Monday, 11 June 2012

Helmet Law in India - Religious Sensitivity vs Safety and The Status of Women

By Lea Goelnitz, Intern – Centre for Social Research
The India Federal Motor Vehicles Law of 1988 required everyone on a 2-wheeler to wear a helmet. But the Sikh community raised religious objections, as its men have to wear a turban, which a helmet cannot accommodate. These complaints were successful and Sikh men were exempt from the helmet rule. But why are women also excluded from this rule?

On one hand there are religious concerns, as women in the Sikh religion are not allowed to cover their head at all, which also contradicts the helmet requirement. As it is impossible to differentiate between a Sikh and a non-Sikh woman, it was decided that all women will be exempt from the helmet rule. They can however, wear it voluntarily, which not a lot of do. One excuse why women are less likely to wear helmets is that they are expensive and often there is only one helmet per household, which is usually worn by the man. Other excuses for not wearing a helmet are that it would ruin the hairstyle and it looks too masculine. Women carrying children also excuse themselves by saying that they cannot take care of the child, while wearing a helmet.

The law which exempts women, reflects a sense of discrimination against them and seems to treat women as second-class citizens. Their lives are less valued than that of men; which is reflected by the lack of political will to challenge religious relativism and to tackle socio-economic issues undermining women’s safety. Making the helmet compulsory would reflect a rising concern for their safety.

As India has more road accidents than any other country and not wearing a helmet makes one more vulnerable to serious head injuries and death, the law needs to be strengthened in favor of women, especially if it requires challenging religious concerns and structural inequalities. Discrimination against women needs to be tackled in all aspects of life, therefore it is essential that ratification and enforcement of the helmet law will be taken seriously. A news report from last month claims that there are efforts to change the law soon and that women will no longer be able to ride helmet- free (at least in Delhi). R. Chandra Mohan, the Delhi Transport Commissioner, states that awareness raising campaigns to target individuals to make them consider wearing a helmet might be more successful than targeting the entire religious community, which could result in a backlash. Making all two wheeler users- men, women and children- wear helmets does not require funds or expertise. All that it requires is a change in mind set, that is, to value and protect the lives of all members of society.

1 comment:

  1. Highly interesting! That is the kind of article that really makes you wonder. We all see that female passengers don't wear helmets but I never thought about why that is so. Really eye opening!