AND CRASH HELMETS
ISSUED BY THE NORTHERN CONSUL OF THE SIKH TEMPLES
201A Chapeltown Road, Leeds, 7.
SIKH TURBAN AND CRASH HELMETS.
Ever since the anathematised promulgation
of the Transport Act, enforcing the wearing of crash helmets by
the motorcyclists, a bitter controversy has been raging between
the Sikhs and the British Government and its agencies, such as the
Community Relations Commission, regarding the essential nature and
the consequent implications of this legislation, as it adversely
affects and directly impinges upon the religious and individual
freedom of the Sikhs in this country.
Despite representations and approaches at various levels, for the
resolution of this impasse that has been reached over this issue
between the Sikhs and the British Government, it is a noteworthy
tragedy that the gulf of misunderstanding is being progressively
widened. The Government and its agents are adamantly disregarding
the Sikh voice of reason and rationality.
This simple and straightforward issue of the Sikh Turban has' become
fogged and unnecessarily bungled up. This abounding confusion and
ignorance about this particular matter can be remarkably damaging
for the community relations, therefore, there is an urgent need
for dispelling the barriers in communication, so that a sensible
appreciation of the underlying issue can be suitably obtained.
The basic elements of this issue are as follows:
In accordance with the categorical, express and unequivocally binding
Sikh religious dictate, the practicing Sikh is absolutely forbidden
to entertain or wear any other headgear except the Sikh Turban.
This commandment further precludes the wearing of caps, hats, berets,
wigs, helmets or any other headgear. Nothing can be worn either
under or over the turban, only the Sikh Turban must bedeck the Sikh
Thus for a Sikh, the Turban is not a mere social convention, or
even a traditional head cover, which can be supplanted by any other
sort of head-gear at ones own volition. The wearing of the Sikh
Turban is backed by the strict and mandatory religious sanction,
enjoined by Guru Gobind Singh, one of the Founding Father of the
Sikh Faith, who singularly excluded the usage of every other headgear
except the Sikh Turban.
Accordingly, the Turban is the ONLY allowable headgear for covering
the unshorn head hair of the Sikh.
The wearing of unshorn hair, covered by the Turban - the exclusive
permissible headgear for the Sikhs - is a fundamental Article of
the Sikh Religion. Therefore, this Act compelling the Sikhs to wear
crash helmets not only contravenes the laws of the Sikh religious
practice but is also a negation of the Convention of the Human Rights.
The Sikhs have been associated with and closely known to the British
people for the past two hundred years. During this period the Sikh
way of life and the essential Articles of the Sikh Faith have been
fully respected by the British Monarchs, Parliaments, Governments,
Judiciary, Administrators and the people.
On each and every occasion, in peace and war, the sovereignty of
the Sikh Turban, as opposed to all other head-gears, for the Sikhs:
has been doubtlessly acknowledged. There exist several precedents
to substantiate this fact, e.g., during the last World Wars, the
Imperial Defence Regulations were duly amended by the British Parliaments
in order to totally exempt the Sikhs from wearing the crash helmets.
The Sikhs resident: in the U.K. performed Air Raid P. duties wearing
their turbans side by side their helmeted colleagues.
During the War operations, on the front lines of battles, Civil
Defence duties and activities, the policing of the British Empire,
the Sikhs fought, rode motor bicycles, drove tanks and armoured
vehicles, flew aeroplanes; remaining turbaned. The Sikhs fully participated
and contributed in every way, and in no way remained behind any
other contributing nation of the free world, in defending the cherished
ideals of liberty, for the freedom loving humanity.
Over eighty thousand Turbaned Sikhs gave their lives in the Second
World War alone, with numerous other casualties, while combating
the evils of Nazism and Fascism. These brave defenders of liberty
and justice fought and died,, heroically resisting oppression and
tyranny, wearing Turbans on their heads. Nobody, ever displayed
the impertinence and impropriety of questioning the religious right
of the Sikhs to wear Turbans.
