Madras High Court stays temple dress code order

The HC had prescribed dhoti and shirt or pyjama “with upper cloth” for men and saree or half-saree or churidar “with upper cloth” for women.

The Madurai bench of the Madras high court on Monday granted an interim stay on its order to impose a dress code for visitors to temples run by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of Tamil Nadu.

The dress code was imposed on November 26, with Justice S Vaidyanathan hearing a petition seeking the court’s permission to hold a cultural programme at a temple in Trichy district, observing that a dress code was necessary to restrict devotees from wearing improper clothing. The state government subsequently responded that it was not possible to follow a uniform dress code. Monday’s order granting an interim stay until January 18 also followed petitions from women’s organisations challenging the single-judge bench’s order passed in November 2015.

Justice Vaidyanathan’s order came into effect on January 1. “According to Christianity, a general lesson from the New Testament is that we should dress for public worship in a way that is generally considered appropriate,” the controversial judgment had stated.

“Standards of dress are different from church to church and change over time, but we should avoid any style of dress that is offensive or sends a message opposing the church community’s values.”

The court observed that Islamic norms also insist on a dress code. For women, the court said, sleeves should reach the wrists and the head should be covered by a scarf. “Pants or skirts that are too revealing, clingy, or tight should not be worn and the dress permissible to men for worship is that they should wear long pants and plain shirts without messages or slogans when visiting mosques,” it said. “Short-sleeved shirts are acceptable as long as the sleeves are not shorter than average.”

Days after his judgment, Justice Vaidyanathan and two fellow judges — Justices N Kirubakaran and S Ilavazhagan, Registrar (Administration) of the Madras High Court — had visited three temples in Dindigul district in traditional clothes prescribed in the dress code.