May 23, 2008 / 3:06 PM / 9 years ago

Shrine workers may keep their underwear on

2 Min Read

<p>Hindu pilgrims queue outside the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity "Ayappa", about 70 kms (43 miles) west of the town Pathanamthtta in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on January 15, 2003.Dipak Kumar</p>

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (Reuters) - Employees counting donations at a popular Hindu shrine in southern India will no longer have to take off their underpants at work after the local human rights commission intervened.

Police and temple authorities imposed the dress code at the Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala five years ago after thefts were reported from the shrine's strongroom.

Employees in the vault, all of whom were men, were made to work topless wearing only a dhoti -- a cotton wrap worn around the waist -- with nothing underneath.

But they found it degrading, and their union complained to the Kerala State Human Rights Commission.

"The employees on duty are made to strip before an officer before leaving the office to ensure that they do not carry anything in their underwear," said Chavara Gopakumar, the union leader. "It is humiliating and an insult to human dignity."

The state's human rights commission agreed.

Authorities at the shrine, which is dedicated to Ayyappa, a south Indian deity, said on Friday they would end the practice and have begun looking into electronic surveillance systems.

Thousands of pilgrims flock to the shrine between November and January, bringing cash, precious metals and jewels in offerings. They are expected to forego meat, alcohol and sex for 41 days before arriving. Women of child-bearing age are forbidden.

Reporting by D. Jose; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alex Richardson

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