Student beards the issue in apex court

 
A bench of Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi said it was a “ridiculous” decision to remove the student, Mohammed Salim, after he refused to shave his beard on religious grounds. The bench issued notices to the Madhya Pradesh government and Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School, Vidisha, to file their reply to the petition, pending in the apex court for the past six months.

On March 30, the earlier bench of Justices R V Raveendran and Markandey Katju had initially dismissed the student’s plea.

Justice Katju, had made certain observations that the country cannot be “Talibanised” by allowing students to sport a beard. Justice Katju, subsequently in a review petition filed by the student, tendered an apology, recalled the dismissal order, and recommended that the matter be posted for a fresh hearing.

“We don’t want to have Taliban in the country. Tomorrow, a girl student may come and say she wants to wear a burqa. Can we allow it,” Justice Katju had observed during the hearing.

The school, a government-recognised minority institution, had asked the student to come to class clean-shaven. Salim had challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court verdict that had dismissed his plea seeking direction to the school to allow him to wear a beard on religious ground.

Appearing for the student, senior advocate B A Khan had said that Article 25 of the Constitution guaranteed protection to Salim to pursue his religious practice of keeping a beard and the regulation providing for shaving it off was violative of this provision. He said the act of the principal to force the student to leave the school for keeping a beard was against “his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family”.

Pointing out that the Sikh community members were allowed to keep a beard and wear a turban, Salim alleged there was a clear discrimination on part of the school to force him to be clean-shaven and that this rule violated his fundamental rights.

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