16 Dec 2016

Armed-force personal cannot insist on keep 'beard' unless prohibited by religion: Supreme Court

Affirming the view of the High Court the Supreme Court in its decision pronounced yesterday [Mohammad Zubair Corporal versus Union of India Civil Appeal No. 8643/2009, decision dated 15.12.2016] has approved the policy of the armed-forces that its personnel cannot maintain a beard unless 'prohibited' on religious grounds. The policy stated as under;
“425. Growth of Hair etc. by Air Force Personnel.
(a) Except as in sub para (b), the hair of the head will be kept neatly cut and trimmed. The hair of airman under detention/sentence will be cut no shorter than is customary/ throughout the service except on medical advice and except where on an application made by the airman he has been permitted to keep long hair. Face will be clean shaven. Whiskers and moustaches, if worn will be moderate length.
(b) Personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting of the hair or shaving of the face of its members will be permitted to grow hair or retain beard. However, such hair and/ or beards will be kept clean, properly dressed and will not be removed except on medical grounds or on application duly approved”.
The concerned person "submitted an application seeking permission to keep a beard on religious grounds, since he is a Muslim" and this application stood rejected, an action which was sustained by the High Court. According to the Supreme Court, under these regulations, "[t]he touchstone for being allowed to grow one’s hair or to retain a beard is where there is a religious command which prohibits either the hair being cut or a beard being shaved." Thus there was no merit in the plea that Muslim officers could insist upon retaining the beard. The Supreme Court explained the rationale for its conclusion in the following terms;
"5. The Air Force is a combat force, raised and maintained to secure the nation against hostile forces. The primary aim of maintaining an Air Force is to defend the nation from air operations of nations hostile to India and to advance air operations, should the security needs of the country so require. The Indian Air Force has over eleven thousand officers and one lakh and twenty thousand personnel below officers rank. For the effective and thorough functioning of a large combat force, the members of the Force must bond together by a sense of Espirit-de-corps, without distinctions of caste, creed, colour or religion. There can be no gainsaying the fact that maintaining the unity of the Force is an important facet of instilling a sense of commitment, and dedication amongst the members of the Force. Every member of the Air Force while on duty is required to wear the uniform and not display any sign or object which distinguishes one from another. Uniformity of personal appearance is quintessential to a cohesive, disciplined and coordinated functioning of an Armed Force. Every Armed Force raised in a civilised nation has its own ‘Dress and Deportment’ Policy.
6. India is a secular nation in which every religion must be treated with equality. In the context of the Armed Forces, which comprise of men and women following a multitude of faiths the needs of secular India are accommodated by recognising right of worship and by respecting religious beliefs. Yet in a constitutional sense it cannot be overlooked that the overarching necessity of a Force which has been raised to protect the nation is to maintain discipline. That is why the Constitution in the provisions of Article 33 stipulates that Parliament may by law determine to what extent the fundamental rights conferred by Part III shall stand restricted or abrogated in relation inter alia to the members of the Armed Forces so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them.

10. During the course of the hearing, we had inquired of Shri Salman Khurshid, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the Appellants whether there is a specific mandate in Islam which "prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of facial hair". Learned senior counsel, in response to the query of the Court, indicated that on this aspect, there are varying interpretations, one of which is that it is desirable to maintain a beard. No material has been produced before this Court to indicate that the Appellant professes a religious belief that would bring him within the ambit of Regulation 425(b) which applies to "personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting off the hair or shaving off the face of its members". ...
11. We see no reason to take a view of the matter at variance with the judgment under appeal. The Appellant has been unable to establish that his case falls within the ambit of Regulation 425(b). In the circumstances, the Commanding Officer was acting within his jurisdiction in the interest of maintaining discipline of the Air Force. The Appellant having been enrolled as a member of the Air Force was necessarily required to abide by the discipline of the Force. Regulations and policies in regard to personal appearance are not intended to discriminate against religious beliefs nor do they have the effect of doing so. Their object and purpose is to ensure uniformity, cohesiveness, discipline and order which are indispensable to the Air Force, as indeed to every armed force of the Union."

No comments: