A Kerala government official has been suspended after a departmental inquiry concluded that she had violated service rules by allowing a prayer meeting at her office, apparently to drive away "negative energy".
At the event in the office of K.A. Bindu, the child protection officer in Thrissur, an employee donned a cassock and carried a Bible to seek divine intervention to quell the "negative energy" she used to complain frequently about, the inquiry said.
Government offices in Kerala do not allow any religious rituals on their premises.
The probe was conducted by the district women and child development officer. As is standard practice, district collector V.R. Krishna Teja has ordered another inquiry by one of the sub-collectors, who is likely to submit the report in a week, a senior government official told The Telegraph on Monday.
The web portal of Malayala Manorama quoted Bindu as saying she had received the suspension order, dated November 16, only on Monday.
"I was on leave on November 18 (when it was served). I got the suspension order when I came to the office today (Monday), hence I am leaving (returning home)," she was quoted as saying.
"The usual period of suspension is six months; any extension of the suspension period is up to the department," the government source who spoke to this newspaper said.
The prayer meeting was held at 4.30pm on September 29, the source, who declined to be named, said. "It seems the officer (Bindu) felt there was some negative energy in her office since things were not going smoothly," he said.
The "solution" was suggested by the employee who eventually presided over the prayer. The employee, whose name has not been revealed, happens to be a trained pastor from a Christian denomination.
"The man turned up in a cassock and carried a copy of the Bible for the prayer that the staff didn't dare skip since a good number of them were not permanent employees," the source said.
Since Bindu's office was housed in the Thrissur district civil station -- a complex where almost all state government offices in the district are located --- the news spread fast. Local media picked up the story.
Bindu is free to appeal against her suspension to the secretary to the ministry of women and child development. After exhausting that option she can approach the Kerala Administrative Tribunal.
The source said that Kerala, irrespective of which party is in power, forbids government employees from adorning their desks or walls with portraits of a religious nature.
"The whole idea is to maintain the secular character of the State. Even computer screensavers (at government offices) cannot be of a religious nature," he said.
In neighbouring Karnataka, in contrast, almost all government offices display pictures of gods and goddesses and even observe religious rituals like the Ayudha Puja during Dasara.
The Kerala government also prohibits its employees from being office-bearers of any religious or communal organisation. Kerala High Court had in May 2022 held that Rule 67A of the Kerala Government Servants Conduct Rules prohibits government employees from holding any such position.
Bindu headed one of the four wings of the district unit of the women and child development ministry. There is a wing each for child development, child protection, women’s development and women’s protection.