THE Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) has “vehemently” denied that administrators at the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, in St Augustine, asked on-the-job trainee teacher Nafisah Nakhid to remove her hijab.
They have also denied that there is an SDMS-sanctioned rule prohibiting Muslims from being on the school’s compound, but said it was the rule–not of the school, but the SDMS– against the wearing of the hijab on its compound.
The denial was contained in a ten-page letter to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi seeking clarification and information on the decision to refer the matter to the High Court for its interpretation of the issues.
At a post-Cabinet media briefing last Thursday, Education Minister Anthony Garcia said the AG will approach the High Court.
“We wish to place on record that the SDMS has absolutely no policy and/or rule which forbids Muslims form 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,” the SDMS letter said.
Attorney Kiel Tacklalsingh, who wrote the letter, said while Nakhid was entitled to her opinion, the SDMS asserted its right to manage the internal affairs of its compound according to its “discretion and in conformity with its religious views, beliefs and its rights under the Concordat 1960.”
The SDMS also accused Nakhid of “conflating” the issue with racist segregation and discrimination.
The body said she was asked if she would be comfortable with the SDMS rule in keeping with the Muslim doctrine of women dressing moderately, since there were only female students and teachers at the school.
The SDMS said the rule was not confined only to the hijab, but similar head coverings worn by Hindu women.
“While the SDMS takes no issue with Ms Nakhid’s right to proudly display her hijab, the SDMS trusts and expects that Ms Nakhid, and indeed the State, should also respect that the SDMS respectfully disagrees with the religious expressions and philosophical underpinnings associated with the hijab, and reserves the right to prohibit the use of same within its compound and the education institutions under its purview.”
The letter also said the SDMS was not responsible for the employment of OJTs nor was it the responsibility of the SDMS board to provide training and guidance to people referred by the National Training Agency.
“The SDMS has not deprived Ms Nakhid of any substantive right and she is free to participate in that programme unfettered by the actions of the SDMS. Indeed, the right to any qualifying citizen to participate in this state programme cannot equate to a right to be enrolled specifically at the Lakshmi Girls’ High School.”
The lawyer also noted that Hindu students were not allowed to wear symbols of their faith on the premises of ASJA schools and Hindu teachers cannot hold senior positions at Roman Catholic schools and called for fairness in any legal action intended by the State.
The SDMS also took issue with statements made by Garcia in a May 22 news release, saying they were disturbing since he spoke of a mandate given to the School Supervision and Management Division of the ministry to provide a full report on the incident. Tacklalsingh said it has not been given a copy of the report and questioned on what information the Cabinet informed itself when it decided to pursue the interpretation proceedings.
The Hindu organisation is also represented by a team of attorneys led by Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam, and Dinesh Rambally among others.