Mustache-Discrimination Case Reaches Indian Supreme Court

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On Monday, February 11, justices of the Supreme Court of India heard argument in the case of a man who claims he was fired from his job at Indian Airlines because of his sizeable and “elaborate” handlebar mustache. Initial reports were that the justices appeared likely to side with the mustache.

Joynath Victor De says that he joined Indian Airlines in 1994 and was promoted to assistant manager of flight services before an anti-elaborate-mustache policy was added to the employee manual in 1998. He claims he was reassigned to ground duties that year after he refused to trim it, and then was “compulsorily retired” in 2001. According to the AFP report, De “sported the elaborate mustache” as part of a family tradition. (The phrase used in the Indian press was “kept a stout moustache”—I spent some time trying to decide which I liked better, but I’ve decided they are both equally great.)

The airline apparently does make exceptions to its anti-mustache regulation for Sikhs, who do not cut their hair for religious reasons. But a family elaborate-mustache tradition apparently does not qualify. The basis for the claim under Indian law was not very clear, but seems to involve an alleged failure by the airline to reasonably apply the policies set forth in its operations manual. A lower-court judge agreed with De, but the Calcutta High Court reversed.

Reportedly, the Supreme Court justices, at least those on the initial panel, were sympathetic to De’s claim. “How can a person with a moustache be removed?” asked one from the bench. “This is a democratic country.”  (Probably he meant “free country,” unless the mustache was so elaborate that it gets its own vote.) News agencies in India reported that the justices had “issued notices” to the airline, which appears to mean that they have asked it to file a written response opposing De’s plea for relief.

So, elaborate-mustache wearers of the world, there is hope.