Flight purser loses job over handlebar moustache, moves SC
Monday, 11 February , 2008, 20:29
New Delhi: A former Indian Airlines flight purser on Monday moved the Supreme Court against his dismissal on charges of sporting a handlebar moustache.
Sacked Indian Airlines employee Joynath Victor De, who is also a member of London's famed ‘Handlebar Club,’ petitioned the apex court after waging a long legal battle at the Calcutta High Court and winning the initial round of litigation.
He told the apex court in his plea that he has been ‘keeping a stout moustache as part of his family custom and spiritual faith.’
A bench of Justices H K Sema and Markandey Katju issued notice to the state-run domestic airliner and sought its reply within four weeks.
De told the Court that he had begun sporting the moustache since 1968, when he joined the airlines. He went on to become assistant manager in 1994 on the basis of his efficiency and integrity of character. He also told the Court that he had scrupulously adhered to the airline's conduct rules of 1991 that “all crew members should have well groomed appearance and moustache, if worn, would be neatly trimmed.” He said he adhered to the rules even when the airline scrapped the provision between 1996 and 1998.
However, in July 1998, Indian Airlines revived the provision with the amendment that “except Sikhs, all crew members should be clean shaven, and moustache, if worn, should not extend beyond upper lips,” said De.
Soon after, he was issued a notice asking him why he should not be sacked for keeping a handlebar moustache. He told the court that despite his explanation, the airlines forced him to take premature retirement at the age of 55 in January 2001. A single judge bench of the Calcutta High Court held his sacking as illegal, but a division bench of the high court set aside the order.
De approached the apex court, challenging the high court's final order. London's famed Handlebar Club launched a campaign against De's removal. “We know that the other employees of Indian Airlines Ltd. are fully in sympathy with De, but we believe that he is the victim of a personal grudge. Due to the action taken against him by Indian Airlines Ltd. for keeping his moustache, De and his family have suffered tremendously, mentally as well as financially,” read a message, posted on the Club's website.
“It seems particularly surprising that antipathy to the moustache should arise in India, because, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the holders of the record for the longest moustache in the world have for several years been Indian gentlemen. While in no way seeking to achieve such an extravagant outcome, De is only following in a respected Indian tradition,” the message read.