The controversy generated by the remarks attributed to Justice Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court while dismissing a Muslim student's claim to sport a beard in violation of the rules of the Christian minority school he studied in is refusing to die down.
Justice Katju is reported to have said, “…We don't want to have Taliban in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa. Can we allow it?…”
The remarks have been read out of context and blown out of proportion.
A section of the media, particularly the Urdu press, has given an impression that the court rejected Muslims' right to sport beard.
The student, Md Salim, said sporting beard was an essential part of Islam and by not allowing him to do so, the school had violated his right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of Constitution.
The real issue
In fact, beard was not the issue before the court; it was if a minority community had the right to administer an unaided institution as per its rules or not.
Article 30(1) of the Constitution guarantees minorities a fundamental right to establish and administer educational institutions, and the SC has zealously protected this right.
Salim's counsel argued the case as if Articles 25 and 30(1) were in conflict. That is not the case.
Even in Islamic countries, majority of Muslims don't sport beard.
A student — Muslim, Hindu or Christian — is free to wear beard but he can't insist on it in violation of the fundamental right of a minority school to administer its institution.
Sikhs are allowed because growing hair and beard is part of the basic tenets of their religion.
The Muslim leaders criticising the judge and the verdict must be asked if an institution run by Muslims would allow a Christian student to wear skirt in violation to its rules?
The answer is no. Then why create an unnecessary controversy?
The judge's comments regarding Talibanisation and burqa must be understood in the context of the minority Christian school, whose right to administer its institution was questioned.
Justice Katju’s credentials as a secular and progressive judge are beyond doubt. Those attacking him should remember that the judiciary is the ultimate protector of secularism and fundamental rights. Dragging it into a controversy will erode people’s faith in the rule of law.
The order is essentially pro-minority. As regards the comments, one need not read these out of context.