Helmet rule relaxation for Sikh women triggers copycat demands

Delhi government’s proposed plan to make helmets compulsory for women pillion riders on two-wheelers, except Sikh women, has evoked a mixed response with some women welcoming it and others questioning exemption for only one community.

The formal announcement and notification of the new rule for women pillion riders has not been made yet. However, the buzz created by the proposed rule has left a section of Muslim women yearning for an exemption similar to the one given to Sikh women.Parveen Abbas, a women advocate, said: “Wearing helmet is important for our safety but it is difficult to wear helmet on a burqa.”

“It should not be compulsory for Muslim women pillion riders,” said the Delhi High Court lawyer.

Medical student Anushka Verma supported the proposed helmet rule but sought its implementation without any exemption. “If male pillion riders can wear helmets, why shouldn’t women do so?”, she asked.

Experts like K K Kapila, chairman of the International Road Federation (IRF), a world-wide forum for advocating better and safer roads, have also welcomed the reported decision to make helmets compulsory for women pillion riders.

Janata Dal United leader and Matia Mahal legislator Shoaib Iqbal criticised the selective exemption given to Sikh women.

“Making helmets compulsory for Muslim pillion women travelling on two-wheelers is not acceptable. We will lodge our protest with the Lieutenant Governor,” he said.He claimed the community representatives had earlier objected the proposal to make Muslim women pillion riders wear helmets.

A transport department official, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that they had received objections from the Muslim community against making helmet wearing compulsory for Muslim women riding pillion on two-wheelers.

“We have sent the objection concerned to the Lieutenant Governor’s office,” he said, hinting that the proposal had still not reached a final stage.

It is not that all Muslims are opposing the proposed helmet rule for women pillion riders.

 Author Zafarool Islam Khan said: “We should not ask for any exemption on the ground of religion. I think it’s a welcome initiative to ensure that every individual wears a helmet while driving or while pillion riding." 

Meanwhile, the proposed exemption for Sikh women pillion riders from wearing helmets has been welcomed by the Delhi State Gurdwara Committee (DSGC).Manjit Singh, president of DSGC, told Deccan Herald: “As per Sikh tenets, wearing of caps is not permitted either by men or women. There are some Sikh women who wear headgear.  For them, it’s not possible to wear helmets.”  Singh said.

“The DSGC is thankful to the officials for considering its  request for making it optional for Sikh women pillion riders to wear helmets,” he said.

The government had made wearing helmets mandatory for all pillion riders in 1998. However, following objection from  Sikh community, the government amended the Delhi Motor Vehicle rules 1993 in 1999 and made it optional for women.

Not wearing of helmets is a major reason of death for two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders in fatal accidents in the city. In 2013, 593 fatal accidents, with 613 deaths, involved two-wheeler drivers and pillion riders. In 2012, 577 people were killed in 560 fatal accidents involving scooterists and bikers.

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