Akbar: Padarath’s Comments ‘Shockingly Bigoted’

The claims are beyond insensitive, totally incorrect, and an affront to the right of freedom of religion enshrined in the Fijian Constitution.
26 Feb 2021 10:11
Akbar: Padarath’s Comments ‘Shockingly Bigoted’
Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar

The Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts has filed a report with the Fiji Police Force and the Cyber Crime Unit for investigation against Ben Padarath’s comments against a student.

Line Minister Rosy Akbar, in a statement, condemned as shockingly bigoted an outburst by Mr Padarath against a Fijian student on the basis of their religious practice and preference.

The claims are beyond insensitive, totally incorrect, and an affront to the right of freedom of religion enshrined in the Fijian Constitution.

It is the ministry’s policy – in line with the Fijian Constitution – to allow schools to cater for a student’s religious, and cultural practices.

  • Many schools in Fiji observe religious festivals such as Holi, Diwali, Easter, and Christmas, and allow for attire specific to these celebrations to be worn by students.
  • Schools managed by faith-based organisations offer religious instruction and often engrain religious and cultural principles and practices within their educational offerings.
  • Students of different faiths can openly practise their religious traditions. For example, Hindu students may attend classes with the Tilak marked on their foreheads and Catholic students may mark their foreheads in ash with the cross to celebrate Ash Wednesday.
  • Other schools allow for the wearing of scarves, turbans, sulus, appropriate religious apparel, such as crucifixes or rosaries, and permit students to maintain different hairstyles, including buiningas, moustaches or beards so long as they are appropriately maintained according to specific school’s standards.

To imply that any of these policies are selectively enforced is baseless and an ignorant incitement for ugly forces of ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance.

Enforcing policies

The ministry’s policies will continue to be enforced in an inclusive manner that ultimately allows students to focus on their studies.

“The student in question deserves an unconditional apology for having his religious preferences dragged into the national spotlight by an individual with zero knowledge of ministry policy and no regard for the values of tolerance and respect,” Ms Akbar said.

“There is a vicious strain of religious prejudice in this country. We must address it and defeat it wherever it rears its ugly head.

“And I want this young man, and every student in Fiji, to know that the Ministry of Education will always defend you and your constitutional rights against anyone seeking to use ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or any of the differences that exist among Fijians as tools for division.

“I call on all leaders in our communities, members of civil society, NGOs, and parliamentarians, including those tagged in the hateful Facebook post, to join the ministry in condemning this latest offence in a nasty pre-election tradition of pitting Fijians against Fijians. Help us send a clear message that young and vulnerable. Fijians should never be subject to the politics of division,” Ms Akbar said.


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