Australian Sikh Bikers Campaign Helmet Exemption

Members of the Sikh community in Woolgoolga campaigning for changes in motorbike helmet laws
PHOTO: Ajit Nurpuri (far right) is one of a group of Sikh men in Woolgoolga campaigning to have motorbike helmet laws changed. (ABC Coffs Coast: Dom Vukovic)

A group of Sikh blueberry farmers — who are also enthusiastic motorbike riders — are lobbying a Coffs Coast council to allow them to ride their motorcycles without a helmet.

Being members of the Sikh community at Woolgoolga, the men have argued that the process of removing and then retying their turbans after every ride has become time consuming and cumbersome.

Ajit Nurpuri who migrated to Australia in the 1970s from India’s Punjab province wears a dark purple turban when he’s not on his postie bike, which only reaches a top speed of 80 km/h.

“Whenever we go to attend any functions and marriage functions, or we go to the temple we have to then tie on our turban,” Mr Nurpuri said.

“To tie it properly it takes at least 10 to 15 minutes. That’s why we need an exemption from wearing the helmet.”

The Sikh community find it difficult to wear helmets with their turbans
PHOTO: Ajit Nurpuri (centre) says wearing a helmet over a turban is very difficult. (ABC Coffs Coast: Dom Vukovic)

Tying a turban takes a while, bikers say

Manvir Singh, a younger member of the group, rides a more modern Harley Davidson motorcycle and said he would be happy if the exemption applied just to local roads.

“For going to the beach or going to temple you want to wear the big special turban,” he said.

“My feeling is it should be limited to roads like say under 50 or 60 km/h, which is safer at those speeds.

“On the highway even if I had the exemption I would wear all the gear [helmet and leathers].”

Mr Singh said the exemption would give him more opportunity to wear his prized formal turban or “crown” rather than the smaller version he squeezes under his helmet.

For the most part fellow rider Ajit Nurpuri does not seem to have too many safety concerns when it comes to riding with just a turban.

“In the olden days [in India], people used to fight with swords and use the turban for safety,” he explained.

Mr Singh explained that for baptised Sikh men and women the turban has incredible cultural significance and it was not just a matter of deciding not to wear one on the days when he rode his motorbike.

“Back in India it’s a punishable offence to mess with somebody’s turban and it’s seen as the same as messing with somebody’s life,” he said.

“A formal turban or a ‘crown’ is roughly between seven and eight metres and it’s a bit of a process to put it on, and is supposed to allow the wearer to think about the honour that comes with the process.”

A Sikh man stands in front of a bike.
PHOTO: Councillor John Arkan says he is open to hearing a proposal, but says safety is a concern. (ABC Coffs Harbour: Ruby Cornish)

Sikh councillor approached for support

The riders have approached the state’s first Sikh local council member John Arkan for his support.

Cr Arkan, who also runs a popular curry stand down the main street of Coffs Harbour, said that while he understood the challenges faced by both bicycle riders and motorcyclists in his community, he was committed to putting safety first.

“I would wear a helmet. I’ve only got this head and I don’t particularly want to damage it,” he said.

“The whole thing with it is that it’s about safety.

“It’s the law that says we wear the helmets as we should; I think that’s the best way to go.”

Cr Arkan explained kids including his younger son also faced similar issues when riding their push bikes.

“I’ll plait his hair and put on a smaller turban and I’m still trying to find a helmet that fits,” he said.

“Safety is what it’s all about.

“Anyway this is a State Government matter, not for council.”

Cr Arkan said he understood that the Queensland and Victorian Governments had already introduced a helmet exemption for Sikh community members who rode bicycles.

He said he would still be interested to see a formal proposal for a similar change in New South Wales.

The Sikh motorcyclists are yet to follow Cr Arkan’s advice and approach their state MP Andrew Fraser, whose response may not be as positive as they would hope.

“The government needs to protect people from themselves,” Mr Fraser said when asked about the issue.”



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