Muslim Jawan terminated from Army for sporting a beard, plans to move Supreme Court

Termed as ‘undesirable soldier’ by army, the dismissal of Maktumhusen, 34-year-old from Dharwad in Karnataka, was upheld by the Kochi Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) recently

A Muslim soldier in the Indian army has been terminated from the job after he insisted keeping beard for religious reason. Termed as ‘undesirable soldier’ by army, the dismissal of Maktumhusein, 34-year-old from Dharwad in Karnataka, was upheld by the Kochi Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) recently.

Maktumhusen was a sepoy in the Army Medical Corps for nearly 10 years when he first sought permission from his Commanding Officer (CO) to sport a beard on religious grounds. Initially, the CO allowed him to grow the beard and asked him to get a new identity card to retains the look for the rest of his service. However, the CO soon found out that the rules only allow Sikhs to grow beard and that did not allow other soldiers to have beards while in service.

The CO then revoked his order and asked Maktumhusen to shave his beard, calling the order discriminatory Maktumhusein approached the Karnataka High Court.

He was then transferred to Command Hospital in Pune where his new CO also asked him to shave off the beard. Maktumhusein however, remained adamant on his decision. A show-cause notice was issued against him, after which he was sentenced to a 14-day detention for disobedience.

As Maktumhusein continued to ignore instructions, he was discharged him from service and termed an ‘undesirable soldier’ after an inquiry.

Citing Article 25 of the Constitiution, which concerns religious freedom, Maktumhusein approached ATF, Kochi. The tribunal dismissed his plea and ruled that having a beard was not among the fundamental tenets of Islam. According his lawyers he may now move to the Supreeme Court.

According to the rules the Armed Forces do not allow any soldier to sport a permanent beard, except in the case of Sikhs. While terminating Maktumhusein the ATF said the Army is a disciplined force and denominational differences among its members based on religion, caste cannot be permitted. Practice of wearing a beard on the basis of religion by the applicant goes against Regulation 665 of the Defence Service Regulations and is not conducive to the discipline of the Force.

This is not the first time a Muslim soldier has kicked up a legal storm on the issue of growing beards.

In 2008, Aircraftsman Ansari Aftab Ahmed was discharged from service for demanding permission to grow a beard.

Four years after joining the IAF (IAF), he had sought permission to grow a beard. Denied, he went on 40 days’ leave, and returned wearing a beard, said the IAF case file.

Around the same year, two more petitions were filed on the same issue – one by IAF Corporal Mohammed Zubair and another by Maharashtra policeman Mohammad Fasi.

Interestingly, IAF allows Muslims who had a beard at the time of enrolment before 1 January, 2002, to sport facial hair. They do have rules regarding its length and maintenance.

The Navy allows its personnel to change their appearance. But the CO’s permission is mandatory. Medical grounds grant exemption from the rules.