Illustration: Sourav Roy
Illustration: Sourav Roy

Wardens scratch their heads as beards trend in prisons

The special court recently stated that the argument that the inmate was not growing his beard at the time of admission to the jail is not sufficient ground to deny him the right

Jailors in Kerala have quite a hairy situation on their hands—literally! The number of inmates wishing to grow beards is increasing and these beards are reaching epic lengths, turning the prison into a veritable beard parade. While raising all sorts of questions about discipline and hygiene, it seems managing this beard mania is becoming tough for the wardens.

While a prisoner has the right to grow a beard according to Rule 292(1) of the Kerala Prisons and Correctional Services (Management) Rules, a top officer in the rank of DIG said there is a growing trend of other inmates following suit if one grows a beard. “If disallowed, they protest saying their fundamental rights have been violated. Then they approach the court and obtain an order. The convict prisoners in the Poojappura Central Prison, central jails in Viyyur, Thavanoor and Kannur, the high security prison in Viyyur, and the open jails in the state are mainly seeking permission for growing beard,” the officer said. Pointing out the trend of lengthening beards, another senior jailor from Thrissur noted that the length of facial hair can often transform a man’s appearance.

“There are no laws that apply to the length of the beard, and that puts us in a fix. Some inmates are now growing beards that are long and often scruffy,” he added.

A senior department official said they allow exceptions for religious reasons, such as Sabarimala pilgrimage season or Ramadan month. “However, a growing number of prisoners, especially those involved in NIA cases, are deliberately growing beards on the pretext of religious beliefs. This trend is problematic in maintaining jail discipline and hygiene,” the senior official said.

Strict action in accordance with the law is needed to address the issue, the official added, noting that there is currently no exclusive register on the number of prisoners growing beards. Instead of keeping normal beards, inmates are intentionally maintaining long ones, causing problems for others, officials pointed out.

“The hair may fall into the food of other inmates, triggering clashes and security issues inside the prison,” cited another officer. 

Illustration: Sourav Roy
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‘No curbs on growing beard in jail in line with beliefs’

Former director general of prisons Alexander Jacob pointed out that there are no restrictions on growing a beard in jails in line with religious beliefs.

In a related case, the superintendent of Viyyur prison opposed the plea of UAPA-accused Sahad M — an inmate of the central prison -- who wanted to grow a beard. The superintendent argued in court that to maintain hygiene and discipline, cutting hair and shaving beard is necessary, as per the rules. Sahad, who obtained an order to grow a beard from the NIA special court in Ernakulam, argued that he is a practising Muslim with the right to follow the customs and rites of his religion.

The special court recently stated that the argument that the inmate was not growing his beard at the time of admission to the jail is not sufficient ground to deny him the right. As other prisoners of the same religion are permitted to grow their beards, such a right cannot be denied to him, the court noted. “So, I am of the view that he can be permitted to grow his beard, subject to the restrictions, if any, in the relevant statutes,” the special judge said.

Illustration: Sourav Roy
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