The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women in helmet crash course

Chandigarh, Dec. 14: Sikh women in Punjab are hurtling towards a conflict with police for refusing to wear helmets while driving two-wheelers or pillion-riding.

Sikhism, they say, does not permit them to wear “topees” because it would be blasphemous and hurt religious sentiments.

Last month’s Punjab and Haryana High Court directive enforcing its 1999 order on making helmets mandatory for two-wheeler rides is at the root of the conflict.

Sikh religious organisations have taken to the streets in protest, here and in nearby Mohali. They have shouted slogans against the police and accused the judiciary of being “insensitive to religious sentiments”.

Some organisations have hinted they would approach the top Sikh cleric at the Akal Takht for help.

Though the police have booked dozens of Sikh women for riding without helmet, the strong protests have prevented a bigger crackdown. The police are now in a dilemma on how to enforce the high court order.

Earlier this week, thousands of Sikhs marched from a gurdwara in Mohali to Chandigarh to lodge a protest against the court order’s enforcement.

According to Sikh priests and Akali factions, Sikh tenets prohibit the use of any headgear containing iron. The police action, they say, has hurt the community’s sentiments.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) had in 1999 spearheaded protests against the high court order on helmets. The SGPC looks after Sikh religious interests and also controls the country’s historical gurdwaras.

The SGPC, under Master Tara Singh, had passed a resolution against helmets on February 12, 1940. The Sikh rehat maryada (code of conduct) says that no Sikh should wear a topee or remain bare-headed.

In 1999, an election year, the court order took on a political hue when Sikhs approached politicians for help. At an election rally, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee — careful not to offend Sikhs — had argued that religious sentiments should not be hurt. Mohali police took the cue and stopped booking women riding two-wheelers without helmets.

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