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Garcia goes on with SDMS case

Published: 
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Nafisah sent to Rural Development
Nafisah Nakhid

Hijab-wearing on-the-job-trainee (OJT) Nafisah Nakhid, who is currently at the centre of a religious controversy involving Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj, has been transferred and started her first day of training at the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government yesterday. Nakhid, 23, a mechanical engineer graduate from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, reported for duty at the ministry’s Mechanical Engineering Unit at Kent House in Maraval at 8 am. Part of her duties will be to assist in the procurement and co-ordination of vehicles for all 14 regional corporations. The vehicles also include excavators, backhoes and dump trucks. Yesterday afternoon, Nakhid was taken by the ministry’s acting permanent secretary Stara Ramlogan and formally introduced to line Minister Kazim Hosein. Hosein expressed happiness over the resolution to Nakhid’s OJT placement.An official at the ministry told the T&T Guardian that Nakhid seemed to have “settled in comfortably on her first day.”“It is something that we try to do to make sure all new employees are introduced to all departments. We spoke to her, as well as the minister, and she is happy and we are happy that she is in a comfortable place,” the ministry official, who did not want to be named, said.“The minister is all about pushing the young people, especially when someone wants to serve their country and she has indicated this especially in the field that she is qualified in.”

Nakhid’s reassignment came one week after she reported for duty at the SDMS’ Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College but was denied the opportunity to train at the school unless she agreed to remove her hijab while on the compound. However, Nakhid, who has been wearing the hijab for the past 15 years, refused to agree to this, believing it to be discrimination and left the compound.

Nakhid said she was told this was a decision by the school’s Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) board of management.In an immediate response, the Ministry of Education said the school was government-assisted and the act was deemed “a flagrant disregard of the laws enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.” But SDMS secretary general Sat Maharaj is standing by the decision, saying anyone who is accepted to teach at the college has to conform with the school’s code of conduct and dress code. The ministry has since taken the matter to the court but is being challenged by the board. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was meanwhile banned from entering the school by Maharaj after she too condemned the SDMS’ act. (See other story)

Contacted for comment on the transfer yesterday, Education Minister Anthony Garcia admitted he did not even know Nakhid was reassigned but expressed happiness for her. He, however, assured the ministry will continue its action against the SDMS. Also yesterday, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), in a release, highlighting Nakhid’s issue said the body is empowered to investigate these complaints and, where possible, to bring the parties together for conciliation. “This service is free of charge. If the complaint cannot be resolved at the level of the EOC, the matter may be referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (‘EOT’) which is a superior court of record and is presided over by a judge. The EOT is empowered to make orders, declarations and awards of compensation as it deems fit,” the release added.The EOC also reminded members of the public that “denying employment to someone on the basis of their religion may constitute discrimination, and is prohibited by the Equal Opportunity Act Chapter 22:03 [Act No 69 of 2000 as amended] (‘the Act’ and/or ‘the EOA’).”“Employment under the EOA includes employment as an apprentice, trainee and even as a contractor,” the EOC said. Efforts to reach Nakhid on her reassignment up to press time were unsuccessful as all calls went unanswered. However, prior to her reassignment, Nakhid was said to be weighing legal action and had also called for a national discussion on the issue of discrimination on the basis of religion.

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