Can a Muslim student of a Christian minority school claim a fundamental right to sport a beard against the rules of the school?
A 16-year-old boy from Madhya Pradesh has moved Supreme Court against an order of the state high court rejecting his petition challenging the decision of Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School to throw him out for refusing to shave his beard.
Mohammad Salim, a Class X student, has sought quashing of the regulation that requires students to be clean-shaven on the grounds that it violates his fundamental right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.
The high court had in December 2008 accepted the school’s contention that it had the right to establish and administer a minority institution under Article 30 of the Constitution and frame its own rules. Supreme Court upheld this right in the P.A. Inamdar and Others versus State of Maharashtra case, it had said.
The SC asked Salim to ascertain if the school is government-aided or not and posted the matter for hearing on March 30.
Salim, from Vidisha district, contended that every citizen should be allowed to follow his religious beliefs and none should restrain him from doing so in a secular India. He said keeping a beard is accorded high importance in Islam.
His counsel B.A. Khan argued: “The principal’s act to force the student to leave the school for keeping a beard was against his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family.”
Pointing out that Sikhs are allowed to keep a beard and sport a turban, Salim alleged the school was discriminating against him.
Stating that the by-laws framed by a minority school should be “reasonable and rational”, he alleged he was being “harassed with some ulterior motive or due to some communal feeling, which is very harmful to society and the nation”.
“In 2008, I performed Chilla (40-day prayer session) and I decided not to shave my beard. When I returned to school the next academic session, the authorities told me I had to shave or I wouldn’t be allowed in school,” Salim told HT. He said principal Teresa Martin served him a notice to collect his transfer certificate if he wasn’t ready to follow the rules. Martin couldn’t be contacted.