A Muslim police officer in Kochi has approached the Kerala high court challenging the state police chief’s refusal to let him grow a beard, saying the restriction violated his fundamental rights.
In his petition K Riyas, a civil police officer posted at the armed reserve camp in Ernakulam, said he was earlier allowed to grow a beard during the holy month of Ramzan but when he sought a permission to grow a permanent beard he was asked to approach the Kerala director general of police.
The DGP declined his request, saying that police manual did not have any provision for growing a beard.
On Monday, Riyas approached the high court, which issued notices to the state government, police chief and superintendent of police of the reserved police battalion.
In his plea, Riyas said the police manual did not have any provision for banning a beard and that the DGP’s decision violated his right to practice his religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
He argued that since Sikh officers were allowed to grow their beard and hair in police and military services, it was unfair to deny the same privilege to Muslims.
The case is likely to re-ignite what has been a sensitive issue among Muslims serving in the forces. Many officers from both the police and army have approached the higher judiciary to seek relief against orders to shave but have seldom been successful. Any attempt to sport a beard has usually attracted strict censure, even dismissal, with the courts saying facial hair was not an “essential” tenet of Islam.
In 2013, a Maharashtra police personnel facing disciplinary action for his beard moved the Supreme Court, which decided to look at the issue from a constitutional point of view.
The army allows non-Sikhs to sport a temporary beard on special occasions but with the permission of the commanding officer. The navy also allows its personnel to grow a beard with the commanding officer’s permission. However there is no such provision in the air force. In Kerala during the Sabarimala pilgrimage season (November to January), policemen on duty on the hilltop shrine are permitted to grow a beard and observe a fast.