Posted on July 24, 2009

Bus Firm Accused of Thinly-Veiled Racism

Rhys Haynes, Daily Telegraph (London), July 24, 2009

A WOMAN wearing a Muslim headscarf was told by a bus driver to take off her “mask” because it was against the law to wear it on board.

Australian-born mother of two Khadijah Ouararhni-Grech was wearing the pink floral headscarf known as a niqab when she tried to board the HillsBus vehicle at Merrylands Rd, Greystanes.

“As I was stepping on to the bus, the driver said: ‘You can’t get on the bus wearing your mask’,” Ms Ouararhni-Grech told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

After politely telling him that the niqab was not a mask, he insisted, saying: “Sorry, it is the law.”

She said a number of passengers witnessed the incident.

“I told him it wasn’t the law and he said ‘You have to show me your face’,” she said.

“There were others present, there was a lady with a baby who was also disgusted about the discrimination that was brought upon me.

“I was just going to visit my mum. I was born here in Parramatta. I’m Maltese and I’m Muslim because I choose to be Muslim.

“I said to him ‘There’s no difference between me and that lady sitting there who chooses to not wear what I’m wearing’.”

After a heated discussion that lasted more than five minutes, the driver allowed Ms Ouararhni-Grech to travel on the bus.

HillsBus, Sydney’s largest private bus company, has confirmed it is investigating Tuesday’s incident. It is yet to contact Ms Ouararhni-Grech.

“At HillsBus we take complaints seriously and we value our record of customer service,” a spokesperson said yesterday.

“We received the complaint on Tuesday and an internal inquiry is now under way.

“Until the matter is investigated it would obviously not be appropriate to offer further public commentary.”

The HillsBus driver in question was yesterday approached by The Daily Telegraph for an explanation but denied the incident took place.

Ms Ouararhni-Grech said she wanted the bus company to improve driver education, rather than punish the driver. “I’d just like to change his attitude, I just want him to be educated on the subject,” she said.

“I’d be more than happy to go to the company with my sheikh and educate these people about what this exactly is and our beliefs and the reason why.”

A HillsBus source said drivers had the power to deny passengers access to a bus if they believed they were intoxicated or could pose a threat to other passengers.

Drivers are also trained to search around and under their vehicles and how to evacuate a vehicle quickly if the need arises.