"It's a flagrant disregard of the law" - Education Minister fired up by hijab issue

The Ministry of Education is condemning the circumstances in which an on-the-job employee was asked to remove her hijab at the Lakshmi Girls' Hindu School as an unlawful act.

Minister Garcia says this is not the first time that this has happened and he is calling for a full report into it.

The following is a statement issued by the Ministry of Education today.

"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;

- The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, part I, section 4.

The Minister of Education has today considered the incident involving Nafisah Nahkid, the hijab-wearing On the Job Trainee (OJT) who was assigned to Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College as a flagrant disregard of the laws enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.

This move he says “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.

Minister Garcia indicated that 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 our constitution.

Minister Garcia sought the advice of the Attorney General in this matter as this move has far-reaching implications and he is ensuring that there will not 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.

The School Supervision and Management Division of the Ministry has been mandated to provide a full report of the incident.

Stemming from this incident the Ministry has reminded principals to be aware of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago by which we all abide and to be mindful of the human element in our interactions where sensitive matters are concerned."

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