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The Supreme Court of IndiaIANS File Photo

The same Indian Air Force (IAF) rules that the Supreme Court cited on Thursday to dismiss the appeal of a Muslim IAF Corporal who wanted to keep a beard also prohibit wearing of tilak or vibhuti on the forehead, thread on the wrist or arm and any trinket in the ear.

The regulations of defence services aimed at maintaining a non-religious appearance while in uniform were brought into focus after the Supreme Court upheld a high court decision that the IAF was justified in terminating the services of a Muslim man because he sported a beard. The same regulations are also mirrored by the Army and the Navy.

Countering the litigant on how Sikhs are allowed to sport beards and moustaches, the apex court had observed: "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 IAF regulations suggest that personal grooming should not give any religious bias. Hence the regulations are also restrictive for other religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, etc. 

In 2003, when the IAF policy was last revised, it was stated that only those Muslim personnel who had kept beard along with moustache at the time of commissioning/enrolment 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 the moustache. Moustache would be a part of the beard," the policy states.

However, despite the strict restrictions, the Army is accommodative and lenient.

"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 a disciplinary offence," Col SK Aggarwal, a former Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Army's legal branch, was quoted saying to the Indian Express.

For Sikhs serving in the IAF, the policy says, "Sikh personnel who wear a turban and keep a 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 a 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 a turban as applicable to those maintaining long hair."