Days after Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit disagreed with her Transport departments undertaking to the Delhi High Court that it was willing to change rules and make it mandatory for women to wear helmets while riding two-wheelers,the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has asked the Akal Takht,the supreme religious and temporal seat of Sikhism,to decide whether Sikh women should be allowed to wear helmets in the interest of safety.
The DSGMC move to step beyond religious compulsions on grounds of safety follows the Transport departments submission that it was willing to change provisions in the Delhi Motor Vehicles Rules that exempted women from wearing helmets. But Dikshit differed,saying the rule making it optional for women pillion riders to wear helmets was formulated in 1999 on requests by a particular community she didnt name the Sikhs and that exemption couldnt be withdrawn so easily.
Bhajan Singh Walia,Senior Vice President of DSGMC,told Newsline that they have approached the Akal Takht to take a call,given the safety issue involved.
Essentially,the High Courts decision is in totality for all men and women in view of safety of people travelling on busy and dangerous Delhi roads. But our religion absolutely prohibits people from wearing any form of a cap,and wearing a helmet (a form of cap) goes against the tenets of our religion, Walia said.
Our religious texts have given elaborate details about the way we should preserve our kesh (hair). Our hair cant be trimmed,cut or even clipped. If at all one has to preserve his/her hair,it has to be done in a proper turban, he said.
But the scenario is different today. And here we are talking about the safety of people,irrespective of religion or gender. The decision of the Akal Takht would be binding,we have sought their guidance,they are the supreme authority on all religious matters, Walia said.
Section 129 of the 1988 Motor Vehicles Act,applicable all over the country,makes it mandatory for all two-wheeler riders to wear helmets with an exemption for Sikh men wearing turbans. The decision to exempt women from the requirement came after strong protests in 1999 when the traffic police first started cracking down on riders not wearing helmets.
With the traffic police finding it difficult to identify Sikh women,the Delhi government exempted women and a June 1999 notification said wearing any kind of protective headgear while driving a two-wheeler or riding pillion would be optional for women.
The Motor Vehicles Act in itself does not give exemption to women. It is the State of Delhi that made the amendments with an undertaking in the High Court. With the governments stand,things are not clear right now,and the High Court could take a call on the matter, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Satyendra Garg said.
As a traffic enforcement agency,we believe that helmets should be compulsory for all as an important safety concern. Many of these cases would not have been fatal if women were wearing helmets. In most cases,it is the head injury that kills, Garg said.