India’s Supreme Court has issued a notice to a state-run airline asking it to explain why an air steward was sacked for wearing a big moustache.
Victor Joynath De was grounded by Indian – formerly called Indian Airlines- in 2001 for refusing to shave off his handlebar moustache.
He had earlier lost a case in a lower court which ruled that the airline was within its rights to sack him.
According to Indian rules, all crew members should be clean shaven.
A moustache, if worn, should not extend beyond the upper lip, says the rule book.
The guidelines do not apply to Sikh employees who are allowed to keep moustaches.
“How can somebody be removed from a job because of the size of his moustache?” the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice HK Sema and Justice Markanday Katju asked on Monday.
The airline has been given four weeks to respond.
Mr De’s brush with his employers began in 2001 when the airline argued that his prized asset was a health risk, especially with him frequently handling food.
A spokesman for the airline said at the time of Mr De’s grounding its personal conduct code did not allow the display of moustaches which could be unhygienic.
The spokesman said that some passengers could be unnerved by such a striking facial feature.
At the time of his grounding, Mr De said he was proud of his moustache which had taken 25 years to grow and now stretches prominently across both cheekbones.
“I never dreamed of trimming it. All the time I worked for the airline, my moustache attracted many adoring eyes inside the plane and on the ground,” he said.
Mr De has worked for the state-run airline for over 20 years.
He is a member of London’s famous Handlebar Club, which has campaigned against his sacking.