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SDMS lawyer writes EOC on hijab case

Published: 
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
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On-the-Job-Trainee (OJT) Nafisah Nakhid

The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) is accusing the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) of discriminating against it in its handling of a controversy over an alleged hijab ban at the Lakshmi Girls’ High School several months ago.

In a letter sent to EOC chairman Lynette Seebaran-Suite yesterday, SDMS lawyer Kiel Taklalsingh accused the organisation of being biased in a press release issued in June whilst the controversy involving On-The-Job-Trainee (OJT) Nafisah Nakhid was still brewing.

Taklalsingh said: “Given the potential for reputational harm and/or other consequential damage, it would be incumbent upon an entity such as yours, in conducting its statutory investigations, to act fairly, consonant with the principles of natural justice/fairness and avoid transgressing my client’s constitutional rights and privileges,” Taklalsingh said.

He also questioned the EOC’s justification for the press release, which was given after an initial complaint by the SDMS.

The EOC had denied any wrongdoing as it claimed the release was part of its mandate to educate the public on its functions.

“Disconcertingly, it seems that the commission has utilised this public education function to target our client and actively engage in discriminatory behaviour on its own,” Taklalsingh said in the letter, as he noted that the EOC sent out such releases infrequently and had also remained silent on other issues in the public domain.

“It is noted with great interest that the EOC has remained silent and refrained from publishing any releases on other prominent issues which arose in the public domain where a medical doctor working in the public health sector expressed malicious comments with respect to citizens of East Indian descent.”

In the letter, Taklalsingh also criticised the EOC for its analysis over its role versus that of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT). Under the Equal Opportunity Act, the EOC receives and investigates discrimination complaints and then refers them to the EOT for adjudication.

Stating that the EOC serves an important role in impartially investigating complaints, Taklalsingh questioned its conduct in his client’s case.

“What the EOC has done, quite inappropriately, is to preempt this process by expressing a view without the benefit of my client’s input, representations and opinion. By your premature publication you have, in effect, undermined the very purpose of the EOC,” Taklalsingh said.

Taklalsingh also noted his client was considering making official complaints against members of the EOC responsible for the release.

The T&T Guardian attempted to contact Seebaran-Suite for a response, but she did not answer calls to her cell phone up to late yesterday evening.

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The controversy over the use of the hijab at the Lakshmi Girls’ High School arose in May as OJT Nafisah Nakhid claimed she barred from entering the school compound for a placement interview unless she was willing to remove her hijab.

Her posts on social media caused a massive furore and led to intervention by the Government. The issue also caused friction between the SDMS and Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who had called on the school to reverse its position.

The SDMS denied Nakhid was blocked from entering the compound but claimed she was informed of the school’s dress code policy towards the hijab during the interview. It claimed the policy did not infringe the constitutional rights of citizens and that the school does not discriminate against Muslims.

It also alleged the Government’s intended lawsuit is discriminatory, as other religious bodies impose similar rules at their educational institutions.

The Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprises Development eventually reassigned Nakhid, a qualified mechanical engineer, to the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government. Nakhid is also said to be considering her legal options.

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