Sikh riders seek religious freedom

Sikh Motorcycle Club rides for charity turban

Sikhs are seeking an exemption from wearing motorcycle helmets on up to 500cc bikes on local 50/60km/h streets through a submission to the Religious Discrimination Bill.

It comes five years after a Coffs Harbour Sikh group unsuccessfully sought a similar exemption.

Amar Singh, 38, of Turbans 4 Australia is preparing the submission to Parliament in consultation with community and religious groups.

He says it is not just about motorcycle helmets but also hard hats for workers and bicycle helmets for school children and senior citizens.

“Not allowing kids to wear a turban on their bicycle puts fear into their minds that they are not acceptable in Australian society,” he says.

“And many seniors who were used to riding pushbikes in India can’t even go to the local shops or temple.”

Amar says he has not been able to ride the 1970 Jawa his wife bought him for his 38th birthday last year because he cannot remove his turban to fit a helmet.

Sikh Amar Singh turban religious freedom
Amar on his Jawa (Photo: Wolter Peeters, The Sydney Morning Herald.)

Turban exemptions

Sikhs are being granted helmet exemptions to wear their turban instead of a helmet in several countries around the world on religious grounds.

The UK introduced the exemption in 1976 and it has now spread to include New Zealand (up to 50km/h), India, Pakistan (Peshawar only) and most recently the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia.

The exemption move hit a hiccup in July when Germany knocked back a plea by a Sikh rider to wear a turban instead of a helmet on religious grounds.

Applications for turbans to be worn instead of helmets have also been knocked back in France while Denmark is cracking down on helmet exemptions for health or religious reasons. 

Religious Discrimination Bill

Australia’s Religious Discrimination Bill protects “religious activity” such as the wearing of a turban, but does not override state laws, including road rules.

Victoria is the only state to grant a helmet exemption on religious grounds, but that is for cyclists only.

Amar says he will also apply to each state for the exemptions.

“The turban exemption is already approved for cyclists in Victoria; all the states have to talk to each other,” he says.

In 2014, the Central Coast of NSW Sikhs campaigned to Coffs Coast Council for the right to not wear helmets on city streets signposted up to 60km/h.

However, the matter had to be decided by the NSW Centre for Road Safety (CRS). Neither council nor the CRS could find any record of contact from the group.

NSW Roads and Maritime Services says they have not granted any exemptions for religious reasons.

The CRS has conducted standard bicycle helmet tests on the Sikh turban and found it did not  offer impact protection.Turban sikhs motorcycle helmets plea

In some cases, helmet exemptions can be granted on medical grounds.

And in one case, a trike tour operator successfully sought an exemption because his head is too big.

Aussie Sikhs

Sikhs have been in Australia since the 1880s.

There are now about 126,000 Sikhs here, according to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census. It is the fifth largest religion after Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Victoria has seen the sharpest increase in the number of Sikhs with 52,762. The state with the second highest Sikh population is NSW with 31,737 Sikhs, Queensland 17,433, Western Australia 11,897, South Australia 8808, ACT 2142 and Northern Territory and Tasmania have under 700 Sikhs each. Sikh Motorcycle Club rides for charity

Turban symbol

Amar says it takes about half an hour to wrap a turban which he describes as his “spiritual crown”.

He also points out that Sikh soldiers fighting with Allied forces at Gallipoli did not wear helmets.

The Sikh Council of Australia’s website gives this explanation for wearing the turban.

Unshorn hair (‘Kesh’) are also an essential part of the Sikh Code of Conduct. This makes Turban an essential part of a Sikh’s attire. Like the ‘Kirpan’ issue, this is another issue where the Government and its departments as well as the wider Australian community need to be informed about the importance of the Turban for a Sikh. More importantly, in order to tackle the hate crimes and discrimination based on the ‘looks’ the Australian community is being educated about the distinction between a Sikh and other members of the community who may also wear a Turban or cover their head or perhaps may look the same due to other items of clothing (for example the salwar and kameez for the women). Hopefully the Government will introduce measures which will allow the wider Australian community to be more aware and tolerant and not discriminate against someone wearing a Turban and not assume that they might be a terrorist.

14 Comments

  1. This old chestnut – its been dragging on since 1970s, endless submissions all have been rejected. You do not need to wear turban if you are a Sikh, it is optional. Many Sikh adult males have opted not to wear turban and have cut their hair short. Amar could spend his time develiping a helmet that can he worn over turban, he’d make a mozza.

  2. No…
    I’m sure there are many riders who would like to ride without wearing their helmets but the laws are the laws and there should only be one law for all.
    And if it was allowed to ride without wearing a helmet, I’m sure that insurance companies would either not insure you or increase your premiums to extremely high (unaffordable) values.

  3. I think I need to look into the medical exemption. I broke my neck (compression fracture C5) when I was 12 years old (now 60 and I still ride). Wearing a helmet is very tiring for me – my neck cracks and pops as I ride down the road and I get headaches. I am pretty sure my neck will snap before my head ever hits the ground. As I road in America and my state didn’t require helmets, I am so much more comfortable!

  4. Sick and tired of minority groups beating their collective drums . Sharia law a prime example . The law is the law , if you dont like it , dont ride . Every state requires you to wear a helmet , so no surprises . Where do you draw the line ? So I guess they want their turban wearing children exempted as well .What about the Satanist , they want to wear goats heads instead of a hemet . I don’t see a difference . Someone call the Wambulance , for the bleeding hearts .

  5. sorry simple answer is no the helmet laws are federal not state any more so shut up put on your helmet and ride if you don’t want to wear a helmet then sell the bike and get a car really easy and simple sick and tired of the fact that they come to australia and still want the old country rule well shut up and fit in or just fuck off back to your old country as I am feed up the bull shit from all these so called do gooders and airy fairy shits that want both worlds this is Australia not India, Pakistan , Lebanon ,

  6. Give them the exemption they want on the grounds that if they have an accident they will also be exempt from claiming any medical expenses from any government heath fund or private insurance & must pay all the medical & hospital bills themselves

  7. I rode for a few years in my Youth without a skidlid. While I agree that it is leaving you exposed it is also a beautiful feeling. It also does have a safety aspect – you don’t ride silly, and since most bike crashes are self inflicted it could reduce accidents!!(but increase the injuries)

  8. Helmets could be optional across the board, on the basis that you’re not covered by insurance for head injuries – while the remainder of your cover remains unchanged.

  9. Can of worms. As much as i support freedoms to wear what you want to support what ever of the 2900 sky fairies you worship … If you allow one, you have to allow all. If one group get an exemption, then others should also be granted exemptions… Extrapolate that and you end up with Patafarians allowed to wear Collanders as helmets…

      1. Sorry Mark but if you read that case it will actually tell you he still wears a helmet just not Australian approved it is US approved. Helmet is hard the Sikh is not you can get more serious head injuries from that than a helmet

      2. You do realise there’s a big difference between medical and religion? Of course you do Mark! Then why would you reply with that comment, Doug commented solely on your article about religious grounds. And really, can’t ever take it off to fit a helmet? I call rubbish. Does that mean they never wash their hair or change it in their life time? If they get an exemption I want one because of my religion, I worship sky fairy 2901 & 2902.

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