About a couple of decades ago, hailing a taxi on Guru Nanak Jayanti would not have been easy. Back then, a major chunk of the taxi driver population comprised Sikhs.
Today, although the number of taxis plying the city’s streets has increased manifold, finding a turban-sporting taxi driver has become a rarity.
“Over the past 25 years, the number of Sikhs in the field has fallen from 30-40 per cent to a mere 10 per cent,” said Bombay Taximen’s Union President A.L. Quadros.
In the years after Partition, taxi driving was a prime occupation for the many Sikhs who came down from Punjab to earn a living.
They grew to become the public’s favourite, earning the reputation of being the most trustworthy of the lot.
Drivers are now predominantly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“People trusted us because of our hard work, even women would feel safe in our cabs at late hours, but these days there is no place for honesty,” said Jagtar Singh Gill (78), who plied his taxi for 30 years before getting into the transport business, the preferred option for most Sikhs who quit taxi driving.
To Gill, it is no surprise that Sikhs don’t want to drive cabs anymore. “The days when we were treated as valuable public servants are gone,” he said.
His son, Iqbal Singh, a fourth generation cab driver in the family who also left the profession, does not want his children to get into the field.
Ditto with taxi driver Surjit Singh, who has got his children admitted to an English medium school and wants them to take up service.
“Sikh drivers have always been educated, and they are still considered trustworthy,” said the 40-year-old. “But now the public no longer has any respect for the profession.”
The way things are going, we may not be able to hail a ‘Sardarji’ cab anymore.