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IAF cites religion to ban beard for Muslims

Defending an Indian Air Force policy that forbids Muslim personnel recruited after 2002 from keeping a beard...

Defending an Indian Air Force policy that forbids Muslim personnel recruited after 2002 from keeping a beard,the Union Government has told the Supreme Court that its policies are “secular in nature” and that only those Air Force personnel are permitted to grow hair or keep a beard,“whose religion specifically prohibits” cutting hair. In Islam,it added,keeping a beard is not compulsory. “It is submitted that all Muslims do not keep a beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognised in the religion of Islam.”

The government’s response was to an appeal by Aircraftsman Ansari Aftab Ahmad,who challenged the validity of the IAF’s instructions,dated February 24 and April 1,2003,prohibiting Muslim personnel from growing a beard. The court in September 2008 sought a scrutiny of the rule.

“The main aim of the policy,which lays down dress and department rules for the Air Force personnel,is that personnel should be known by the duty which he performs and not by the religion to which he belongs,” the government told the apex court. The policy,the Air Force stressed,was “issued in the interest of cohesiveness in a combatant force like the IAF and also keeping in view the security implications.”

“All Air Force personnel,while on duty,are required to wear similar uniform and do not display any sign or object which marks him distinct from others. In an armed force,it is always intended that to the extent possible,all personnel should look identifiably similar so that they may work in a cohesive,co-operative and co-ordinate manner,” it said.

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Apart from Ahmad,another petitioner,Mohammad Zubair,had challenged the Air Force policy on similar grounds. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan had earlier argued his case before the bench of Justices C K Thakker and D K Jain,saying that the rule impinged on the petitioner’s fundamental right to follow his religion,which makes it obligatory to grow a beard.

“This executive direction to the petitioner to shave off (his) beard is patently illegal,without any sanction or authority of law,besides being against the spirit of Article 25 of the Constitution and also against the secular ethos of the armed forces,” were the primary objections of Zubair,whose plea was dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

First published on: 18-01-2009 at 12:32:07 am
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