Married South African Hindu nurses have won the right to continue wearing the traditional red dot, or the
, on their foreheads after intervention by the provincial health minister.
Officials at the state-run Addington Hospital in Durban had earlier prohibited the wearing of red dots as part of a new dress code.
"This is unacceptable. As government we shall respect and protect religious and customary rights at all times," KwaZulu-Natal Health Minister Peggy Nkonyeni Nkonyeni told the website news24.co.za.
Nkonyeni Friday said the hospital had made the rules prohibiting Hindu nurses at Addington Hospital from using the symbolic bindis, as well nose rings and mangal sutra necklaces without consulting the provincial authorities.
Although nurses would not comment for fear of recrimination because civil servants may not talk to the media, they privately told IANS that they had sought the intervention of the minister before taking their plight to the Human Rights Commission.
"I felt extremely vulnerable and it affected my work after I was forced to take off my marriage string for the first time since I got married 23 years ago," one senior nurse told IANS.
"My husband understood that I was forced to do so because of the ruling at work, but I felt very uncomfortable about it in the presence of my father-in-law, with whom we live, and who waits in the reception area to collect me after work every day."
Nkonyeni said: "I believe and respect the red dot as it symbolises the marital status of a Hindu woman. Just as we respect the right of married women to wear their wedding rings, we also believe that similar treatment and respect must be accorded to Hindu women wearing their powdered 'dots' - stick on or liquid,"
The minister added that as a government institution they could not be seen to be infringing on the constitutional rights of individuals.
The health minister has ordered Addington hospital management to engage with its Hindu staff to reach an amicable agreement.
Nkonyeni said: "What is seriously concerning is that we are tolerant and accommodative of women who apply cosmetic powder on the whole face but intolerant when other women exercise their customary and religious rights by placing a powdered dot on their forehead."
The matter drew even more attention than one at a local high school where the mother of a Hindu girl persisted in the constitutional court and won her claim that her daughter's cultural rights had been infringed when the school ordered her to discontinue wearing a nose ring.