Stabbed Indian student ’stable’ , cabbies end Melbourne protests (Lead)

April 30th, 2008 - 6:39 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, April 30 (IANS) Protesting Melbourne taxi drivers, many of them from the sub-continent, have won in their push for improved safety for drivers as the stabbed Indian overseas student, who was working as a part-time taxi driver, was said to be in a “stable” condition Wednesday. The police charged a 45-year-old man with attempted murder of the 23-year-old Jalvinder Singh. Parish Charles of Bennett Street in suburban Alphington was arrested at his home at 7.30 p.m. Tuesday and has been charged with attempted murder by Yarra Criminal Investigation Unit detectives.

The near fatal stabbing of Jalvinder Singh in the Clifton Hill suburb of Melbourne Tuesday had been the trigger for the taxi drivers’ blockade in the heart of Melbourne since then.

The drivers were late Wednesday afternoon assured by the Victorian State government that mandatory safety screens would be fitted to their vehicles.

Transport Minister Lynne Kosky told reporters: “We aim to have those screens rolled out within the next 12 months, but hoping to have them rolled out prior to Christmas.”

She said the government had also agreed to pre-paid fares between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. “as soon as possible” both in metropolitan and regional areas.

The government has also agreed to pay the medical and rehabilitation costs for the injured Indian driver.

“His condition is stable and he has been taken off the critical care list,” said Rod Jackson Smith, media manager for Royal Melbourne Hospital, where Jalvinder Singh was admitted in a critical condition.

Earlier, taxi drivers had threatened to blockade Melbourne airport if their demands were not met. Many drivers had ripped off their shirts and blocked Melbourne’s busiest intersection disrupting peak hour morning traffic, chanting “we want justice” and “shame, shame Victoria police”. Others held placards reading “stop killing the drivers” and “help us”.

The driver’s demands included compensation to the stabbing victim, severe punishment for the offender, improved safety, fitting vehicles with protective or security screens, pre-paid taxi rides, and special protection at certain railway stations and suburbs after hours.

Victorian Taxi Drivers Association secretary Pritam Singh Gill said: “The drivers are very upset with this. The government promised us security and safety for drivers more than 18 months ago and they haven’t done anything so far.”

The injured Indian student was found by a passerby just before 6 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday in a critical condition, covered in blood with multiple stab wounds to the upper body. His taxi was found a short distance away smashed into a street sign.

Detective Senior Constable Brendan Smith told reporters the police had found the abandoned crashed taxi at about 3 a.m. (AEST) but could not immediately find the driver.

Late last year, another taxi driver of Indian origin had sustained stab wounds inflicted by a fare-evading passenger. Baljinder Singh, 25, had told reporters: ”I don’t think I will drive cabs (again). I’m not scared but there’s always a risk to your life.”

Earlier, calls for more security for Melbourne taxi drivers from violent passengers were intensified when in August 2006, a 27-year-old part-time taxi driver, Rajneesh Joga, was killed when a 20-year-old man tried to hijack his taxi by pushing him out of the moving vehicle.

Joga, who hailed from Hyderabad, was doing his master of accountancy at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

Since then there have been a series of violent incidents.

“Last time one of the taxi drivers was killed, the government promised us there will be taxi shields inside the cabs. We are treated like second-class citizens in Australia,” Sunny Singh of suburban Blackburn was quoted as saying by media.

There are about 12,000 Indian overseas students enrolled in various universities in Melbourne and many of them drive taxis part-time to support themselves and meet the increasing cost of living.

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