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‘I am not a ‘Chatree’, so I may not know when is Diwali or Phagwah’ – Education Minister

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In making her contribution to the 2018 budget debates in the National Assembly today, Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry took a moment to respond to opposition heckles where she declared that she may not know when there is Diwali or Phagwah in Guyana.

“I am not a Chatree so I may not know when there is Diwali or Phagwah but I do know what it takes to improve the education sector,” Minister Henry said to resounding applause from her colleagues on the government benches.

Henry’s comments were in response to heckles by opposition parliamentarians in clear reference to a blunder she made earlier in the year when she repeatedly confused Diwali with Phagwah – two Hindu holidays which are celebrated by mostly the East Indian population.

Dr. Vindhya Persaud

The Education Minister’s comments were met with strong condemnation from Head of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha (GHDS), Dr Vindhya Persaud, who called on her to apologise for her “offensive and disrespectful” remarks.

“That a senior functionary in charge of the education of the young people in Guyana would arrogantly condone her lack of knowledge about our national Hindu festivals, when, the youngest Guyanese child learns about this in school; and worse, in a secular Guyana where cohesion is being touted, she blatantly dismisses a major section of the population is disgusting and unacceptable,” Dr Persaud stated in a social media post.

Dr Persaud added that “using the Sanskrit word, Kshatriya [popularly known as Chatree in Guyana], which means warrior as part of a disrespectful statement shows how belittling she is of Hindus, their faith, and culture. She has totally disregarded the concept of respect for each other’s faith and culture and continues to show she has no remorse.”

During an address she delivered at an event to commemorate Phagwah, the Minister referred to the holiday as “Diwali” and the “Festival of Lights” multiple times in her speech.

“I would begin by saying Happy Phagwah, Happy Holi. On Sunday, March 12th, here in Guyana and around the world, Hindus will be celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights,” she had stated.

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