It sadly appears that the British politicians possess a very short
memory of the extent of the contribution and the sacrifices made
by their loyal and intrepid allies, the Sikhs. Did the Sikhs die,
defending the human liberties, so that they themselves would be
subjected to the outright oppression by the flagrant denial of their
religious freedom, by their very friends, the British? Is this the
true .measure of the British appreciation, recognition and reward
for the Sikhs? The whole affair is an unspeakable, shameful episode
in the history of community relations and religious and individual
freedom in this country.
This degrading imposition of wearing the crash helmets upon the
Sikhs is nothing but a direct and deliberate attack on, and challenge
to, the fundamental Articles of their faith. It is an intolerably
bad law and it must be amended.
The Sikhs are, under the normal circumstances, a law abiding people,
and since they firmly believe and. practice the principle of human
equality, the Sikhs are not seeking any special treatment or exemption
from the existing law of the realm, at the expense of any other
community. Rather, the Sikhs are highlighting and emphasizing the
notorious wrongness and glaring unjustness of this law, which is
violating the basal Sikh tenets.
Governments in other countries, Australia, Canada, America, Singapore,
Malaysia and many others, have wholly respected the: inviolable
sanctity of the Articles of the Sikh Faith, regarding the wearing
of turbans by the Sikhs, by expressly exempting them from helmets
clause. It is only right that the current anomaly is corrected in
this country as well; thus exempting the Turbaned Sikhs from wearing
The Sikhs trust that they will be able to enlist the support of
other communities, organisations, church leaders, and people, in
their struggle for the rectification of this perpetrated injustice
and racially discriminatory measure denying the Sikhs their inborn
right of religious freedom.
Letters in Support of the Turban Case
LT. GENERAL SIR REGINALD SAVORY, K.G.T.,
C.B., D.S.O., M.C., says in a
letter to Mrs. G. Scott, Scientific Section, House of Commons Library:
"The turban worn by the average Sikh is some 5 yards long.
It is tied anew every day, It is, in itself very effective buffer.
I have known Sikhs pick bullets out of their turbans during and
after battle. In fact the turban absorb the shock of a bullet possibly
rather better than a tin helmet. If the turban is properly tied,
it will also form an effective buffer too, for instance, from a
toss from a motor bicycle.
During World War I, when the steel helmet was first introduced,
we British officers of Sikh regiments tried to persuade our men
to wear them, but they steadfastly refused, and have done so ever
To ask a Sikh to wear a tin helmet, or a crash helmet, in present
day circumstances would be to offend his religious convictions and
lead to determined refusal."
A letter from MAJOR GENERAL B.W. KEY,
C.B., D.S.O., M.C.:-
Dear Gyani Sundar Singh,
Thank you for your letter of the 6th August. I am full of sympathy
for your efforts to get exemption for Sikhs from having to wear
crash helmets, and I hope you will be successful. I agree with all
that General Sir Reginald Savory says in his letter.
At the: outbreak of World War II I was serving at A.H.Q. (Army Headquarters).
Shortly after I was sent for by the C. in C. General Sir Robert
Cassells. He asked me if the Sikh Regiment was prepared to wear
steel helmets. I replied that they had not done so in World War
I, that it was contrary to their religion, that we had never interfered
with religious tenets, and was it worthwhile arousing strong feelings
to reduce head injuries by an infinitesimal proportion? I also pointed
out that the Sikh Pagri (Turban) was a very good protection in itself
to head wounds.
This latter point I would emphasise as regards riding motor bicycles.
There is no question that the Pagri offers greater protection than
an ordinary hat or cap.
The reasons Given above were accepted by the C. in C. India. Sikhs
did not have to wear steel helmets, and I hope the same reasons
will satisfy the Government.
KEY, Major General (Retired).
A letter from COL.
