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Garcia orders probe
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) board of management’s decision to refuse hijab-wearing On-the-Job-Trainee (OJT) Nafisah Nakhid on the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College compound is now being investigated as it directly contravenes section four of the Constitution.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia has already sought the advice of the Attorney General in the matter, noting the act “has far-reaching implications” and “there will not be a repeat”.
Nakhid was assigned to the school by the ministry but was refused entry when she reported for duty this week. A youtube.com personality who engages in discussion on several social issues, including Islam, Nakhid later took to her “Nafisah Talks” channel and highlighted the scenario. In the 16-minute video, Nakhid alleged she was told that Muslims wearing the hijab are not allowed on the school compound. She claimed she was told by a school official that if she wished to remain assigned to the school she would have to take off her hijab before entering the compound and keep it off until she is ready to leave. An emotional Nakhid said she was shocked this happened to her and she became very disoriented after the incident.
“Am I to be a Muslim via shift? Is my hijab a job? Does Allah give me a break?” Nakhid asked in the video.
Breaking down in tears in the video, Nakhid said she cannot change being a Muslim.
“I don’t understand how in 2018 this is happening. You have no idea how this affected me. I came home and was so disoriented, I was shocked that this happened to me and I needed to share this experience,” she said.
“It blows my mind that that is what we are doing in society today. Why we continue to separate these religions and why racists continue to divide our society? It hurt me, not because of the school and the organisation but as a human.”
Up to press time, there was already close to 6000 views.
In a release yesterday, Garcia described the incident as a “flagrant disregard of the laws enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The move, he said, “sets Trinidad and Tobago back in terms of the steps we have made for religious inclusion and tolerance.”
Garcia noted that Lakshmi Girls Hindu College is a government-assisted secondary school and therefore operates within the same guidelines of public schools in Trinidad and Tobago.
“No institution, organisation or person can create any rules that supersede those enshrined in our Constitution,” Garcia said.
“This is not the first instance of this kind in Trinidad and Tobago and a precedent has now been set by the cases that have been tried before. In 1995, in a case where a student and her family took on the school and the state for a similar issue, Justice Margot Warner gave a ruling that has since reinforced that it is unconstitutional to prohibit a child from the freedom of religious belief and observance. This has since guided the practice of religion at our schools and has been further extended to teachers, staff and in other professions.”
The School Supervision and Management Division of the ministry has been mandated to provide a full report of the incident, Garcia said.
Stemming from this incident, the ministry has also reminded principals to be aware of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and to be mindful of the human element in interactions where sensitive matters are concerned.
But Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj last night defended the decision in an interview with CNC3, saying Lakshmi Girls College is not a teacher training college. He said the body which assigns OJTs often asks them to take on these trainees and they sometimes do so, but said they are not obligated to train teachers. He said in any event, any individual who was accepted to teach in their schools would still have to conform to the code of conduct and behaviour of the institution. He confirmed, however, that there are both teachers and students at Lakshmi who are Muslim.
The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, part I, section 4.
It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely:
(h) Freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance;
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