The turban-wearing British bus driver who changed the law

Refusing to remove his turban or shave his beard, Tarsem Singh Sandhu sparked a row that spread across the world and saw the nation's racial tensions and identity politics played out on Black Country double-deckers.

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Tarsem Singh Sandhu: Then and now – Photos: BBC
By Riyah Collins | BBC NEWS |

Fifty years ago, Sikhs working on Wolverhampton’s buses won the right to wear the turban at work. It followed a long-running dispute during which one Sikh man threatened to set himself on fire.

It was a time when racial tensions there were high, with the city’s most famous MP Enoch Powell saying the country was “heaping up its own funeral pyre” by permitting mass immigration.

The Express and Star newspaper reported the turban dispute “could bring chaos to the town’s bus services”, but it was not just public transport that faced upheaval.

Refusing to remove his turban or shave his beard, Tarsem Singh Sandhu sparked a row that spread across the world and saw the nation’s racial tensions and identity politics played out on Black Country double-deckers.

At 23, he began working as a bus driver with Wolverhampton Transport Committee which at the time employed 823 drivers, 411 of whom were Indian.

“I couldn’t see anyone in Wolverhampton at that time with a turban,” remembers Mr Sandhu, who arrived in the Midlands in his 20s more than 50 years ago.

Wolverhampton was different back then, he said. He remembers the racism, the teddy boys, and when he plucked up the courage to wear his turban, colleagues wearing crude mockeries on their heads.

Wolverhampton is now home to the UK’s second largest Sikh population. “Somebody has to take a stand whenever something is not being done right and put it right,” Mr Sandhu said. “I was proud I did that.”

Read the story, The turban-wearing British bus driver who changed the law (BBC, 30 April 2019), here.

 

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I may wear many hats but only one turban – Harmandar Singh (Asia Samachar, 9 Feb 2019)

 

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