H.A. HUGES, D.S.O., M.B.E, D.L., J.P.:-
Dear Gyani Sundar Singh Sagas,
Thank you for your letter of 6th August 1975 enclosing Sir Reginald
Savory's letter. May I say I entirely agree with all that the General
I was in the 2nd Royal Battalion Sikh Regiment during the Frontier
Campaign of 1936-38 an the N.W. Frontier of India. My regiment consisted
entirely of Sikhs and of course they wore the Khaki Safa (Turban
to the uninitiated: )
During World War II I commanded the 4/16th Punjab Regiment from
the battle of El Alamein to Tunis - in this battalion I had a company
of Sikhs plus those in H.Q. Company. They all wore the Safa and
I certainly had no more head wounds in this battalion than in any
other battalion wearing steel helmets.
In Great Britain we claim to support religious tolerance, Why therefore
should we try to force someone to do something which is definitely
against his religious convictions?
The Sikhs have fought for us in many campaigns and laid dote their
lives for us - I consider that we owe them a great deal and have
now a chance to repay our debts in a small way by allowing them
to wear Turbans instead of crash helmets while driving motor cycles.
I give you my full support in your struggle to get exemption and
wish the best of luck.
A. HUGHES .
A letter from MAJOR
R.J. HENDERSON, M.B.E.:
Thank you for your letter of 6th August, in which you seek my support
in regard to the wearing of the 'Safa' or turban (as it is called
in this country). I am. happy to give you my own experience.
I was Adjutant of the 2nd Royal Bn. The Sikh Regiment (The Ludhiana
Sikhs) from March 1939 to March 1942. When the war started I was
responsible for many training cadres for selection and promotion
of N.C.O. 's i.e. the future leaders in the regiment. On at least
three occasions in 1940 and 41, I provided the squads of some 30
Sikh soldiers with steel helmets and suggested to them that in their
own interest they should putt them on their heads, with a view to
getting used to them when we went into battle. I on no occasion
ordered them to do so, but I merely suggested to them that it would
be wise to do so. 'However, they declined to wear them and being
aware of the writings of the Granth Sahib I did not press them to
When we went into battle in the Middle East and Italy we again suggested
that in the interest of saving life it might be wise to wear steel
helmets, but again they never wore them.
If amid all the dangers of battles the Sikh would not wear a steel
helmet to preserve his life, I am not surprised at his dislike of
being told to do so when riding a motor cycle in peacetime.
A letter from MR.
PHILIP MASSON, C.I.E., O.B.E.:
Dear Gyani Sahib,
Thank you for your letter of 6th August, enclosing a copy of a letter
from General Sir Reginald Savory.
As a District Magistrate I served in the United Provinces, now Uttar
Pradesh, where there were not many Sikhs. But I was also in the
Defence Department of the Government of India, as Under Secretary,
Deputy Secretary, and Joint Secretary to the Government of India,
and I can confirm what General Savory says. It was a cardinal principle
of the British in India that a man must have freedom to follow the
precepts of his religion and since the Sikh regarded the Turban
and the long hair as essential marks of his religion he was never
forced to abandon the Turban even for his own safety. Very many
thousands of Sikhs volunteered to fight under the British colours
in both the first and second world wars. They fought with great
distinction and won many V.C.'s. Since they were permitted to follow
their religious custom in war, it seems most unjust that in peace
they be forced to abandon it.
It is in any case far from certain that crash helmets are better
protection than a Turban.
The rules of Polo - which was played far more in India than even
in Britain - provided that a player must wear either a helmet or
a Turban, both being regarded as adequate protection. I hope this
letter may be some use to you in your campaign.
Yours sincerely, sgnd. PHILIP
BRIGADIER RT. HON. SIR
JOHN SMYTH, B.T., V.C., M.C. wrote
in the Observer of 26th August 1973:
"What.is important, I think, is that Guru Gobind Singh forbad
the Sikhs to wear caps.
