It was not the first time that a Muslim in the forces of the country made the demand of his authorities to let him exercise his freedom of religion and thus break the discipline of the department. Article 25 of the constitution has been invoked wrongly to stand out in the queue of the men in uniform as distinctly as products of a madrassah who fashionably wear short pyjamas as a political statement of their difference from the rest of Indian society. A case of the type of Mohammed Farman’s beard had surfaced nearly a decade-and-a-half ago. The authority did not oblige the odd man out even then. No doubt, citizens of India are entitled to wear signs and symbols that distinguish their respective faiths, but as the Allahabad High Court has rightly said, the article of the constitution in question comes with its fair share of exceptions. Being in the police, army, navy or air force is one such exclusion. While the British, who made this rule, had the combat role of cops and soldiers in mind, where there could be situations in which the enemy would find the outgrowth on the head or the face convenient to subdue the man, the question is why a community should always ask for a certain kind of pampering treatment by the state that is not offered to other citizens. No Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist policeman or soldier has so far moved a court, seeking to sport a natural or artificial accessory that is not allowed generally in the department. An exception was granted to Sikhs, as the martially active group had had this compulsion since the edict of Guru Gobind Singh. Sporting a beard is in Islam, it must be known, not mandatory. Clerics do it to exhibit their extra devotion to the firman of Prophet Mohammed who held that shaving the beard affected one’s eyesight while keeping moustache untrimmed might pollute the food intake while pushing morsels into the mouth [Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Hadith 781]. If Farman wished to be as steadfast on the path of his prophet, he should not have joined the police force just as Hindu sadhus don’t.
That India, as a nation-state, entertains such demands is not a feature of our governance model that we must seek pride in. It beats reason why police cannot ask Sikh men or women to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. If a headgear other than the turban is not permissible in Sikhism, did former cricketers Navjot Singh Sidhu, Harbhajan Singh and others from the faith commit a sin by protecting their heads while on the cricket ground? Or is faith thrown out of the window when the probability of getting hurt is higher, as it is more likely that a ball moving at a speed of 150 km/h would hurt the batsman than it is that a rider would meet with an accident? Instances of loophole-ridden Indian laws and rules such as these demonstrate how un-secular the state is, the insertion of the word in the preamble during Emergency notwithstanding. And when one community is allowed a leeway, others queue up seeking their own privileges. The most frequent violation of secularism occurs in the country by way of blockades on roads not only for a once-a-year Muharram, Kanwar Yatra or processions for idol immersions but, in unfortunate neighbourhoods, as often as every day where some resident just has to decide one fine morning that he needs to hold a ceremony publicly and others who share the locality cannot pass by that stretch the whole day, thanks to the tents erected in the middle of the thoroughfare — with or without permission of the municipality! Thought must be spared to all instances of throwing normal life out of gear. Whereas a Muslim cop’s plea to let him sport a beard is an effort to remain fringe within the mainstream, others have mainstreamed what should have been a fringe activity: holding other citizens to ransom.