State leaves headgear decision to High Court

In Delhi, women and Sikhs are exempted from wearing helmets. When the government tried to make it mandatory for all, it faced stiff opposition from the Sikh community

Bowing yet again to religious sentiments, the Delhi government is dilly-dallying on the decision to make helmets mandatory for all. Sources say now the state has put the ball in this regard in the judiciary's court. The whole imbroglio started last month, when Ulhas, a social film-maker, filed public interest litigation in High Court, asking why Sikh men and women were exempted from the mandatory headgear rule. Following that, the court had asked the government to clear its stand and file a reply.

Accident-proof? Girls riding a two-wheeler without wearing helmets
at Kamla Nagar market in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pic/Subhash Barolia

Now the officials in Delhi government say that earlier, when they tried to make the use of helmets mandatory for all, the state got a lot of flak from the Sikh community, as they claimed their religion did not allow them to wear any headgear. "It is a sensitive issue. We wanted to make it mandatory way back in the 90s. The move was thwarted following protests," said the official.

Ball in the 'court'
"In a way the affidavit just asks about the law, and why the government has allowed women drivers and other pillion riders to ride without helmets. Let the court decide," said a top official associated with the case. When contacted, Transport Commissioner, R Chandra Mohan refused to give a direct reply, but said, "We have submitted the affidavit before the court," he said. The petitioner, Ulhas, said every year nearly 60-70 women die due to head injuries sustained in road accidents involving two-wheelers and the government should make use of helmets compulsory for all.

In a quandary
Earlier this year, the government had tried to make helmets mandatory but the move faced stiff opposition from Sikh groups. Delhi is among the very few states in the country that have exempted women driving two-wheelers or riding as pillion from wearing helmets since 1999. According to police, last year, 700 people died in Delhi due to two-wheelers-related accidents. Most were not wearing helmets.

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