December 17, 2016 11:17:45 am
The Supreme Court judgement dismissing the appeal of a Muslim IAF Corporal who wanted to keep a beard has brought into focus the regulations of the defence services which are aimed at maintaining a non-religious appearance while in uniform and also prohibit wearing of tilak or Vibhuti on the forehead, thread on the wrist or arm and any trinket in the ear.
The SC judgement also quotes the regulations of the Indian Air Force (IAF) which specify the regulations regarding the outward appearance of the personnel and which are also mirrored in the regulations of the Army and the Navy.
The IAF regulations clearly state that while in uniform, the personal appearance of an individual should not give any religious bias. Hence the restriction on outward appearance has been placed not only for the purpose of sporting beard by the Muslims but also for the personnel of other religions like Hinduism, Sikhism etc. While Sikhs are allowed to keep a beard and sport long hair, there are extensive rules and regulations for the same and those sporting beard and long hair have to abide by them.
The IAF policy regarding a common code of conduct applicable to all air force personnel was re-examined in February 2003 and a revised policy was issued. The policy clearly stated that only those Muslim personnel who had kept beard along with moustache at the time of commissioning/enrollment prior to Jan 1, 2002 would be allowed to keep beard and moustache.
“Such personnel are to maintain it in a manner that it is neat, trimmed and tidy and not more than the length which could be covered by one fist. Muslims who have grown beard after joining service should shave off the beard. Under no circumstances, a Muslim person who had beard at the time of joining service before Jan 1, 2002 shall be allowed to maintain beard without moustache. Moustache would be a part of the beard,” the policy states.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a former Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Army’s legal branch, Col SK Aggarwal, said that despite restrictions there are relaxations which are given within rules and regulations. “For example there is a provision of taking permission and growing beard by Muslims in Ramzan while keeping roza. The permission is given with the direction that the beard has to be shaved off after the rozas are over else it will be considered an disciplinary offence,” he said.
As far as Sikhs serving in the IAF is concerned, the policy says, “Sikh personnel who wear turban and keep beard at the time of commission/enrolment would continue to do so. These personnel must maintain the beard neatly dressed/tied and rolled and not kept flowing. They are to wear the turban while in uniform/civil dress whether inside or outside the camp except during PT/Games and activities related to operations where wearing of turban is not feasible. At all such occasions, Sikh personnel are to wear turban/patka or handkerchief over the knot of hair as appropriate. Sikh personnel keeping short hair and beard are to wear turban as applicable to those maintaining long hair”.
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