The National commission of Minorities (NCM) held a meeting with Sikh leaders and retired defence personnel to discuss the issue of protective headgear for Sikh personnel of the Indian armed forces. During the meet, while former defence officers backed the proposal for safety gear, and NCM chairman Iqbal Singh Lalpura too said the move will save precious lives, members of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) found the idea unacceptable.
The NCM meeting, held in Delhi last week, was attended by retired senior and junior officers from the armed forces, from the rank of Subedar-Major to Lieutenant-General, besides religious leaders from the community. According to a press statement issued by the NCM on Tuesday, the retired officers unanimously maintained in the meeting that combat headgear “is an essential piece of equipment for soldiers in the line of their duty”.
The participants also pointed out that how the concept of combat headgear is not new and has been a major part of forces for decades. Even soldiers in the armies of Sikh rulers like Maharaja Ranjit Singh wore protective headgear in battle, it was pointed out.
Further, soldiers serving in equipment-intensive units over the last six decades like armoured corps, artillery, mechanised infantry and Air Force had worn combat headgear, including officers like Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC, and former Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, the participants said.
“Sikhs have agitated in foreign countries also to wear turban. However, in order to safeguard lives of defence personnel in the age of modern warfare, operational requirements like safety headgear should not be forgotten,” Mr. Lalpura explained.
The retired officers too assured that wearing combat headgear will not interfere with the five Kakars [virtues] and Sikh turbans as a part of regular and ceremonial uniforms are already in use in armed forces.
However, the members of SGPC, who left the meeting after giving a letter of their statement to the NCM in which they had rejected the proposal to make Sikh soldiers wear ballistic helmets, maintained that any discussion about asking Sikh soldiers to wear helmets is “futile”.
“SGPC had said in very clear words that no interference in the matter of Sikh identity and lifestyle will be tolerated. The delegation said under no condition can helmets be accepted on heads of Sikh soldiers,” said SGPC general secretary Bhai Gurcharan Singh Grewal who gave the letter of representation to NCM. The SGPC has also urged the Centre to keep in mind Sikh history, tradition and Sikh Rehat Maryada (code of conduct).