The dispensation granted to the Sikhs against wearing steel helmets
in the second world war was partly due to religious objection as
well as, of course to the greatest discomfort of setting a lot of
hair inside a helmet of any sort.
In the early days of the war in France in 1914-15, when the British
officers in an Indian Battalion were few and obviously very conspicuous,
the Sikhs of my company begged me to go into action wearing a Turban.
I agreed to do so reluctantly, because I could never tie it myself
and I was not hairy like the Sikhs, so it wobbled about uneasily
on my head. On 18th May 1915, when I led ten valiant Sikhs on a
desperate mission, there was no time for them to do my Pagri, and
I went into action in my British service cap. Alas, I was the only
It was on this desperate mission that ten valiant Sikh soldiers
laid down their lives under turban for the freedom of Britain, and
as a young Lieutenant at the battle of Festubert Sir John won the
"THE SIKH REGIMENT
IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR" by COLONEL F.T. BIRDWOOD, O.B.E.
Five hundred pages of the above book are full of the bravery and
glory of the Sikhs who fought wearing Turbans only on their heads.
Here are the last words of the foreward of this book, written by
General Sir Frank Messervy, K.C.S.I.,
K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O.:-
"FINALLY WE THAT LIVE ON CAN NEVER FORGET THOSE COMRADES WHO,
IN GIVING THEIR LIVES GAVE SO MUCH THAT IS GREAT AND GOOD TO THE
STORY OF THE SIKH RGIMENT. NO LIVING GLORY CAN TRANSEND THAT OF
THEIR SUPREME SACRIFICE. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
IN THE LAST TWO WORLD WARS 83,005 TURBAN WEARING SIKH SOLDIERS WERE
KILLED AND IMRE 109,045 WERE WOUNDED. THEY ALL DIED OR WERE WOUNDED
FOR THE FREEDOM OF BRITAIN AND THE WORLD, ENDURING SHELLFIRE WITH
NO OTHER PROTECTION BUT THE TURBAN, THE SYMBOL OF THEIR FAITH."
I, Having read the quotations from the letters in the newspapers,
the safety department of the Transport. Ministry tested the turban
on a dummy. I call this action strange, as no one on earth has ever
tested one's religious belief in this way. General Sir Reginald
Savory condemned this action too in a letter published in the Daily
Telegraph, Thursday, September 4th 1975:
Religious Conviction of the Sikhs
"SIR - With regard to Sikhs and crash helmets the real point
at issue is not safety so much as the violation of religious conviction.
In World War I we tried to persuade the Sikhs to wear the steel
helmet. They refused on religious grounds. We therefore refrained.
In World War II we tried again. They refused again; and we refrained
again. Had we insisted they would have mutinied.
It is downright ignoble that we should act now as we would never
have dared to act when we relied on the Indian Army to help us fight.
A Bill is being introduced in Parliament "exempting turban-wearing
followers of the Sikh religion from wearing crash helmets when riding
a motor cycle." I hope, most earnestly, that when the time
comes all members of both Houses of Parliament will vote in favour
of the Bill."
Gyani Sardar Singh Sagar,
Honours Punjabi Language and Literature, Religious Advisor to Manchester's
General Secretary Turban Action Committee Against Helmet,
38 Reynolds Road,
Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act
1976 CHAPTER 62
An. Act to exempt turban-wearing followers of the Sikh religion from
the requirement to wear a crash-helmet when riding a motor-cycle.
[15th November 1976]
BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the
advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons,
in this present Parliament
assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
1. In section 32 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 there shall be inserted
after subsection (2) the following new subsection:
" (2A) A requirement imposed by regulations under this section
(whenever made) shall not apply to any follower of the Sikh religion
while he is wearing a turban."
2. This Act may be cited as the Motor-Cycle Crash-Helmets (Religious
Exemption) Act 1976.
PRINTED IN ENGLAND BY HAROLD GLOVER. Controller
or Her Majesty's Stationery Office and Queen's Printer of Acts or