Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
An opinion poll being conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA) finds widespread sympathy for dismissed University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) staff and support for the position taken by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) on the hijab issue as outlined in the Concordat of 1960. Almost everyone feels that denominational schools should have the right to establish and enforce dress code rules for their personnel and student body. The SDMS has been taken to task for insisting that teaching trainee Nafisah Nakhid, a Muslim, remove her hijab (Muslim head scarf) in the classroom. The Concordat of 1960 grants autonomy to denominational schools to set and enforce their own rules on dress code. The wearing of hijab by staff violates SDMS school rules that were established by staff among who are Muslims. The hijab also violates dress code in denominational Christian schools.
This survey is being conducted by Dr. Vishnu Bisram to determine views on these and other contemporary issues.
Based on the findings of the poll, most people across the political and religious spectrum, including every religious leader (of all denominations) who was interviewed support the SDMS position on setting and enforcing school rules for staff and students. However, they are not supportive of the “blast” and “Indian Arrival disinvite” of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar by Shri Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of SDMS. The Opposition Leader was invited and then dis-invited (in a TV program) to the May 30 Indian Arrival day function at a SDMS school in Debe.
While supporting the right for denominational schools to set dress code rules, everyone polled feels that there must be no discrimination (of employment or delivery of service) against anyone on account of religion or race. And the poll finds some Muslims do not support the hijab position taken by the SDMS arguing that Ms. Nakhid should be allowed to wear her hijab as accorded in freedom of religious rights by the constitution. But Hindus and Christians point out that they do not enjoy similar 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 stain from Holi celebrations or sindoor (sign of marriage of Hindu females). Similarly, Muslims and Hindus point out that Christian schools bar wearing of non-Christian pendants or symbols like the Om and half crescent and tika, raksha, henna marks, etc. It is also noted that Christian schools also forbid celebration of Diwali.
On an argument of breach of fundamental religious rights by denying the wearing of hijab or display of Om or Cross or raksha (Hindu holy thread on the wrist), etc, almost every respondent say they are not opposed to a universal set of dress code rules for all denominational schools.
Separately, on the termination of staff at University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), respondents feel that dismissed staff was treated unjustly and their employment rights violated. It was not keeping with the spirit of accepted industrial relations act. They say the fired staff was not accorded due process and that the procedure (and reasons) for their dismissal was not above board. The public felt that the staff should have been informed of how their termination was determined -- the criteria used to terminate them and to retain others. People feel the staff should be rehired and other measures taken to cut costs like reducing administrative staff and capital expenditures.
The poll also queried people on other issues including popularity of politicians and support for the formation of a political party by Ms. Mikela Panday. The findings will be released in a subsequent report.