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Embrace religious diversity

Thursday, May 24, 2018

In 1994, a lawsuit was brought on behalf of Sumayyah Mohammed, then an 11-year-old Muslim girl, after she was told she would not be allowed to wear a hijab while attending Holy Name Convent in Port-of-Spain.

Attorneys for Sumayyah and her family successfully argued subsequently that she had been denied her right to religious freedom and protection from discrimination. On January 17, 1995, a judge ruled that officials of Holy Name Convent had used their authority under the Education Act irrationally when they refused to allow her to attend school wearing the hijab.

Sadly, more than two decades after that landmark ruling, while there is general recognition of the need for religious diversity in T&T’s schools, the case of Nafisah Nakhid, a hijab-wearing OJT who was refused entry to Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College for training as a teacher, exposes the extent to which that realisation remains elusive.

Indeed, the realisation of multicultural unity and pluralism in heterogeneous societies like ours is a complicated thing, since it involves striking a balance between competing interests.

Perhaps it is time to rethink traditional approaches to protection of religious freedom and promotion of religious diversity. In modern T&T, as recent experiences have shown, there is not only need to counter traditional forms of intolerance and discrimination but emerging forms of intolerance as well.

In keeping with our watchwords, discipline, production, tolerance, it is time to find a positive path forward on this very complex and sensitive issue.

Decades behind on DNA testing

It took all of five months for Anita Mohammed’s loved ones to get closure after her mutilated remains were found on a Petrotrin field road in Santa Flora. Positive identification of the remains took that long because at this time, 18 years into the 21st century, T&T is still without a modern, efficient DNA testing centre.

Since passage of the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Act in 2007, the Forensic Science Centre in St James has been testing samples brought in by the police but that facility is understaffed and not adequately equipped, so there is a backlog of samples. In many cases, samples still have to be sent to the United Kingdom or the United States for analysis. The police are also not authorised to use a private centre to test DNA samples.

Given the pace of forensic breakthroughs in most parts of the world, T&T seems to be decades behind in adopting technology that has proven to be cutting edge in terms of criminal investigations. A DNA databank is also yet to become operational.

Another instance of the authorities failing to implement a much-needed system.


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