Row over 'Ayyappa Deeksha' circular to Andhra Pradesh cops

An internal circular of the police department denying exemption to its personnel who are on “Ayyappa Deeksha” (a religious ritual followed by the devotees of Lord Ayyappa), has triggered a row in Andhra Pradesh (AP).

During the 41-day ritual prior to visiting Sabarimala in Kerala for darshan of Lord Ayyappa, the devotees follow strict regimen which include wearing black robes, consuming food without salt, being barefoot, growing a beard, sleeping on the floor, shun worldly pleasures and perform bhajans every morning and evening. However, a recent circular issued by the Police Commissioner of Cyberabad, notified the policemen not to wear black dress or sport beard while on duty. “Permission will not be granted to police personnel to wear black dress while on duty. They will not be allowed to grow hair and beard and perform duties without footwear. Policemen desirous of observing Deeksha can apply for leave for the same,” the circular said.

Several employees had submitted applications seeking permission to follow austerities as part of the “Deeksha” before going to Sabarimala.  The Deeksha which commenced on November 16 stipulates a strict regimen for the devotees. AP accounts for the maximum number of Ayyappa devotees visiting Sabarimala every year.

According to an estimate, more than 40 per cent of the one crore odd pilgrims visiting Sabarimala were from AP and this number is expected to go up this year.  A large number of state government employees, including hundreds of police personnel, take up the Deeksha every year. The BJP has taken a serious note of the circular and dubbed it as an affront on the religious sentiments of the Hindus. “No other department has imposed such a restriction on the employees. The police personnel too have their religious faith.
Why should they be denied the right to perform the Deeksha in which they have to follow certain norms? It is nothing but infringement on the right to religious freedom,” said the party spokesman N V S S Prabhakar.

He pointed out that Muslim police personnel were allowed to sport a beard and to go to Friday prayers regularly, besides being given special privileges in the Holy month of Ramzan.

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