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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

Odisha: Decency code for Puri Jagannath Temple devotees sparks row over moral policing

The SJTA said: 'We are not implementing any dress code. But we have objections to devotees wearing tattered jeans, short pants, and flashy and sleeveless clothes. They should not wear clothes like shorts, ripped jeans and skirts and expose their body parts here on the temple premises'

Subhashish Mohanty Bhubaneswar Published 11.10.23, 06:56 AM
Shree Jagannath temple in Puri.

Shree Jagannath temple in Puri. File picture

Puri Shree Jagannath Temple Administration’s (SJTA) decision to impose a decency code for the devotees from January 1 has evoked sharp reactions, triggering a debate on moral policing.

The temple administration asked the devotees to come wearing appropriate and decent clothes and avoid distasteful attire. Many people have questioned the temple administration’s authority to impose such a code which amounts to moral policing.

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On the other hand, the Puri temple administration maintained that there was nothing wrong in engaging in a little bit of moral policing if it was being done for a greater cause.

Chief administrator of SJTA, Ranjan Kumar Das, told The Telegraph: “We are not implementing any dress code. But we have objections to devotees wearing tattered jeans, short pants, and flashy and sleeveless clothes. They should not wear clothes like shorts, ripped jeans and skirts and expose their body parts here on the temple premises. There are a number of parks, hotels and pubs in Puri where they can go wearing any dress. But we need to maintain the purity and sanctity of the temple premises. We wear dhoti, kurta, sari or salwar. But they should properly wear it.”

Das argued: “When we go to school, office, court, we wear proper dresses and even for marriage. Then why should we not follow this here? We have received a lot of complaints from the servitors about how some devotees come wearing clothes which are not proper and it vitiates the atmosphere of the shrine. That’s why we have decided to appeal to the people to follow a dress code.”

On being asked whether it’s not a kind of moral policing, Das said: “There is nothing wrong in doing a bit of moral policing if it helps a big cause. We have no right to disturb the mindset of others and vitiate the atmosphere.”

The chief administrator added: “We will soon launch an awareness campaign on the issue. We will train our staff. We will only ask the devotees to ask their conscience whether it’s right for them to wear indecent dresses while coming to the temple.”

Senior servitor Ramkrishan Das Mohapatra said: “We have instances when devotees entered the shrine wearing ‘distasteful’ clothes. Devotees should wear traditional clothes to preserve the religious and spiritual ambience of the shrine.”

However, law student and All India Students’ Federation Odisha unit president Sanghamitra Jena said: “It’s not the temple administration’s right to dictate what should we wear. It’s our personal choice. Tomorrow, they will ask us to cut our hair. What about the indecent behaviour shown to the devotees?”

Echoing the sentiments of Sanghamita, social activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo said: “It’s a majoritarian morality undermining the constitutional rights. It’s a violation of the right to privacy. People wearing jeans can be rapists and can enter the temple. But people wearing ripped jeans can be great devotees. Decency is a relative term.”

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