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1969: Sikh busmen win turban fight

Sikh busmen in Wolverhampton have won the right to wear turbans on duty after a long-running campaign.

Conductors and drivers who are practising Sikhs will also be allowed to have long beards - another requirement for strict adherents of their faith.

Wolverhampton's Transport Committee dropped its ban after the leader of a Sikh group, Sohan Singh Jolly, had threatened to burn himself to death in protest.

Mr Jolly, 66, said the ban on turbans and beards was a direct attack on his religion.

Fourteen others had vowed to follow suit and set fire to themselves if their request was not granted.

However, Mr Jolly's actions did not receive whole-hearted support from all of Britain's estimated 130,000 Sikhs.

Dr A K S Aujila of the Supreme Council of Sikhs in the UK said: "We are going to wage relentless war on the idea that individuals can take this sort of action involving the whole community and very likely lead to a worsening of community harmony in Britain".


"In the interests of race relations we have taken the decision to relax the rule"

Ronald Gough, Wolverhampton Transport Committee

But both the Transport and General Workers Union and the Indian High Commission in London urged the Wolverhampton committee to change its rules.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment and Productivity, Ernest Fernyhough, also visited the city and warned councillors of "wide repercussions" if Mr Jolly carried out his threat.

After the committee's decision its chairman Ronald Gough said though the eight-man committee felt their ban on turbans had been "right and proper" none had vote against removing it.

"In the interests of race relations we have taken the decision to relax the rule," he said.

After the committee's change of heart Mr Jolly said he had been forced to make his threat:

"I am a moderate and religious man and would never have taken the extreme step of threatening my life if they had not refused to listen to reason," he said.

In Context
Most other English bus companies at the time already permitted Sikhs to wear turbans and beards.

After winning his fight in Wolverhampton Sohan Singh Jolly moved on to tackle Nottingham's bus bosses where turbans and beards were not allowed.

Strict Sikhs live by a code which requires them to wear the "Five Ks" at all times.

They are the Kirpan (sword or small dagger), Kesh (long hair), Kanga (comb), Kara (steel bangle) and Kasherra (breeches).

In 1982 Britain's highest court, the House of Lords, ruled that Sikhs were a distinct ethnic group and entitled to protection under the Race Relations Act.

This effectively gave them the right to wear beards and turbans in all walks of life.


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