It has been an abysmal year for most people, as a pandemic has turned daily life upside down. Yet, for Malaysian mother and kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi, it has been one more of 11 miserable years as she continues her epic battle to retrieve her daughter Prasana Diksa, kidnapped by her ex-husband in 2009.
The plight of Indira continues to grip Malaysia, with growing public support in the face of an increasingly embarrassed administration, which has repeatedly tried to sweep the whole sorry episode under the carpet, make Indira slink back to her home in the northern state of Perak and leave well enough alone.
Nevertheless, this lone mother has doggedly persisted in her marathon quest for justice, first taking on her husband, then the sharia (Islamic) court, then the police and ultimately the government.
By August 2020, it appeared that Indira was finally getting somewhere. Malaysia’s top cop, Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador, said officers were in negotiations with Muhammad Riduan Abdullah — Indira’s ex-husband, formerly known as K. Pathmanathan — who had been on the run since absconding with Prasana and was known to be living in southern Thailand.
However, while the local media seemed satisfied with this update, Indira was not. She quickly began asking when extradition proceedings would begin and rapidly lost patience when Hamid started making excuses again.
She had a point. Kidnapping is a serious crime north and south of the border, so why the need for protracted negotiations? If Hamid was giving her the whole story, then Riduan should have already been in custody and she should have been reunited with Prasana.
After a flurry of media interest, Hamid offered to meet Indira for a one-to-one off-the-record chat, but she refused. Some observers commented that he had wanted to persuade her to let the matter lie, given that he initially declined to meet her with her lawyer present.
Come October and she was threatening to walk barefoot 350km to federal police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to confront Hamid once again.
He asked her to be patient and began deflecting blame to the press for its negative reporting of the situation, which he said caused supposed negotiations with Riduan to collapse.
However, 11 years of prevaricating does tend to test even the patience of a saint, especially since a court mandated the police to find Riduan in 2014, an order reinforced by the highest court in the land four years later.
While Indira’s proposed march to bang her fists on Hamid’s door had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns across several states, she still had another card up her sleeve.
On Oct. 27, Indira filed a civil suit in the high court for MYR100 million (US $24.7 million) against Hamid, the police, the Home Ministry and the government, alleging deliberate failure to carry out their lawful duties.
Concurrently, her lawyers also filed contempt of court proceedings against the police for failing to act on the 2014 court order, where they allege none of 79 witness statements supposedly taken in the case have been filed.
The cases were delayed by the lockdown but finally got underway shortly before Christmas.
Unlike previous trips to court, where Indira’s goal was to drive a reluctant police force on to the next stage of its investigation, it now seems that she is trying to legally expose the police for what it really is: The enforcer of government policy, as opposed to enforcing the law.
It is a widely held notion among Malaysia’s urban liberals that the police work for the prime minister and seem to have little interest in proper policing.
Critics of the government are rounded up at lightning speed, while cops take a glacial approach to any case where the government or a Muslim (accused by a non-Muslim) may be at fault.
The hostility is fomented by the police’s refusal to accept civilian oversight.
Moreover, in a society where senior figures are beyond reproach, they can make obtuse statements without fear of repercussion.
This is the very ethos that Indira is challenging: For the past 12 months Hamid has been telling the world at large that everything humanly possible is being done to retrieve Prasana, a standard line from a senior civil servant, despite obvious evidence to the contrary.
The Federal Court has already instructed the police to carry out their duties, so while Indira cannot make them do any more, she is trying to punish them for not doing anything at all.
The judges believe there is merit to Indira’s position, instructing the police, the ministry and the government to enter a defence in both cases. How the trials develop will be made apparent in the new year.
However, this could well be the last throw of the legal dice for Indira, who has exhausted all other legal avenues to be reunited with her daughter.
It may be small comfort to her that, to date, she has the backing of the courts but the government’s track record of accepting judicial decisions at its own convenience will be of no comfort at all.
Gareth Corsi is a freelance journalist based in Malaysia. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.