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Mother’s Day in Malaysia this year has become very grim and bleak because of gender-insensitivities of BN MPs as well as increasing incidence of family break-ups because of religion

Speech in the debate on the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and National Service (part 2)        
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday) : Mother’s Day on Sunday in Malaysia this year has become very grim and bleak because of gender-insensitivities of Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs as well as increasing incidence in the country of family break-ups because of religion. 

I will not go into the disgraceful episode in the last two days of two BN MPs dishonouring women and Parliament with their crude, sexist and gender-offensive remarks. 

There is also the other heart-rending development of increasing incidence of families being broken up because of religion, whether Subashini, Marimuthu, Revathi, Benedict Gopal or Magendran - all very cases.  

Take the case of rubber-tapper Marimuthu who was happily married to Raimah Bibi a/p Noordin  for  21 years with seven children but who was forcibly separated from them on the ground that his wife was a Muslim. Although Marimuthu has got back all his children, the family is broken up as the children do not have a mother with them in the house and Raimah Bibi is separated from the husband and children – although there can be no doubt that they would want to be reunited as one family again but religion is standing in the way. 

All religions inculcate good values of family love, compassion and unity and no religion would work to disrupt happy families. 

This trend is most unhealthy and disruptive of family unity and development, national integration and inter-religious understanding and harmony and warrants the most urgent attention for a solution to be found to stop more and more  break-up of families because of religion. 

In this connection, I notice a conspicuous omission in the interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Unity and  National Service – as there is no reference whatsoever to the controversy over Article 121(1A) of the Malaysian Constitution. 

The 1988 amendment of Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution was to provide to Muslims the constitutional protection for their rights to be adjudicated in syariah courts without detracting any rights from non-Muslims. 

I have no doubt that if during the parliamentary debate in March 1988 on the Constitution Amendment Bill 1988 which enacted Article 121(1A), an MP had the foresight to ask whether the intention was to create injustices and family griefs like the Subashini, Moorthy, Rayappan, Marimuthu, Revathi, Benedict Gopal and Magendran cases, or to erode and  undermine the constitutional rights of non-Muslim Malaysians to seek legal redress in civil court rather than in syariah court, the answer would have been a clear “No” in both instances.

By enacting Article 121(1A), Parliament never intended to take away even one iota of the constitutional rights of non-Muslims to be fully adjudicated under civil law and not under syariah law.

Why then has the implementation of Article 121(1A) been allowed to create grave strain and stress to Malaysia’s plural society of diverse races and religions?

If there is uncertainty in the interpretation and implementation of Article 121(1A) as to create a situation never intended by Parliament, it is the duty of Parliament  to rectify it. While Article 121(1A) remains in the Constitution, there should be a new Article 121(1B) to make it clear that Article 121(1A) does not derogate from non-Muslim Malaysians any rights which they had enjoyed without challenge before the 1988 Constitution amendment. 

When the Parliamentary Select Committee prepares its final report, it should take a clear stand to support Article 121(1B) amendment of the Constitution to clearly restore to non-Muslim Malaysians the Merdeka “social contract” and their constitutional right not to be adversely affected by Syariah law and courts.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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