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Rights body ends brief discomfort

Chavara Gopakumar is a happy man. He has just won for himself and his colleagues the right to wear underwear at the office of the famed Sabarimala. The temple authorities had banned underwear inside the strongroom. Ramesh Babu reports.

india Updated: May 22, 2008 02:27 IST
Ramesh Babu

Chavara Gopakumar is a happy man. He has just won for himself and his colleagues the right to wear underwear to office.

For the past five years, Gopakumar and more than 200 other men working at the famed hill shrine of Sabarimala have had to part with their briefs whenever on strong-room duty. The dress code for entering the strongroom was strict: only a dhoti (worn in the south-Indian lungi style) and nothing else.

The temple authorities had banned underwear inside the strongroom — where all donations are listed and stored — after cases of theft were reported. They feared someone might walk away with money or valuables tucked in.

Roughly 60 people are on strongroom duty on peak days.

If employees ever questioned the ban on underwear, the answer would come fast: why do you need to cover yourself before God? “It was an insult to our dignity,” Gopakumar, who is also the chief of the Travancore Devasom Employees’ Front, told HT.

In December last year, Gopakumar approached the State Human Rights Commission for help. On Tuesday, panel head Justice N. Dinakar asked the Travancore Devasom Board to end the practice immediately. He said there are better ways to stop pilfering — like using x-ray machines. Not allowing a person to wear underwear was an outright violation of his dignity, he said.

The board finally gave in. It said underwear would be allowed after scanners are put in place next year.