Attacks on Indian cabbies: mission to raise issue with Australia

May 26th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, May 26 (IANS) Concerned at recent attacks on Indian cabbies, mostly students, the Indian envoy in Australia is keeping a “close watch” on the situation and has taken up the matter with authorities here who have assured they will resolve the issue. “The attacks on Indian cab drivers are causing a great deal of concern, not only among students and their families, but the larger Indian community in Australia. We are keeping a very close watch on the situation both in Melbourne and Adelaide,” Indian High Commissioner in Canberra Sujatha Singh told IANS Monday.

During a visit to Melbourne last week, Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath raised the issue at federal level with Australian Minister for Trade Simon Crean and at the state level with Victorian Premier John Brumby.

“Our consul general in Sydney, Sujan Chinoy, will go to Adelaide to ascertain the situation this week, but if needed, I’ll be very happy to go to Adelaide to take up this issue with the state government,” Singh said.

Reports in a section of Indian media wrongly quoted a “spokesman from the Indian high commission” as saying that “the Indian high commissioner will travel to Adelaide to hold talks” with the taxi drivers demanding improved security.

Jalvinder Singh, a 23-year-old taxi driver, was stabbed and left to bleed in Melbourne April 29. He is recovering though he had little chance of survival.

Anita Nayar, consul general of India in Melbourne, told IANS: “We are in touch with all concerned - such as the police, the transport minister, the representatives of the taxi drivers, as also Jalvinder Singh himself and his family and friends - to follow up on Jalvinder’s welfare and to follow up on the demands of the taxi drivers.

“We shall continue to take up the issue with the Victorian authorities in the hope that a satisfactory resolution of the problems being faced by the taxi drivers would be achieved as early as possible,” Nayar added.

On April 30, protesting Melbourne taxi drivers, many of them from the Indian subcontinent, won in their push for improved safety for drivers including fitting vehicles with protective or security screens, pre-paid taxi rides, and special protection at certain railway stations and suburbs after hours.

However, earlier this month, Balraj Singh, another cabbie, was brutally beaten up in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, leading to protests by taxi drivers from the Indian subcontinent to demand better security and justice.

Matt Calemow, a spokesperson for the South Australian transport minister, told IANS: “Following concerns from the Indian community, we have invited the consul general of India in Sydney, Sujan Chinoy, who will visit Adelaide sometime this week, to discuss the issue.

“We allow security screens in taxis, but it is the driver’s choice to install them or not. This was an unfortunate incident in an otherwise safe industry and safe place. We are looking at ways to resolve any issues there may be,” Calemow added.

The Taxi Council of South Australia formed and sponsored the Taxi Task Force on Driver Entry and Training Programmes in August 2006 to address drivers’ problems.

But Milan Mladenovic, president of Adelaide Cab Drivers’ Association, told IANS: “So far nothing has been done in this state to provide real protection for the driver, despite regular incidents of assault and theft on taxi drivers.”

Meanwhile, a South Australian tribunal has heard a case about cab driver Narayan Fathi refusing to let Peter Elson and his then guide dog into the taxi because he thought the dog would dirty the car.

It is obligatory for taxi drivers not to discriminate against guide dogs. Elson hopes the tribunal would enforce accountability within the taxi industry.

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