A junior commissioned officer (JCO) of the Indian Army, posted in Ambala, has stirred a hornet’s nest by refusing to cut-off his choti (braid) when ordered recently. Citing right to religious freedom, Subedar S.P. Shukla, who has put in 28 years of service with a spotless record, declined to follow the orders issued to him. The army sees Shukla’s carefully nurtured choti as a violation of rules prohibiting display of religion. He is now pitted against age-old army traditions to honour, what he calls, his religious freedom. “On August 15, Major General Alok Dev saw me with the shikha (braid) and directed that I should be asked to remove it. I cannot do so. This is against my religious freedom and is my constitutional right. I replied back very politely to him in a letter that I request that an advice be taken from experts on this,” Subedar Shukla told Headlines Today. He wrote a detailed letter to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 40 Artillery Division giving out his reasons for sporting the braid. “I am a disciplined soldier and I do not want anything wrong to happen with the army. But I want a decision on this issue so that everyone benefits from it,” he insisted. Despite the stand-off, the army has not initiated any action against Shukla for now even though he has refused to follow a direct order.