Of Sindoor, Tika, and Prejudices

The signal people like Mrs Soolekka Dalwhoor and the PTA members of Camp Thorel government primary school send is that one must not be afraid to defend one’s rights in a lawful manner, and must always remain watchful for any infringement of the same

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

On Monday last, February 18, Me Rashid Hossen, President of the Employment Relations Tribunal gave his verdict in the case brought by the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations & Employment and Training against The Residence Mauritius hotel, ‘represented’ by Belle Mare Beach Development Company Ltd. According to MNS online search, the office bearers of the company are: PriceWaterhouse Coopers – Auditors, NGO Henry – Chairman, Jean Francois Chong How Sian That Hing – Director, and Executive Services Ltd as Secretary.

The issue was the wearing of a tika (red dot on the forehead which, along with sindoor or red powder in the hair parting is applied by married Hindu women), which the hotel had objected to. It will be recalled that the lady concerned, Mrs Soolekha Dalwhoor, had stood her ground and received the support of several people and of unions, with the matter being reported to the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations & Employment and Training which had then issued a communiqué. Therein it indicated that it was taking legal action against the hotel ‘pour non-respect de l’article 4 de l’Employment Rights Act qui protège un employé contre toute forme de discrimination au travail’, despite it (the hotel) having been informed of the advice received from the State Law Office.

The ERT has concluded as follows: ‘…considering the manner in which the Respondent implemented its decision to ban the tika to all employees, the more so a decision emanating from a misconceived interpretation of the law, we hold that on the principles of fairness and best practices of good employment relations (Section 97 Employment Relations Act 2008), the Respondent’s action was irrational, unmeasured and undesirable (italics added).

‘We as a result award that Disputant should be allowed to wear the tika on her forefront during working hours.

‘It follows suit that all warnings issued to the Disputant in relation to the wearing of the tila are to be removed.’

It goes without saying that Mrs Dalwhoor and her supporters have felt relieved, and vindicated, feeling that this verdict is a win for all women of the Republic. Indeed, she has to be saluted for standing up for her right according to the law, and for her courage and perseverance. Further, it is noteworthy that this outcome has resulted from a due process of law, without any violence being involved. Which is as it should be in a country which abides by the rule of law, and this is an abject lesson for all.

Earlier in the judgement we read that ‘…Counsel for the Respondent himself submitted that the issue of tika has never been a religious issue and… None of the witnesses mentioned any hardship caused to the operational requirements of the Respondent.’

Counsel may not have argued the case for the Respondent from a religious standpoint, but the fact remains that the religious angle is the origin of the incident. This was evident from the communiqué that the hotel had issued when the incident became public last year, part of which reads: ‘La question des signes religieux visibles est abordée, en conseillant la discrétion aux employés. Par exemple, le sindoor, le mangalsutra (alliance), ou le thali sont autorisés, mais pas le port du Tikka…’ (italics added).

Relevant therefore are these remarks made in the Tribunal’s Appeal: ‘Every country’s system of employment – industrial relations is in certain ways unique because it is shaped by a distinctive national history, culture, economy and set for political and social institutions. In Mauritius, we all come from somewhere with a tradition and culture that we cherish. To ban any of it, be it at work leads to a sensitive area that needs to be addressed with care. At no time in this award have we suggested that Management intentionally meant to cause harm to any of its employees… However, in striving obsessively to maintain a five star hotel standard, it should not turn the resort into a military zone’ (italics added).

Several aspects of this issue were already dealt with in my article which appeared in the issue of this paper of May 20, 2018 under the title ‘Why should the tikka cause such controversy?’, and interested readers may look it up.

* * *

Anti-Hindu/Buddhist Discrimination in a dictionary

Alas, discrimination can occur in the public sector as well. Vigilant parents at the Camp Thorel government primary school, on taking cognizance of the problem shortly after the ‘tika incident’, wrote to the Ministry of Education. Here are some extracts from their letter:

‘We wish to bring to your attention for immediate action certain glaring lacunae in the current English Dictionary (Primary Dictionary, Published by Geddes & Grosset 2016, marketed by BM Book Centre Co. Ltd., Royal Road Curepipe Road) that all students of Primary Government Schools are offered as from Grade 4 to Grade 6.

‘Being responsible and concerned parents who supervise our children’s education – as is expected of us by the Government -, we have been shocked to note, and deplore the fact that the English dictionary provided to the students presents some serious and obvious omissions that cause severe prejudice and hurt to the sentiments of the Hindu and Buddhist communities in Mauritius. …the dictionary is not inclusive as regards Hinduism and Buddhism, since reference to these two religions and terms related to them find no place at all. Thus, while terms like Allah, Christianity, Islam, Jesus, Jihad, Koran are included and explicitly defined, no mention whatsoever is made of Hinduism, Sanskrit, Buddhism, etc., which concern more than 50% of the Mauritian population.

‘Such omissions are in direct contradiction to the vision of the Ministry, more specifically, the following two mission statements:

  • Re-engineer the education and skills development system to construct a cohesive, inclusive and productive society.
  • Foster a holistic education that makes of learners upholders of values and resilient, globally-minded citizens.

‘Mauritius, a multicultural society, leads by example as a peaceful nation where major religions of the world live side by side in due mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance. Even in the oriental version of our National Anthem, students sing ‘Hindu Muslim Baudh Issai, aapas mein hein bhai bhai’ (‘Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians live like brothers’).

‘Whereas every effort is being made to better prepare the youngsters of tomorrow, understanding and respecting each other’s culture forms a fundamental and intrinsic part of this citizenship preparation. It begins with the accessibility to definitions which should be present in the dictionary prescribed by the Ministry of Education. These definitions are duly available in other major English Dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary.

‘Given its grave limitations and the damage that it can inflict on the multicultural fabric of our nation, we are therefore making a call for immediate removal or replacement of the said Primary Dictionary, as it fails to provide a complete range of cultural and religious definitions that match our island’s population diversity.’

It was only last month that they received a reply from the Ministry, an extract from which reads: ‘As from 2018, the Ministry of Education… no longer provides the said dictionary and it has been replaced by Usborne Illustrated English Dictionary which has been recommended by the technical team set up…’

We need more people like Mrs Soolekka Dalwhoor and the PTA members of Camp Thorel government primary school. The signal they send is that one must not be afraid to defend one’s rights in a lawful manner, and must always remain watchful for any infringement of the same.

Further, we hope that the technical team at the Ministry of Education will be equally meticulous in their scrutiny of material supplied to our schoolchildren so that they are not ever discriminated against.

* Published in print edition on 22 February 2019

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