The Supreme Court on Thursday held that personnel working in the Indian Air Force cannot sport a beard on religious grounds. A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said the Centre’s decision to prohibit personnel of a particular community from sporting beard does not infringe upon the fundamental rights.
The bench also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao dismissed the pleas filed by two Muslim personnel of IAF who had challenged the dismissal of their pleas by the Delhi High Court.
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.