Justice Khehar first Sikh to become Chief Justice of India

| New Delhi, India | 7 Dec 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Justice Khehar first Sikh to become Chief Justice of India

Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar has been named the next Chief Justice of India (CJI), making him the first Sikh to head the nation’s judiciary. In one judgment in 2009, he had even defined a Sikh.

The 64-year old judge will take office as the 44th CJI on 4 Jan 2017 when Chief Justice TS Thakur retires.

Justice Khehar was recommended for appointment by the out-going chief, according to media reports.

Born in 1952, Justice Khehar is due to retire from Supreme Court on 28 Aug 2017, according to information at the Supreme Court of India official website.

SEE ALSO: Remembering Karpal Singh – The People’s Lawyer

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After graduating in science from Government College, Chandigarh in 1974, Khehar was awarded the LL.B degree by the Panjab University, Chandigarh in 1977. He then acquired the LL. M. qualification from the same university in 1979.

He was enrolled as an Advocate in 1979 and practiced mainly in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh High Court, Shimla and the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi.

In 1992, he was appointed as Additional Advocate General, Punjab. In 1999, he was elevated to the Bench of High Court of Punjab and Haryana, at Chandigarh. He was made the Acting Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court twice, with effect from August 2008 and November 2009. In 2009, he was then elevated as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Uttarakhand, at Nainital, and then transferred as Chief Justice of High Court of Karnataka in August 2010.

On appointment as Judge of the Supreme Court of India, he assumed office as Judge, Supreme Court on 13 Sept 2011.

Justice Khehar had once defined a Sikh in a judgment in 2009. During his appointment to the Supreme Court, Times of India reported:

While heading full bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court on May 30, 2009, Justice Khehar had held, “Retaining hair unshorn is a fundamental tenet of the Sikh religion and a Sikh is one who keeps unshorn hair and does not trim beard or pluck eyebrows.”

Justifying judicial intervention on such issues, Justice Khehar, who spoke for the bench, had also maintained that once a court arrives at the conclusion that a particular aspect of a religion, is fundamental and integral, as per the followers of the faith, it must be given effect to, irrespective of the views expressed on the said issue, based either on science or logic.

“Not only that, under the ‘Sikh rehat-maryada’, a Sikh is not permitted to dishonour hair, or even to harbour any antipathy to hair of the head with which a child is born. Dyeing one’s hair is considered as an act of dishonouring hair. Transgression of these norms is treated as ‘tabooed practice’, which is condonable only after suffering a chastisement prescribed,” he had held in the historic judgment. Two other judges, Justice Jasbir Singh and Justice A K Mittal, were also part of the bench headed by him.

The landmark verdict was passed on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the definition of the Sikh as contained in the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, filed by Gurleen Kaur who had been denied admission in MBBS course at the SGPC-run institution on the ground that those individuals are not eligible who plucked eyebrows or trimmed beards against tenets of Sikh religion.

Holding that religion must be perceived as it is, and not as another would like it to be, Justice Khehar had made it clear that prescription of the precondition of maintaining ‘Sikhi swarup’ is a permissible precondition for admitting students under the Sikh minority community quota. While hearing the issue, he had received letters from across the world warning that courts and human institutions had no business to pronounce on beliefs and tenets of the Sikh religion.


Remembering Karpal Singh – The People’s Lawyer (Asia Samachar, 3 July 2016)


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