The Guyana government, its agencies, and state institutions (like public schools) do not have the authority to restrict cultural or religious activities (inclusive of display of symbols) as long as they are not disruptive to society. Thus, the state was wrong to force a student to cut a raksha or rakhi (symbolic thread on the wrist). A rakhi signifies kinship love and protection between brothers and sisters or males and females; it is also tied on the wrist of non-blood related persons as a symbol of love and respect. It is tied on the wrist on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, an annual festival observed by Indians globally. The staff of the Indian High Commission tied rakhi on politicians of all the political parties in Guyana. It strengthens bond between and among people, encouraging trust and unity. People pledge to offer protection to one another. It is an institutionalized cultural norm of Indians. What is the harm?
The victimization of the child (or anyone) for wearing a rakhi does not belong in a public institution and should be addressed the authority from the point of view of the law and freedom to display (or wear) non-disruptive symbols and attire or to practice religion. The law does not restrict practice of faith and no group should be (or feel) discriminated against.
Raksha Bandhan is an extremely popular Indian festival observed annually and globally. It is celebrated with much pomp, ceremony, and enthusiasm by people of all faiths in India and many in the diaspora. It is an unofficial national holiday in India as people tend to absent themselves from work for the festival. I experienced multiple times in India. People traveled long distances for family get together for Raksha Bandhan in India, Mauritius, Fiji, and elsewhere. I experienced the festival several times in my stays in Trinidad where many families tied the rakhi on my wrist as a brother and showered me with gifts and I to them. It is celebrated all over Guyana in Indian households all over the country.
The state has the power to restrict an activity if it poses a threat to society or if it is disruptive. Wearing the rakhi (or having it displayed on the wrist) is not a disruptive activity. It does not impact on learning in the classroom or school. Thus, the action of the school or its agent to coerce the student to remove the rakhi was unwarranted. The action infringed on the constitutional right of students to wear or display (a small, harmless) paraphernalia (a thread) that does not distract from education.
If the rakhi was somehow impacting negatively on learning, the school should have encouraged a brief lesson in social studies about it. In the US, it is policy to discuss cultural festivals in schools so others may be familiar with the diversity of an environment. In the US, Juneteenth (19) recently became a national holiday. Lessons are held in the classroom about it. Similarly, for Eid, Diwali, Phagwah, and other festivals, and for Martin Luther King’s Birthday, lessons are held about them. One must not restrict cultural celebrations in Guyana but encourage them. Let a million cultures bloom!
On the legality of rakhi, in the US, students routinely wear religious symbols and other paraphernalia; restrictions are virtually non-existent. Guyanese American students freely displayed their rakhi. The problem in Guyana is that not too many non-Indians and even some Indians know so little about their culture. Also, there is also a lot of prejudice and non-tolerance in the society. Cultural festivals like Raksha Bandhan and so many others should be a topic of education in schools. The society still adhere to colonialist, imperialist practices. The mindset has not changed much after 60 years of freedom.
And many people don’t know their rights or basic laws. Even educators don’t know basic laws. Matters pertaining to religious and other rights in a school were ventilated in the US Supreme Court. Students get their rights from the Supreme Court, not from a cabinet decision or a law. The court’s position (which is law even if not legislated) was (and still is) that schools had (have) a right to enforce discipline but that students also enjoy certain rights. A student can display a symbol (religious or otherwise) as long as it did or does not disrupt the school’s purpose. In America, the public is protected by free exercise of religion and free speech (inclusive of displays on body or garment). There must be least restrictive environment. No right can be restricted without compelling reason for a greater good. Schools cannot coerce individuals into acting contrary to their beliefs, practices, and culture.
In Guyana, cabinet and parliament need not address non-consequential school matters. Common sense suffices. Schools cannot and must not punish students for wearing rakhi, cross, crescent, or any other symbols in schools. No child should be harassed and discriminated against by school authorities on account of the celebration of the Raksha Bandhan festival or Holi. Students should never be subjected to physical and mental harassment for wearing non-disruptive items or observing religious festivals. Schools must maintain an inclusive environment for all cultures.