In Sri Lanka, hijab-clad teachers hounded from Christian school are assigned elsewhere

A student's bag is searched by a parent as he arrives at his school which opened days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, on May 6, 2019. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Updated 09 May 2019
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In Sri Lanka, hijab-clad teachers hounded from Christian school are assigned elsewhere

  • Salley told Arab News that appropriate measures would be taken against those involved in what he described as an “unfortunate incident

COLOMBO: Eleven Muslim teachers hounded from a Christian school in Sri Lanka for wearing hijabs have been redeployed.

The country’s Western Province Gov. Azath Salley was forced to intervene in the row after the women were barred on Tuesday from entering the Puwakpitiya Tamil Maha Vidyalaya school, located about 30 km from the capital Colombo.

Parent members of the school’s development society along with former students blocked the teachers’ entry to the premises, telling them they would only be allowed back in if they were dressed in saris.

The group’s action came in response to the devastating Easter Sunday bombings of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka, which left 268 people dead and hundreds injured. Daesh has since claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Following the blasts, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena imposed a ban on the wearing of niqabs to allow security officials to more easily identify people, but no restrictions were placed on the abaya (a robe-like dress) or hijab.

Speaking on behalf of the banned teachers, Fathima Shafeena told Arab News that she had worked at the school for more than six years and felt humiliated over her treatment. She said: “Hijab is my traditional Islamic attire and they cannot ask me to replace it with the sari,” adding that the move was a violation of their human rights.

Fathima Afrah, another teacher, said she and her fellow Muslim tutors were chased off the premises in full view of schoolchildren and other teaching colleagues, and she could never return there out of sheer embarrassment. “Although it was a non-Muslim school, I did not show any discrimination while I was teaching in the classrooms,” she added.

Salley summoned senior provincial education officials to an urgent meeting with the teachers on Tuesday afternoon, which resulted in them being transferred to other schools in the province.

Puwakpitiya Tamil Maha Vidyalaya principal, P. Manoharan, told Arab News that the school had 800 children and 41 teachers, and about 35 percent of the students were Christians. He said that he had no prior knowledge of the protest action.

Salley told Arab News that appropriate measures would be taken against those involved in what he described as an “unfortunate incident.”

“The teachers’ dresses were proper and in accordance with government regulations. The government has banned only the niqab face cover,” the governor said. He pointed out that the abaya and hijab were well within the accepted norms.

In a landmark ruling in April last year, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) recommended that “preventing teachers from wearing the abaya while performing their duties” was a violation of the Sri Lankan constitution.

The HRCSL stated that national schools were bound by the constitution and could not violate the absolute right to religious freedom. It reiterated the need for respect for diversity and pluralism in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.