The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beard bars boy from school

Zeeshan Alam is 18. He has a few scraggly strands of hair on his chin to show for the start of a beard. But that was enough for him to be refused admission to his school, throwing his academic career into jeopardy. According to government records, Zeeshan is the first student in the state to be shown the door for a “clash between disciplinary norms and religious beliefs”.

“I cry many times a day… I contemplate suicide… I use tablets to overcome tension,” admits Zeeshan, who passed his ICSE exams this year with 75 per cent marks from Ling Liang School in Tangra. Teachers of the school said his result was enough to assure him automatic re-admission. But that was not to be.

After his name did not figure in the admission list, Zeeshan’s uncle, Mehmood Alam, was told by the school authorities that the problem lay in the beard the boy had refused to shave off.

Principal S. Biswas told Metro on Friday that Zeeshan was refused admission because of his “disobedience” in following “certain norms” of the school. “The institution reserves the right to admit or refuse admission to any student,” she added.

Zeeshan did take admission in another school but failed to live down the trauma of being denied a place in ‘his school’. He has stopped going to school and is likely to take his Class XII tests as an ‘external candidate’.

Zeeshan has written to West Bengal Minorities’ Commission chairman Justice K.M. Yusuf: “Honourable sir, please save my life and ask the management to allow me to study in my beloved school.”

Zeeshan’s first brush with the school management was in August 2001, when he was in Class X and started sporting the beginnings of a beard. He was suspended for a while, starting August 3, for his refusal to shave on the grounds that “practising Muslims” must grow a beard. The matter was resolved after his mother, Nikhat Bano, intervened.

But after the ICSE exams, the beard of contention was back in focus. “I was refused admission only because of my beard,” is Zeeshan’s complaint to the minorities panel. “The case, prima facie, looks absurd,” Justice Yusuf said on Friday. “We will find out the principal’s version before approaching the government for suitable action.”

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