Hindu shrine staff win right to keep their underpants on

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 its strongroom.

The workers in the vault, all 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 human rights commission agreed. Authorities at the shrine, which is dedicated to deity Ayyappa, said yesterday they would end the practice and were considering electronic surveillance systems.

Thousands of pilgrims flock to the shrine, bringing cash, precious metals and jewels as offerings. Women of child-bearing age are forbidden.