The Telangana government seems to have gone places in terms of discrimination against cab drivers belonging to the Hindu community in Hyderabad with a very curious case of minority appeasement.
It all dates back to December 2015, when the State Minorities Commission (SMC) issued notices to the police, transport department and Uber itself, for allegedly cheating a taxi driver who had committed suicide.
President of the Telangana State Cabs and Bus Operators Association, Syed Nizamuddin had claimed that the suicide was result of cheating as Uber had caused many people to leave their regular jobs and become drivers with a promise of Rs 70,000 as monthly salary. Since the driver who committed suicide was a Muslim, the issue was taken to SMC, which in turn sent notice to Uber and other parties.
In 2016, Uber partnered with the Tata Group to enable drivers to purchase their own vehicles. Under the scheme, drivers could purchase an Indica or Indigo from Tata Motors using flexible loans from Tata Capital Finance and get insurance from Tata AIG. A smart move given that Uber and Ola classify their drivers as self-employed “partners” rather than direct employees.
This was followed by strikes by unions against Uber and Ola claiming that they were taking away their livelihoods, similar to strikes and protests in other cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Some of them claimed that new financing scheme was unfair to them as they had bought cabs at higher interest rates from private parties earlier, and that Uber was favouring those drivers who got cabs under the new scheme.
Now in what appears to be a bid to weaken this strike by cab drivers, the State Minority Finance Corporation has started what it calls a ‘driver empowerment program’. Under this scheme, drivers of non-Hindu communities will be given financial assistance to own cars, which will get business from Uber. Perhaps Uber agreed to be a part of it to ‘strengthen’ their case where they were accused of pushing a Muslim driver to suicide.
Now this brings about a few points to ponder:
- Why did the case of the cab driver committing suicide go to the minorities commission? Suicide is suicide, irrespective of who the victim is, and while it is no longer a crime to attempt suicide, Section 306 of IPC still makes abetment a crime. If at all the suicide was related to Uber’s alleged promise, then an investigation is needed. But why was religion made a factor? How was that even relevant?
- As a journalist, I have had numerous conversations with Uber drivers across India, and one thing is clear. Uber does not promise a ‘salary’. Uber does not employ drivers. They put it on record that drivers are self-employed and partners, but not employees. Further, Uber clearly does state in such situations that the driver can earn up to Rs xx, subject to the drivers’ performance. Given the flexibility and freedom of working hours that are available, it is up to individual drivers how much they make.
- The most crucial point: Why is the Telangana government going to the extent of giving financial assistance only to minorities? Are all Hindu cab drivers assumed to be rich? Further, our constitution explicitly prohibits [pdf] discrimination on the basis of religion. It also clearly states that the state shall not discriminate in the case of public employment, and while giving loans to partner with a private party cannot be considered public employment, it is discriminatory under the Right to Equality. After all, a government entity is providing the loan. While the state has the rights to make special provisions to backward classes and SC/ST groups, there is no mention of special provisions on the basis of religion.
Is this a calculated move by Telangana to use a private player to engage in minority appeasement rather than directly employ them in a state-run Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) where it would be deemed illegal? And has it been done to break protesting drivers on religious lines?