Leaning on the side of a text-based, more conservative definition of who is a true Sikh and the importance of hair in Sikhism, the full bench of justices JS Khehar, Jasbir Singh and Ajay Kumar Mittal in a 152-page order said keeping unshorn hair was an essential and most fundamental component of the religion.
The order came on a plea by Gurleen Kaur and others who had challenged denial of admission into an MBBS course at the Sri Guru Ram Das Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Amritsar, a Sikh minority institution, on grounds that they plucked their eyebrows and trimmed their hair.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee (SGPC) had also ruled that she was not a “true Sikh as she was plucking her eyebrows.” The court said the requisite of maintaining Sikh `swarup’ (appearance) was a permissible precondition for admitting students under the Sikh minority community quota.
The SGPC runs two medical colleges, two engineering institutes, one polytechnic, 40 degree colleges and 150 schools, most of them in Punjab.
Saturday’s order, replete with references to Sikh history and Sikh model code of conduct, also noted that the Guru Granth Sahib is for guidance of Sikhs in their pursuit towards spiritual salvation. It does not deal with the code of conduct prescribed for Sikhs. It was the Sikh rehat-maryada (code of conduct) that dealt with issues like importance of unshorn hair.
It added that the Guru Granth Sahib made no reference to the terms amritdhari (Sikhs who wear the five Ks - kesh, kacchha, kanga, kara, kirpan - and who have partaken amrit), sehajdhari (who are learning to be Amritdhari Sikhs) and patit (who were born Sikhs but violated one of the tenets).
Reflecting on contours of Sikh identity, the bench held the cardinal principle of retaining unshorn hair was not only for adults but also for minors, as it was the adults who were required to maintain the hair of their children.
Although the bench took the view that unshorn hair was an inalienable part of Sikh swarup, it observed that keeping the kirpan was not as important.
The SGPC burst out in celebration moments after the verdict and its chief Avtar Singh Makkar said, “We are happy with the judgment. Our stand that unshorn hair is of paramount importance for Sikhs has been vindicated.”