The Trinidad Guardian reported that “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;”
Trinidad Opposition Leader Condemns The Discrimination Against OJT
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar is urging the board of Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College to reconsider their decision to deny OJT Nafisah Nakhid the opportunity to train there and she is also calling on the Education Minister and Attorney General to move swiftly to have this matter resolved.
Persad-Bissessar said yesterday that the matter is “not a political one” but rather was one of “natural justice, equality and fairness”.
Responding to public concerns about the decision by the Maha Sahba to prevent Nakhid from taking up a job because she was wearing a hijab, Persad-Bissessar said while she agrees that a dress code is appropriate at schools, “the reality is a hijab cannot be classed in the same category as hats, capes, sleeveless dress or see-through mini-skirts”. (See letters on Pages A20 & A21)
A hijab, she said, is “sacred wear for Muslim women and they should be free to wear such without let or hinder.”
She said the “hurt that Ms Nakhid and her family must feel is understandable. Equally hurtful would be if a Hindu person were to be barred from wearing a Raksha or a Christian person barred from wearing a cross.”
Persad-Bissessar said what is “highly commendable” is that Nakhid had chosen to follow a God-fearing and diligent path in life, which she shows by her commitment to wearing her hijab.
This, she said, “is especially important, as today in our country we see widespread crimes being committed by people who seem to have no care for the rule of law or love of God and fellow men.”
She said as a woman leader, it was her “responsibility to seek especially the interest of women and girls and to do my duty without fear or favour and with love regardless of ethnicity, religion or social status.”
The Organisation Muslims of Trinidad and Tobago also stood by Nakhid for showing religious maturity and that Muslims can integrate successfully in any school or society.
PRO Imtiaz Mohammed issued a statement saying, “The wearing of the hijab is compulsory for all female Muslims once they attain puberty as stated in the Quran.”
He said it was “unfortunate that this specific school board chose to exercise religious intolerance resulting in religious discrimination, clearly violating our Constitution.”
He said they strongly condemned the action of the school board and statements by Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj that Islamic schools deny Hindu children their religious right to wear the ticker on their foreheads or the Raksha on their wrist. Those statements, he said, are “misleading.”
Sat Maharaj Doubles Down
Despite heavy criticism from several quarters, Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Sat Maharaj is standing his ground on its decision to deny On-the-Job Trainee Nafisah Nakhid entry to the Lakshmi Girls’ High School with her hijab on Monday. He said yesterday that they have a right to enjoyment of property under the Constitution and as a result also a right to determine how people dress when they go onto the compound.
But not so says Attorney Fareed Scoon, who is advising Nakhid.
“A school is not a sacred space, but national space and you cannot impose your system or values on somebody who is utilising together with you what non-sacred space is,” Scoon said in response to Maharaj’s suggestion.
Both men have been speaking out on the issue involving Nakhid, who was given a choice when he turned up at the school on Monday morning dressed in a hijab. She was told at a meeting with the school’s principal, vice principal and dean, whom she said is also a Muslim, that she could stay but would need to remove the hijab, or she could leave. She chose the latter option, saying it was possibly the “worst experience” in her 23 years.
The action comes 23 years after Justice Margot Warner delivered a historic judgment 1995 ruling in favour of Summayah Mohammed, a Muslim schoolgirl who was banned from attending Holy Name Convent in Port-of-Spain wearing a hijab. Warner ruled then that Mohammed was entitled to attend a Catholic school wearing the hijab and she was eventually allowed to attend classes. That decision, which was not appealed, allowed Muslim girls to attend private and public schools without discrimination.
In his defence yesterday, Maharaj said, “The girl is not attached to the teaching staff, she came to learn to teach, but she wants to teach us how to dress, we said we have a dress code.”
Nakhid, who graduated with Honours from the University of the West Indies in the field of Mechanical Engineering, was sent to the school to work alongside a teacher.
There is nothing in the Concordat entered into with denominational schools in 1960 which speaks to a dress code. But Maharaj said it was the teachers of the school, which includes Muslims, Presbyterians and Afro-Trinidadians, “who put together the dress code and we approved it.”
The Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago sets out fundamentals rights and freedoms of citizens, with sections 4 and 5 speaking to rights which exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex. It also speaks to the right of an individual to among other things enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived of these except by the due process of law.
But Scoon said although Lakshmi Girls share a compound with the SDMS, “it is a public institution. It is funded with public funds, its teachers are paid by the public and it cannot legally or morally debar someone wearing a hijab.” He advised Maharaj to review the policies of the school, saying “they are inconsistent with the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and from what I understand with true Hinduism.”
Maharaj reiterated that Lakshmi Girls was “doing a favour by saying come and we will teach you how to teach”.
But Scoon countered, “I don’t think it is a one-sided bargain. The school benefits from her experience, she is a graduate who went to give a service, not to be trained, but she is delivering deliverables that the school requires.”
Nakhid said the school requested someone with a science background and the OJT officer with whom she had the interview “called the principal and said I have a background in mechanical engineering and the principal said send her.” She said although the principal was told her name she never asked any questions about whether she wore a hijab. She said the principal admitted in their conversation on Monday that although she was given her name, she could not tell what religion Nakhid was from her name.
Nakhid said she was “traumatised” by the incident.
“I was so shocked. How can you ask a practising Muslim to remove a hijab for a job? Would you ask a nun to remove a habit for a job?” she asked.
Scoon said the Maha Sabha should do the proper thing and “apologise.
“If they do not apologise they probably will be visited with some kind of sanction by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which is the authority to deal with this on the basis of race discrimination religion or otherwise,” Scoon said.
Article compiled from Trinidad Guardian