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Sikh Busmen Win Battle To Wear Turbans (31 Years Ago, The Guardian Archives)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The Sikh employees of Wolverhampton Transport Committee have won their battle to wear their turbans while working on the town's buses. The committee decided today to lift its ban after a last-minute intervention by the Department of Employment and Productivity.

After a two-hour meeting the committee called in Mr Sohan Singh Jolly, the Sikh leader who had threatened to commit suicide on Sunday unless the ban was lifted, and informed him of its decision. Mr Jolly, aged 66, had begun his "suicide campaign" in January.

A few minutes later the beaming Sikh leader entered the foyer of the town hall to be greeted with shouts in Punjabi of "truth is victorious," and "victory to God." A statement said the committee had decided "to instruct the transport manager to submit for their consideration after consultation with the trade union, a suitable form of regulation permitting the wearing of turbans." Beards would also be permitted.

But the statement went on, "the committee remains strongly of the view that its original decision was right and its rule both reasonable, and clearly nondiscriminatory."

Being called before the committee Mr Jolly, an ex-Kenya police inspector who lost an arm in Burma, repeatedly declared that he would stand by his pledge to burn himself to death. "I see the whole prestige of the Sikh community at stake," he said. "Nineteen million Sikhs in India are waiting to see whether I am a fool or a true Sikh."

Mr Jolly apparently gave the committee a mild dressing down. He said that after the committee had listed the various pressures on it he told its members: "Your consciences should have told you, that you were doing wrong."

In London tomorrow there will be a thanksgiving service at the Sikh Temple and "everybody will have good food." Mr Jolly said he then planned to retire from the presidency of Shiromani Akah Dal, the Sikh organisation. "I am not fond of power. I have said that if this matter is decided in my favour I will step down."

Mr Jolly saw no danger of an "epidemic" of similar suicide threats. "There is no other injustice like this one in Britain," he said. Mr Jarman Singh Parman, a newspaper editor who had pledged to follow Mr Jolly in suicide, said: "I am very glad. It is a moral victory for those people who stand for the dignity of people." He chuckled as he added: "I am glad personally, too."
Mr Jolly's campaign followed almost two years of controversy. The turban ban first became a live issue when a Sikh bus driver tried to make a test case of it in July, 1967. He was sent home.

From the archive, 10 April 1969: Sikh busmen win battle to wear turbans | From the Guardian | The Guardian