Sunday 27 September, 2020

Garcia seeks advice from AG on Muslim woman 'barred' from Hindu school

The Minister of Education has labelled the incident involving the Muslim on-the-job trainee (OJT) allegedly being barred from entering a Hindu high school because of her hijab, as a flagrant disregard of the laws enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.  

Nafisah Nakhid, who was assigned to Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, said she was seeking independent legal advice following the incident which occurred on May 22, her first day at the school.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Garcia said he too sought legal advice from the Attorney General as the move has far-reaching implications. He added that there ought not to be a repeat.

“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, organization or person can create any rules that supersede those enshrined in our constitution.”

“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 Minister said.

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According to the release, Garcia said the position of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Board of Management against the wearing of the hijab on their compound poses a conflict of interest as it directly contravenes section four of the constitution.

The Minister expressed regret that the incident “sets Trinidad and Tobago back in terms of the steps we have made for religious inclusion and tolerance.”

“The Ministry of Education fully supports inclusion in all our schools, of persons of all religious backgrounds,” the statement said.

The School Supervision and Management Division of the Ministry has been mandated to provide a full report on the matter. Stemming from this incident the Ministry has reminded principals to be aware of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago by which all will abide and be mindful of the human element in interactions where sensitive matters are concerned.


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