The Indian Air Force seems to be caught in a hairy situation. To beard or not to beard is the question. Twin appeals from within its ranks, challenging the validity of its service rules proscribing personnel inducted after 2002 from growing a beard, have helped crash-land the IAF in the midst of a three-way battle — against personnel unhappy with such ‘secularism’ and the Supreme Court, unhappy with its fuzzy response to the issue.
Earlier this year, both the Haryana High Court and the apex court had justified the IAF’s defence of its no-beard-for-all policy citing that, in Islam, the beard was not compulsory as in Sikhism – Sikh personnel being the only ones allowed to sport an abundance of facial hair. So, while we can understand the ban on the overt display of religious accessories in the armed forces as being crucial in maintaining the secular ethos, what does baffle us is the security threat that a face full of fur might pose, now that the days of hand-to-hand combat are long past. For there was a time when beards could prove to be deadly handles for gaining access to the enemy’s throat for quick slitting.
Now, as long as a furry face does not impede the smooth functioning of cockpit controls, or interfere with quick missile launches, we say go for the grunge. But then, having knowingly signed on to a set of service rules, those seeking to sport the odd stubble are probably committing a breach of contract every bit as serious as walking into a gentlemen’s cigar club with flip flops and a sarong. So, pending a change in the house rules, or unless the top house rules, this could prove to be a quite a close shave for those protesting men in blue.