Air force personnel cannot sport beard, rules Supreme Court

15 December 2016, 02:35 PM
Air force personnel cannot sport beard during service, observes Supreme Court
Air force personnel cannot sport beard during service, observes Supreme Court

Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that other than Sikhs air force personals cannot sport beard during service. The apex court upheld the sacking of a Muslim airforce personnel saying armed forces rules and regulations reading discipline and uniformity has to be maintained. 

The apex court by hearing a petition by a Muslim personnel seeking equality with Sikhs, who are allowed to wear unshorn hair and turban. The petition has been in the court since 2008.

The court bench led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur ruled that the regulations do not interfere with religious right and air force personnel has to maintain the uniformity and discipline of the rules and regulations of the armed forces.    

The apex court verdict came on two petitions filed separately by two personnel, Mohammed Zubair and Ansari Aaftab Ahmed, challenging the IAF authorities’ “confidential” order dated February 24, 2003, prohibiting Muslim personnel from sporting a beard.

Zubair in his petition had contended that the order was in contravention of fundamental fights of the citizen and also a government letter issued through the Ministry of Home on July 18,1990.

The said letter of the home minister permitted the uniformed Muslim/Sikh personnel to sport beard on religious grounds, provided prior permission was sought from the authorities, he said.

The Centre had said that the IAF order was in the interest of cohesiveness in a combat force and it also has security implications.

It had said that these policies are secular in character and have not been framed to govern the conduct of air force personnel of any particular religion.

The Centre has earlier told the court that IAF is undoubtedly a secular force having due regard for all religions and it is imperative that its personnel are guided by a sense of brotherhood without any distinction of caste, creed, colour or religion.

The petitioners had challenged the IAF order by way of a writ petition before the Delhi High Court and a single judge, citing certain Muslim religious texts, took the view that sporting beard was not compulsory and hence dismissed the plea.

They then approached a division bench which had also concurred with the order of the single judge and dismissed the plea following which the appeals were filed in the apex court.

In 2008, Aircraftsman Ansari Aftab Ahmed filed a case after being denied permission to keep a beard, after which he knocked the door of the court.

In 2008, Air craftsman Ansari Aftab Ahmed filed a case after being denied permission to keep a beard, after which he knocked the door of the court. He was also joined by two other persons namely IAF Corporal Mohammed Zubair, and the other by Maharashtra policeman Mohammad Fasi.  

Four years after joining the IAF, he sought permission to grow a beard, to which the IAF denied his request. After which,  Ansari Aftab went on a 40 day’s leave, and returned wearing a beard. The IAF filed a case in Punjab and Haryana High Court, which, in July 2008, said that wearing a beard was not a “compulsive requirement” for Muslims. 

The judgement read, “If members of the disciplined force are permitted to behave according to their own wishes and desires, it is surely to disturb the public order in the force and may create chaotic conditions.”  

“Facial identity of every member of the service is important and essential particularly while in uniform. This is particularly relevant in view of the growing incidents of terrorism and militancy in our country,” the judgement added further.

IAF restrains personnel from wearing beard as to ensure the preservation of unit cohesion and group identity.

First Published: Thursday, December 15, 2016 11:12 AM
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