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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Beard ban in school okay, not Taliban comment: Muslim schoolboy's case in Supreme Court

Muhammad Salim, 16, the son of a vegetable vendor, grew a beard and was expelled from the missionary school. His case reached the Supreme court where the judgment held that it was the right of a minority institute to frame its rules and allow or disallow student to sport a beard.

Yes, to enforce discipline, it seems correct to keep the beard out of school. I understand that for Sikhs it is a different issue. And though some Muslims feel strongly about the beard, it was never an issue before. If it was, it should have been raised forcefully and demanded as a right. However, there is something that is quite disturbing.

Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, who is widely respected for his verdicts, remarked that 'We don't want Talibans in this country..tomorrow a female student may say that she wants to wear a burqa...can we allow it?'. This has come as a surprise.

[A] Linking beard to Talibans was unwarranted. Do all Muslims who sport beard are Taliban! Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madani has said that we condemned Talibans, issued fatwa against them and have opposed them all the while. How come we get equated with Talibanisation. The Talibans are, after all, an American creation.

[B] Across the country, there are hundreds of schools [mostly in poorer neighbourhoods] where Muslims girls wearing burqa not just go to school but also enter the class wearing veil or hijab. It happens. It's not Europe where Muslims have reached just 30, 50 years back and for them a Muslim [or even a Sikh] is still an outsider, someone with a different culture. However, they try to be sensitive.

[C] In Britain where Muslims hardly number 3%, Muslim policewoman is allowed to work wearing a hijab. Is it thinkable in India? It is not. Are Muslims alien to this country even after a 1,000 years. I don't ask for hijab-wearing Muslim cops in India but I don't welcome the Taliban comment either.

[D] A lecture to student on concentrating more on his studies than beard, would have been more appropriate for the dignity of court. It would have been much gracious to dismiss the matter & let the school and boy sort it out. I am not interested in keeping a beard but may be it was important for the boy to keep the beard. Most of us try to be more sensitive to others and their faiths. Has the War on Terror turned us so paranoid that we are exceeding the Westerners.

Salim is the son of a vegetable vendor and the school Nirmala Convent located in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh is not a government-aided institution. Still, the judgment may have an effect on government-aided schools as well. Already an airforce personnel is fighting a similar case, which is pending with the Apex court.

[D-1] Consider an important thing from legal aspect that was not mentioned at many places. There was no clause to ban beard in this particular school until a few years back. Recently the new clause was introduced. The Church officials accept that the parents of Muslim students were not consulted when the ban was imposed and it was not discussed in Parents-Teachers Meeting.

[E] I dislike any display of religiosity. But I am at pains to see that every government function begins with Bhumi Pujan and there is a temple in almost every police station in this country. Every second or third cop violates the Service Rules by sporting a Tika [tilak] and even President Pratibha Patil performed a full-fledged puja along with a pundit when the Air Force One was inducted in Indian army and went on maiden flight.

[F] Amid chanting of Mantras, breaking of coconuts and a tilak ceremony, the desi Air Force One took to skies on its inaugural VVIP flight on Wednesday with President Pratibha Patil heading for Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, reports Times of India. Hindi papers have detailed reports and photographs.

[G] Meanwhile, coming back to the comments. If you live in a new and posh locality, you may rarely spot a veiled girl going to school and if ever you come across you might find it unusual though for the residents of locality in old clusters or walled cities would not find it different. So perception too counts. And lately 'the Muslim' has become 'the Other' and 'the Fanatic', thanks to the negative media portrayal and failure of Muslims to counter that.

Photos: Muhammad Salim, Muslim police officials at Scottland Yard in London [England].

UPDATE: Salim allowed to keep beard, SC terms school order 'ridiculous'

The bench of Justices--BN Agarwal and GS Singhvi, on September 11, 2009 ordered the Nirmala Convent School to give admission to the student, Salim, who had earlier been expelled. The bench termed the order of the school principal as 'ridiculous'.

Will you stop the Sikh student for a similar beard? The court asked the counsel whether in future a dark student would be barred from studying (as he is not fair) or a girl student wearing a earring. The Sironj school will now have to re-admit the student. Earlier, Justice Markandeya Katju had expressed regret for his 'controversial' comments in the earlier order which he had withdrawn.