AN opinion poll conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) found widespread support for the position taken by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) on the hijab issue involving teacher trainee, Nafisah Nakhid.
The poll, which was conducted by Dr Vishnu Bisram, found almost all responders felt that denominational schools should have the right to establish dress code rules for their staff and student body, and the power to enforce them as outlined in the Concordat of 1960.
Based on the poll, Bisram said almost every religious leader of all denominations, who were interviewed, supported the SDMS’ position on setting and enforcing school rules for staff and students.
Bisram did not indicate how many people were surveyed, their ages or religious backgrounds.
Two weeks ago, on-the-job trainee Nakhid, a Muslim, was told she could not wear the hijab (Muslim head scarf) in the classroom if she took up duties at the SDMS-run Lakshmi Girls Hindu College in St. Augustine.
Bisram said the poll revealed that most people across the political and religious spectrum felt denominational schools should have the authority to set and enforce dress code. He said those interviewed were supportive of the SDMS’ position regarding Nakhid.
However, those polled were not in support of the “blast” and “Indian Arrival disinvite” of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar by Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the SDMS.
The Opposition Leader was invited and then dis-invited to last week’s Indian Arrival day function at the Parvati Girls Hindu College in Debe.
“While supporting the right for denominational schools to set dress code rules, everyone polled felt that there must be no discrimination (of employment or delivery of service) against anyone on account of religion or race,” according to Bisram.
He said the poll also found “some Muslims” did not support the position taken by the SDMS, arguing that Nakhid should be allowed to wear her hijab based on freedom of religious rights.
Bisram said Hindu and Christian responders pointed out that they do not enjoy such freedom and rights in Islamic schools.
“They say that Islamic schools prohibit the display about the body of non-Islamic marks or symbols like the Holy Cross or Rosary and remnants of abeer from Phagwa celebrations or sindoor (sign of marriage of Hindu females).
“Similarly, Muslims and Hindus said that Christian schools bar wearing of non-Christian pendants or symbols like the Om and the half crescent,tika, raksha and henna marks. It was also noted that some Christian schools also forbid celebration of Divali.”
However, Bisram said on the question of breach of fundamental religious rights by denying the wearing religious symbols or clothing almost every respondent said they wer not opposed to universal dress code rules that would be abided by all denominational schools.
Separately, on the termination of staff at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, respondents felt that dismissed staff were treated unjustly.
“They said the dismissed staff were not accorded due process and that the procedure for their dismissal was not above board.”
The responders felt that the staff should have been informed of how their termination was determined and that they should be rehired and other measures taken to cut costs like reducing administrative staff and capital expenditures.