By Ria Taitt
November 11, 2011 – trinidadexpress.com
People’s National Movement (PNM) MP Patricia McIntosh has slammed the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) for its conduct at the Tunapuna Hindu Primary School in denying equal opportunities to pupils of different denominations, particularly black children who reside within the catchment area.
Speaking in the House of Representatives at Tower D, Waterfront Complex, Port of Spain, on Wednesday night, McIntosh charged that the Maha Sabha also sought to exclude non-Indian on-the-job trainees (OJTs), sent by the Ministry of Education, to work at the school.
McIntosh also criticised Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh for his “deafening silence” and inaction in the face of this glaring discriminatory “and unlawful” behaviour of the Maha Sabha which, she contended, “could alter”, in a very hideous manner, the face of education in Trinidad and Tobago”.
McIntosh, a former school principal, also identified Transport Minister Devant Maharaj as appearing to lend support to the Maha Sabha general secretary, Sat Maharaj.
To demonstrate her claim, McIntosh quoted extensively from correspondence submitted to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) by principal of the school Sita Gajadharsingh Nanga, dated June 17, 2011, in which she complained of “numerous acts of intimidation and harassment” by the Maha Sabha board and several of its members. As a result of this, she requested a release from the SDMS board and a transfer to the Government Teaching Service.
“The Secretary General (Sat Maharaj) threatened to lock me out of the school for taking in non-Indian children who were within the catchment area. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I must not admit black children into the school, and admission lists for both primary and pre-school are being scrutinised to ascertain whether I am following instructions,” Gajadharsingh Nanga stated in the letter.
McIntosh said Gajadharsingh Nanga’s letter stated: “The Secretary General was in an uproar because two of eight OJTs sent to the school were non-Indian. He threatened that the school keys would be taken from me because I was changing the culture of the school, and I was ordered to immediately get rid of the (two) OJTs”.
McIntosh called for national debate on the role of religion, in respect of the exclusion of students or staff from certain denominational schools where those persons do not profess the religion of the particular denomination.
“Mr Speaker, I should like to know what is the ruling of the Equal Opportunity Commission on this matter? While the commission is busy pronouncing on Senator Devant Maharaj’s allegations of racism in respect of grants awarded under the PNM administration, it would be interesting to hear what they have to say on this issue where, in certain schools, children are denied the opportunity of an education and workers, the opportunity of employment, based on the grounds of religion. This is in total defiance of the Equal Opportunity Act,” she said.
McIntosh yesterday pointed out that Gajadharsingh Nanga also complained in her letter to the TSC that “she was expected to admit illegal Guyanese children into the school, and when she did not accede to this request, it posed a problem”. Gajadharsingh Singh also stated she was forced to curtail the teaching of agricultural science in the school after being told by Maharaj that he was trying to “take Indians out of the canefield and I (Gajadharsingh Nanga) am trying to put them back in it”.
McIntosh said since September 5, Gajadharsingh Nanga had been debarred from entering the school where she is still principal. She said on October 24, two school supervisors accompanied Gajadharsingh Nanga to the school where all three were denied entry. They summoned the police to instruct the security guard to allow them entry, and they also had to summon fire officers to break the locks of two doors to gain entry to the principal’s office, the PNM MP said.
She said on the next day, October 25, they returned again and were prevented from entering the compound. “To add insult to injury, Mr Satnarine Maharaj, accompanied by Mr Devant Maharaj, Minister of Transport, visited the Tunapuna Police Station to press charges against the principal, the two school supervisors, the police and fire officers who had accompanied them to the school on the previous day (October 24).
“Mr Speaker, if this is not the height of arrogance and contempt for the State on the part of the board, then I do not know what is,” McIntosh stated.
Contacted yesterday, Maharaj declined to give an answer to the direct question of whether he had accompanied Sat Maharaj to the police station on October 25 to take action against the school principal and others. “I have asked for a copy of the Hansard (of McIntosh), which was just e-mailed to me by my staff. I am going to look through it and see if it was factual, and if it is not, I will take the appropriate action. But I wouldn’t want to comment until I have read what she had to say,” the minister said.
McIntosh, however, said yesterday that Minister Maharaj’s action (of accompanying Sat Maharaj to the police station) was in direct opposition to his stance in taking the PNM government to the Equal Opportunity Commission over the scholarship fund.
She told the House on Wednesday night that the Maha Sabha had arrogated onto itself an authority it did not possess. “Like all denominational boards, the Tunapuna Hindu Primary School is, indeed, by law, a public school. Denominational schools are funded by public money, taxpayers’ money; teachers are paid by the State and resources are provided by the State”, McIntosh said.
She said while the buildings that housed the Tunapuna Hindu Primary School belong to the board, the school itself, that body that comprises the students, the teachers, administrators and the school’s operations, falls under the jurisdiction of the State.
McIntosh said despite the Ministry of Education’s permanent secretary’s instructions to the principal to report for duty at the school, the board of the Maha Sabha remained inflexible and resolute in its stance to keep the principal locked out.
“No matter what the ministry says, the board is unwilling to change its position. And I have to ask where is the honourable Minister of Education in all of this? He has been deafeningly silent…. The public has a right to know what action the Minister of Education intends to take in respect of this highly unlawful and untenable situation,” she said.
She said according to the 1960 Concordat, it was the Teaching Service Commission, the agent of the State, that possessed the authority to appoint, retain, promote, discipline, transfer or terminate teachers and administrators, not the board. Furthermore, she said, under the Industrial Relations Act, the board has no power to lock out either teachers or administrators and prevent him or her from performing his or her duties.
McIntosh also quoted a letter from Maharaj, (Sat) in which he chastised Gajadharsingh Nanga for hiring a secretary “who is not a Hindu and does not respond to teachers and students in our tradition. In addition, you have permitted a number of OJTs who are not Hindus and do not conform to our dress code. We hereby advise that within two weeks, you send these persons back to the officers from which you accepted them. We view this as a serious breach of the Concordat and will take positive action if our instructions remain unfulfilled”.
She noted that the letter also stated the school was the property of the Maha Sabha, and its control falls under the SDMS education board of management. “We have the right to ensure that the culture and religion of the school reflects the culture and religion of the SDMS,” Maharaj (Sat) wrote.