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Axed for beard, boy takes school to SC

New Delhi, March 24: A Madhya Pradesh schoolboy has moved the Supreme Court against his school’s decision to expel him for keeping a beard against campus rules.

Mohammed Salim, who was studying in Class X at Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School, was expelled in December last year.

The rules of the school, a government-recognised minority institution, say all students must be clean shaven.

Salim first moved Madhya Pradesh High Court but it dismissed his plea saying the school had the right to frame its own by-laws as a minority institution. He then moved the apex court.

Appearing before a two-judge bench on March 19, Salim’s counsel, former Delhi High Court judge B.A. Khan, contended the school’s rules were in violation of the fundamental right to religion.

Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to pursue their religious practices and the right to keep a beard was a fundamental part of a Muslim’s religion, Khan said.

Any regulation making it mandatory for a Muslim student to shave his beard violated this provision, he said, urging the court to quash the rule and order the school to take Salim back.

Shaving his beard was against Salim’s “religious conscience, belief and the custom of his family”, Khan said.

The court adjourned the case till March 30 and directed Khan to check out if the school was government-aided. This would have a bearing on the case because the Supreme Court had earlier held that minority aided schools could be considered state institutions under the Constitution.

As fundamental rights lie only against the state and its functionaries, not against private citizens or institutions, the school could face flak if it is state-aided.

Salim’s petition also said the school allowed Sikh students to keep beards and sport turbans but, in his case, had insisted that he either follow the rules or leave. This was discriminatory, he said.

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