Is wearing only the turban mandatory under the Sikh religion? The question was raised by the Indian Supreme Court on Friday as they handled a challenge by a Sikh cyclist against a local cycling association’s rules that required him to wear a helmet to participate in a competition.
The court will be back on Monday (23 April 2018) to deliberate on the matter raised by the Delhi-based Jagdeep Singh Puri, a turban wearing cycling enthusiast.
The 50-year old Jagdeep moved the petition with the plea that he cannot wear a helmet because it’s mandatory for him to wear a turban as per the Sikh religion, reported the Hindustan Times.
In another religious-related action, but at the lower courts, October 2017, the Delhi High Court in October 2017 had issued a notice requiring mosques, mandirs and other religious places in Delhi to restrict the decibel level of loudspeakers as well as restricting the height of the loudspeakers at only eight feet from the ground.
The court had asked the Central Government in a plea seeking removal of loudspeakers from religious places on the ground that such practice violates the right to be left alone which is a part of the right to privacy laid down by the Supreme Court.
The report said a bench of justices SA Bodbe and LN Rao wondered whether wearing a turban was necessary under the religion or just covering one’s head was. They referred to sportspersons from the Sikh community who didn’t wear turbans while participating in games.
“We have sympathy for the cause. But have you showed us anything that makes it mandatory under Sikh religion to wear a turban only? For example Bishen Singh Bedi played cricket while simply covering his head. He never wore a turban. And what do soldiers do in battles? Don’t they wear helmets? You basically need to define what is a turban?,” the bench told Jagdeep’s counsel RS Suri.
The lawyer told the bench that the Central Motor Vehicle Act grants exemption to Sikhs from wearing helmets while driving a two-wheeler. In several foreign countries such as the UK and US, members of other communities, including Sikhs, have been permitted to wear turbans while playing sports in keeping with their religious beliefs.
The report added that the bench gave the example of Milkha Singh. “Great sportspersons have never worn a turban. It seems to us that wearing a turban is not mandatory but covering your head is,” the bench said.
The report also quoted Justice Bobde as saying said there was no harm in wearing a helmet if it was for one’s safety.
“Why don’t you wear it? Why do you want to risk your head? Here you are undertaking a cycling competition. You can smash your head and then you will allege the organisers are not following safety standards,” the report quoted the judge.
The bench has fixed the next hearing for the petition on Monday (23 April) and asked Suri to get an authority on turbans.
“We want to know whether it’s essential part of your (religious) practice,” the report quoted the bench, noting that the also asked senior advocate CU Singh to assist in the matter.
Jagdeep, a graphic designer by profession, moved the SC after he was disqualified from the Azad Hind Brevet (long distance cycling) organised by Audax India Randonneurs (AIR), after he refused to wear to helmet since he was wearing a turban. He complained that the rule violated his fundamental right to practise and profess one’s own religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution, the report noted.
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