Malaysian teacher reprimanded for making Hindu students shave religious beards

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — A teacher in Muslim-majority Malaysia has been reprimanded for forcing six Hindu schoolboys to shave their mustaches and beards, which they were growing for a religious ritual this month.

State Education Director Hussain Harun said the teacher in the northern Perak state was enforcing school regulations that require students to be clean shaven, according to a report in The Star newspaper Tuesday.

However, the teacher was guilty of being insensitive to the students' feelings, and has been reprimanded, Hussain said. The teacher also forced the students to remove religious wristbands to enforce a rule that no ornaments be worn in school.

"If need be, the teacher would have to apologize ... for hurting their feelings by being insensitive to their religious and cultural needs," The Star quoted Hussain as saying. "The best way is to ask for their forgiveness."

The education officer investigating the case declined to comment.

The students were growing their hair as part of a ritual for the Thaipusam festival that was celebrated on Jan. 23. Many ethnic Indians, who form 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, let their hair grow for a certain period and have themselves shaved on Thaipusam day.

The Star did not identify the teacher's religion.

About 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim Malay, and the minority Indians and Chinese are concerned that a pro-Muslim tilt in the civil service and judiciary is eroding their religious rights.