Kupwara soldier loses job for sporting beard
By AFZAL SOFI
Srinagar: A Kashmiri man serving in the Indian army has been dismissed from service for sporting beard.
Zahir-ud-Din, 29, a resident of Nowgam area of Kupwara district, joined the Territorial Army (161 Bn) as a soldier on January 14, 2004 and was posted at Gantmulla, Uri, where in March 2004 he was deputed as an imam (prayer leader) in the unit.
“There were around 95 percent Muslims in our battalion, while the rest were Hindus and Sikhs. All of us were allowed to perform our religious obligations. Later, a mosque, a temple and a gurudwara were established within the camp where the soldiers would perform their religious functions,” said Zahir.
He said he was sent to Gantmulla because there was no imam in the battalion. Two other soldiers were also deputed to lead the soldiers in religious functions in the temple and gurduwara, he said.
“I used to keep short beard during my training, but after entrusted with the job of leading the prayers in the unit I was allowed to grow long beard ‘as per rules and norms of army’,” Zahir told Kashmir Reader.
After leading the prayers for almost four years, Zahir said he was one day called by the Commanding Officer to his office and told to stop leading the prayers and shave his beard off.
“I told him that I am ready to do any work in the unit whatever is entrusted to me but I can’t shave my beard off as it goes against my religious obligations. I also told him I have permission for keeping the beard,” Zahir said. “The officer did not agree. I, however, remained adamant on not shaving the beard for which he was continuously harassing me.”
For around one month, Zahir said the officer would every day call him to his office and threaten of dangerous consequences. He was later directed to submit an affidavit in writing and explain why he can’t shave off his beard.
Zahir said he submitted the affidavit on June 17, 2008 mentioning that would not shave his beard even if he had to resign. He said he also mentioned that he was ready to perform any duty in any army unit if allowed to keep the beard.
“But in response to the affidavit a letter through Lt Col. Adjutant of our battalion was send to me in which it was written that I had moved an application for voluntary discharge from the services. I had never opted for voluntary retirement. But my affidavit was treated as an application for voluntary discharge and I was forced to leave the unit,” said Zahir.
After that Zahir said he submitted an application to the General Officer Commanding on February, 25, 2009 requesting him to allow him resume his duty.
Zahir said he was “allowed to keep the beard under military norms which states that a member of the force belonging to the Muslim community may be permitted to keep beard on religious grounds.”
“Once the permission is given the member concerned will have to wear it consistently for the rest of his service period unless there’s written request to shave it.”
Zahir is now seeking legal help to get his job back. “I have filed a case in the High Court where I hope I may get the justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, when contacted Army’s Srinagar-based spokesman Col. Brijesh Pandey said he was “unaware about this particular case.”
“I don’t know about this issue, but as far as rules and regulations go, a soldier is not allowed to sport beard during his active duty,” Pandey told Kashmir Reader.