This section considers Important events within Anglo-Sikh history such as early European accounts of Sikhs, the role ofSikhs in the armed forces and pre British Raj accounts.


The Turban Case - 1976

The Sikh's Right to Ride Motorcycles Without Helmets.

201A Chapeltown Road, Leeds, 7.


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 head.
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 crash helmets:
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 since.
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.
Yours faithfully,
signed. B.W. 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 says.
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.
Yours sincerely,
sgnd. H. 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 do so.

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.
Yours; faithfully,
sgnd. B.J. HENDERSON, Major.

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 MASSON.

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 survivor."

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 Victoria Cross.

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.:-



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 Sikh Temples,
General Secretary Turban Action Committee Against Helmet,
38 Reynolds Road,
Old Trafford,
M16 9NY.

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 Parliament


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