that someone had added it. How can he not know I am a Muslim? Both Raimah and Nordin are Muslim names.”

Asked why their marriage was not legally registered, Marimuthu replied that it was not an important thing to do at the time.

Raimah revealed that she had approached the religious authorities on her own accord and informed them that she was a Muslim. However, her husband does not believe this.

Asked how the problem could be solved, Ramiah replied: “I already told them that I am a Muslim. How can I turn back again now, especially after the whole country knows the case? They (the Islamic authorities) will not allow me to turn back.”

On why she decided to do this after more than two decades of marriage, she said: “I did this because I thought all of us would become Muslims. I never thought he (Marimuthu) would do all this (take the matter to court). If I had known, I wouldn’t have revealed that I'm Muslim.”

Raimah also disclosed that she had not informed her husband of her intention to meet the religious authorities.

Marimuthu ruled out the possibility of converting so that the family can live together again. He also claimed that he was offered rewards such as a loan and land in return for his conversion.

“I was born a Hindu and that’s how I wish to remain. If this question was posed to me six years ago, I might have agreed because I was forced to sleep with my family on the streets when our squatter house in Ampang was demolished.

“But everyone, including Malay leaders that I approached for help, wanted money in return. Nobody helped me, so why I should convert?”

On whether he would reconsider his decision for the sake of his children, Marimuthu was firm about raising them as Hindus and said he is prepared to face any hardship that arises.

The rubber tapper, who earns between RM500 and RM1,200 a month depending on the weather, said: “I am confident I can take care of them even if I have to do it alone. I am content with the current arrangement, where my wife comes and visits the children.

“When the children are old enough, let them decide which religion they want to follow. They (the religious authorities) have separated me from my wife in the name of religion, but they cannot separate her from the children. For that, I am happy.”

Marimuthu claimed that, prior to this problem, religion had never been issue between him and his wife.

“No matter what problems we faced, we were happy together.”

In the past, he said, Raimah lived like a Hindu and was not averse to frequenting temples.

Recalling the day that his wife and children were taken away, Marimuthu said he suffered from mental and emotional anguish.

“I couldn’t sleep or eat. I was like a mad man. It is this that drove an uneducated man like me to seek help from DAP and go right up to Parliament. I was afraid that they would convert my children,” he added.

Raimah admitted that she lied to Marimuthu that she was going out to get medicine, but had gone to the Islamic affairs office instead.

“Contrary to what my husband thinks, I did not do this because I wanted to leave him. I still want to be with him. But he thinks someone has influenced me to do this,” she said.

“I always wanted to do this (return to being a practising Muslim). I had this idea for a long time, but did not know how to go about it. Although, I went to temples and performed prayers, I could not forget my religion.”

At least the man's got his head on his shoulders, saying he preferred their children to decide what religion to follow when they're "old enough." Choice - that's a fundamental right that even a simple man like Marimuthu understands. Still, say what you like about the business being all settled; there is a lingering bad taste in the mouth. Right now a woman’s cast out and at risk, and a family needs help. After the brouhaha, mouths need feeding.

Watch the 3-minute video.

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