The Maharashtra government’s order to a Muslim police constable not to sport a beard, thus disregarding his plea that the order defied his fundamental right to practice religion, is now open for sustained judicial scrutiny.
On a lawsuit filed by aggrieved constable Zahiroddin Shamsoddin Bedade, who faces disciplinary action for refusing to shave, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Maharashtra government and the Centre to explain their stand on whether sporting beard by a member of the uniformed force on the ground of religion’s imperative is permissible.
In July last year, the state had initiated action against Bedade, who joined the state reserve police force in 2008, for disobeying its ‘no-beard’ order. After the Bombay high court’s refusal to intervene in the matter, Bedade moved the Supreme Court, seeking protection of his right to practice religion and fulfil its obligations as guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
“We did some homework and found a few high courts were against Muslim policemen sporting beards... we will examine this issue,” the court said and sought the Centre’s “reaction”.
Perturbed over the denial of admission to Muslim students for sporting moustaches, the top court had slammed a convent school in Madhya Pradesh two years ago. “There’s no reason behind this strange logic that prohibits Muslim students from sporting beards,” the apex court had said, directing Nirmala Convent High School to take back a Std X student.
“Merely because you have a beard, they have removed you [from the rolls]? So, if you are a Sikh, you will not be able to sport a beard,” a bench of justices BN Agarwal and GS Singhvi had castigated the school and the state government.