Racial abuse rife, says taxi driver

By Kathryn Powley

Tauranga Mount Taxis driver Gurmeet Singh
Tauranga Mount Taxis driver Gurmeet Singh

Race-based abuse is a fact of life in the taxi industry, says an Indian taxi driver injured in a brutal attack.

His employer confirms clients regularly complain about being sent "towel head" drivers.

Last week, the Herald on Sunday revealed a verbal assault on an Invercargill taxi driver. Readers responded with disgust towards the passenger, Greg Shuttleworth, who called Pakistani driver Tariq Humayun an "Islam prick" and urged him to go home.

Tauranga Mount Taxis driver Gurmeet Singh is still recovering from a vicious bashing in January.

He said the attack was racially motivated. "Before they jumped in they were talking to each other and I heard them say: 'He's an Indian'."

Jared Dixon, 18, and Tomote Manu, 19, have been jailed for two years nine months and three years respectively. Singh's turban came off during the attack due to blows to his head, but he can't remember much else as he was unconscious.

"I put my hand on my face. They hit me on my hand and head. They dragged me on to the road and hit me on my body." He believed he owed his life to people who ran to his aid. Other Tauranga driver friends had lost teeth and had their turbans ripped off them.

Singh, who lived in Tauranga with his wife Surinder and two sons aged 10 and 4, drove his taxi only occasionally now as he was too scared.

Tauranga Mount Taxis spokeswoman Jacqui Coffey said racism happened "all the time". "I get people in the office saying, 'Can I have a white driver'? I say, 'Actually no, you can't request that'."

Besides, with nearly all of their 70 drivers Indian, there were few Pakeha drivers. "I've had people ring up saying, 'Do you have to send me a towel head'? I get offended. Sometimes I'm not quite sure what to say without being really offensive back. I work for some great guys."

She'd watched the footage of the attack on Singh captured in his "blood-splattered vehicle" and was disgusted by the hatred on the faces of the attackers.

Other taxi companies said racial abuse was all too common, but no records were kept and not much could be done about it.

In Auckland, Discount Taxis owner Alan Webster also said some passengers asked for white drivers.

Meanwhile, Humayun thanked people for their support. He said that he held no grudge against Shuttleworth. "Had all the concerned not taken any interest in this incident, it wouldn't have got the exposure to create awareness in the community."

- Herald on Sunday

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