Monday 27 May, 2019

SDMS questions Government's decision to take hijab issue to court

The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) has written a letter to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, requesting the full disclosure of what the state wants the High Court to interpret in the matter involving on-the-job trainee Nafisah Nakhid.

On May 24, cabinet revealed that the state intended to take legal action through an interpretation summons after Nakhid was prohibited from training at the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College due to her choice to wear a hijab while on the compound.

In the letter penned by attorney Kiel Taklalsingh of Fortis Chambers, the Maha Sabha said the full disclosure was a fair request as the action could have a negative impact on the SDMS’ autonomy to administer its affairs on the sanctity of its own compound.

The letter also denied that Nakhid was asked to remove her hijab.

“We wish to place on record our client’s vehement denial that anyone let alone the Administrator of the said School, asked Ms Nakhid to remove her hijab.”

The attorney pointed out that Nakhid herself did not clearly state that the school’s officials asked her to remove the religious garb and reiterated that there is no policy preventing Muslims from being at the school.

“The SDMS has absolutely no policy and/or rule which forbids Muslims from entering its compound and it is a matter of record that teachers and students of the Islamic faith attend and fully participate within the operations of Lakshmi Girls’ High School”.

Taklalsingh said while Nakhid believes the rule prohibiting the wearing of a hijab on the SDMS compound is wrong, the SDMS does not agree saying, “The SDMS respectfully disagrees with that position and asserts the right to manage the internal affairs of its compound pursuant to its discretion and in conformity with its religious views, beliefs and its rights under the CONCORDAT 1960.

The letter stated that it was “inappropriate” for Nakhid to equate the schools no hijab rule to scenarios of racism and slavery adding that not every female Muslim uses the hijab or adopts the philosophy which is a personal choice.

It also noted that the position of the organisation is not confined to the hijab and that different perspectives on religious practices are not limited to schools controlled by the SDMS.

“For example, Hindu students are not allowed to wear certain religious symbols (rakshal, tilak, mangal sutra) within the premises of the ASJA schools and it is a well-known fact that teachers of the Hindu Faith cannot hold senior positions within Roman Catholic Schools.”

The attorney said it should be understood that the freedom to practice religion is not to be circumscribed to the right to display religious symbols, garments and paraphernalia openly without restriction.

He said in a society such as ours these practices may collide but that such collision does not necessarily arise from discrimination and/or bigotry but rather may be the result of each belief system and choices intersecting over an issue.

Taklalsingh said in those circumstances, understanding and compromise should prevail.

He also stated that the SDMS was not obligated to employ, train or guide anyone under the state governed OJT programme. He said as such, references by Education Minister Anthony Garcia that the SDMS breached Nakhid’s constitutional right “lack veracity and seem bereft of mature thought and sound advice.”

The attorney said if the state wishes to intervene in the matter, it should do so for similar instances with all denominational school boards.

He ended by saying that the SDMS has not received a copy of the report on the matter which was expected to be compiled by the School Supervision Division of the Ministry and questioned under what basis the Government sought the interpretation summons if the report was not completed.

Taklalsingh is acting with attorneys Dinesh Rambally, Karina Singh, Desiree Sankar and Stefan Ramkissoon. They are all led by senior counsel Seenath Jairam.

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