On 15th December, our Supreme Court confirmed the sacking of Ansari Aftab Ahmed, an Air Force Personnel for keeping a long beard while serving the Armed Forces. The petitioner, Ansari Aftab Ahmed, a Muslim, had asserted sporting beard as a facet of his fundamental right to freedom of religion, and sought equality with Sikhs, who are allowed to sport unshorn hair and turban.
The Indian Armed Forces is one of the only public bodies in India that has not been skewed by politics or religion. Recruitment is on the basis of merit only. There was a bunch of petitions filed by the Muslim Personnel of the AirForce. Ansari was discharged from service by IAF in October 2008 while his petition was still pending before the top court. In its reply, the IAF told the court, “All Muslims do not carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognised in the religion of Islam. Therefore, it cannot be said that Muslim religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face of its member.”
The Defence Ministry’s policy of “hair, beard and wearing turbans” as notified in 2003 is in force and it says: “Only those Muslim personnel, who had kept beard along with moustache at the time of commissioning /enrollment prior to 01 Jan 2002, would be allowed to keep beard and moustache… Muslims who have grown beard after joining service should shave off the beard.”
While making its judgement, the Chief Justice of India TS Thakur led bench said that Air Force regulations do not interfere with religious rights of individuals and that they have the sanctity of ensuring discipline. Hence they confirmed the sacking Mr. Ahmed.
The Indian Army supports all religions and builds temples, mosques and churches wherever the army is posted. The commanding officer of a Regiment may not belong to the same religion, caste or region to which the regiment named after belongs. For eg. the Bihar regiment may have a commanding officer from another State. Garhwal Rifles has Badri Vishaal (MahaVishnu) as their Presiding Deity.The famous Pazhavangadi Ganapathy temple in Kerala is being maintained by the Indian Army. And it is a tradition that the person who heads the Regiment attends the first Puja of the Temple when it is opened in April-May every year. There have been occasions when the Regiment has been headed by a Muslim and he has religiously attended the Puja. Our Armed Forces are truly respectful of all religions.