The proposed induction of helmets for Sikh soldiers serving in the Indian army has left community leaders fuming. Many are even questioning the very need for helmets for Sikh soldiers who have been fighting battles without any headgear.
The first to react to the issue is the Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Harpreet Singh who even indicated a possible conspiracy against Sikhs with the introduction of helmets for Sikhs in the army.
“A dastar (turban) which is adorned by a Sikh on his head is not just a piece of 5 to 7 meter of cloth but it is a crown given by Guru’s which is placed on their heads and is an emblem of their identity”, said the Jathedar, in a hard-hitting message while clarifying that any attempt to cover a Sikh’s identity with a ‘top’ would be seen as an attempt to finish the identity of Sikhs.
Notably, in the recent past, ‘Veer Helmets’ have been developed for the wearing of Sikh soldiers over patka with an aim to give better head protection to Sikh soldiers. The proposal of helmets for Sikhs is not new but it had been introduced time and again both in India and other parts of the world.
According to Sikh leadership, Turban is an integral part of Sikh attire which is explicitly mentioned in the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh code of religious conduct), and making Sikhs wear any other protective headgear is considered against Rehat Maryada.
In past ‘Tough Turban’, made of impact-resistant material to protect the head from any impact, was introduced following which the Sikhs in the UK decided to approach the government for exempting them to wear helmets in workplaces, etc. A tough Turban is similar to a normal cloth turban but incorporates impact-resistant materials to protect the rider’s head.
The issue had also come up following a proposal of the Chandigarh administration to make the wearing of helmet mandatory for Sikh women except for turbaned women while driving a two-wheeler.
Sikh bodies argue that from the World Wars to the war with China in 1962, with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 to the Kargil conflict, the Sikh soldiers fought at the frontline bravely wearing their turbans and not helmets.
Raising a strong objection to the proposed introduction of helmets for Sikh soldiers Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Harjinder Singh Dhami wrote a letter to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, asking him to withdraw this decision.
“The decision to implement a special helmet for Sikhs serving in the Indian Army will destroy the unique Sikh identity and Sikh Maryada. The turban is not merely a cloth, but it is also a symbol of Sikh heritage besides having spiritual and temporal significance. The commitment of Sikhs to the turban also reflects Sikh pride and adherence to the Guru’s command. Ordering a Sikh soldier to take off his turban and wear a helmet just because it offers better protection to his head, is ignorance to the Sikh’s psyche, and his attachment to turban” said Dhami.
Quoting examples of various battles including the Battle of Saragarhi, the World Wars, and the wars fought by the Indian Army in the past, he said even in the Indian army, the Sikh soldiers serving in The Sikh Regiment, Sikh Light Infantry, and Punjab Regiment were performing their duties diligently to protect the country.
The Indian Army’s proposed decision to implement a helmet policy for Sikh soldiers was a violation of Sikh Maryada and culture, said Dhami.
He appealed to the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to immediately withdraw the new helmet policy being implemented for the Sikh soldiers so that the unique identity of Sikhs in Defence services is maintained.
“When the Sikhs elsewhere in the world have successfully secured the right to work with their proud turbans in jobs requiring helmets, the BJP government back home has initiated a plan to bring in so-called special helmets for Sikh soldiers in the Indian army, which is completely unacceptable,” said Delhi Akali chief Paramjit Singh Sarna said.
A close-knit member of the Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara Committee Baljinder said that as per Maryada, the Sikhs were forbidden to wear the turban .” But Sikh soldiers have bravely fought wars without helmets and have shown exemplary courage” he said.