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ANDRA PRADESH, INDIA, November 19, 2012 (Daily Mail): A circular issued by the Andhra Pradesh Police asking their personnel not to dress in black or grow their hair as part of the 40-day deeksha (preparation for a religious ceremony) before going for the Sabarimala pilgrimage has kicked up a row in the state. Some personnel have requested permission to wear black clothes and grow their hair and beard to perform certain rituals as part of the deeksha. They also wanted exemption from wearing shoes while on duty. However, the circular dated November 8 clarified that permission would not be granted to the "disciplined police personnel" to dress in black while on duty. "If any police personnel desire to observe deeksha for Swamy Ayyappa, they can apply for leave," it added.
Andhra accounts for the maximum number of Ayyappa devotees visiting Sabarimala, in Kerala, every year. The BJP has criticized the police circular, saying no other department has imposed such a restriction on the employees. "It is nothing but infringement on the right to religious freedom," BJP spokesman NVSS Prabhakar said. Cyberabad police commissioner Dwaraka Tirumala Rao refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying "It is not a new circular, but has been in practice for several years," a police official said. Home minister P. Sabita Indra Reddy, however, said there was no restriction on the police personnel who want to go on Ayyappa deeksha. "Let the police personnel perform their duties normally without any controversies," she said.