London Tube celebrates South Asian staff that keeps city on the move

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on August 16, 2021

Supplied photo

Supplied photo

Supplied photo

The event captures the UK’s journey in staff diversity over the decades.

Several portraits have appeared across the London Underground with images and stories of staff of Asian origin that help keep one of the world’s busiest public transport networks running, reflecting the distance travelled on staff diversity over the decades.

The posters are part of various initiatives in the South Asia Heritage Month that is celebrated from July 18 to August 17 to raise the profile of British South Asian heritage and history in the United Kingdom (UK) through education, arts, culture and commemoration.

London’s transport network is run by the local government body Transport for London (TfL), responsible for transport on roads, rivers, taxis, cycles. It was previously owned and run by the company, London Transport.

To mark the closing of the South Asian Heritage Month, TfL installed the public portrait exhibition in selected stations to celebrate contributions and achievements of its staff of Asian heritage, highlighting its diverse workforce in varied roles across TfL serving a diverse global city like London.

One poster recalls the example of one of the earliest Asian employees, Amar Singh. In 1964, he showed up for work wearing a turban and was sent home for violating the company dress code. He continued on wearing it to work until the company then, London Transport, allowed turban as part of the uniform.

Furhana, a senior electromagnetic compatibility engineer on the network, said: “It would be fair to say that the transport industry found me rather than the other way round, but I haven’t looked back.” She has used her engineering skills on the station, signaling and rolling stock upgrades. Furhana’s current role involves improving diversity within engineering: “There should be zero tolerance for racism within the transport industry,” she added.

The portraits have been installed in Victoria, Hounslow West, Limehouse DLR and West Croydon stations.

Rajdeep Ghatora, overground concession contract manager, said she never expected to work in transport, but loves her job: “When I’m out and about on the London Overground network, I can point at changes which have been made to enhance the customer experience and say, ‘I had something to do with that.”

Marcia Williams, TfL’s director of diversity, inclusion & talent, said, “These strikingly powerful portraits, combined with the moving stories of pioneers from the Asian communities such as Amar Singh in the 60s who drove change in the organisation, remind us of that London’s diversity in all its forms is what keeps it moving.”

She added: “We pay tribute to colleagues past and present and thank them for their service and their commitment to ensuring that equality and inclusivity are embedded in everything we do. I hope these portraits will inspire others to join us too.”

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