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Kolkata Hand Pulled Rickshaws

rickshaw-puller

History has it that Chinese traders in Kolkata introduced these rickshaws in the late 19th century, primarily to carry goods.

But with time, British rulers made them a cheap mode of transport, eventually turning them into a symbol of the city.

India’s communist West Bengal state says its plan to ban hand-pulled rickshaws in Kolkata is a long overdue step to end a backbreaking, “inhuman” form of work.

But from the point of view of the rickshaw pullers they don’t think it’s inhuman and degrading.

“My grand-father and father were rickshaw pullers, I don’t know any other trade but pulling rickshaws. My family will starve if the ban is imposed,” said Sheikh, a short muscled man who did not know his age.

If the Government really care for them instead of just banning the rickshaws they should find a better alternatives for them first. Just like the case with our leather tannery in tangra.

Comments

  1. Liang says:

    For those who may not know – it was the Chinese that introduced the hand-pulled rickshaw into the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) when they arrived in India during the Raj era. In those golden days, some affluent families even owned private rickshaws managed/pulled by private rickshaw wallahs – commonly portrayed as a sign of status, luxury and wealth. My paternal aunt (died ages ago) from Tangra was one of these folks who owned one in those were the days…..
    At all times, the hand-pulled rickshaws had provided a means of labour work for a hand-to-mouth living for many poor Indians from neighbouring states. The work is hard, tough and difficult especially during the hot humid Kolkata summer where many probably die of sun strokes; also during the monsoon season, it is a pitiful sight to see them drenched and wading through dirty contaminated flood water – while the passengers stay dry behind the canvass cloth coverings. Given the congestion and deadly traffic conditions in Kolkata, the rickshaw pullers should be grateful that they survive at the end of every day from bodily challenges.

    Hand-pulled rickshaws once existed also in Singapore, Hong Kong and other Asian countries, but they have vanished many years ago. Their presence there was not a form of travel commute vehicle but a special attraction for tourists to sit in and take pictures with – so as to earn some high exchange value of foreign dollars as compensation.

    I used to travel alot on hand-pulled rickshaws while spending my young childhood days in Calcutta. On reflections, in this modern age of computer and advanced sciences, hand-pulled rickshaws work is really inhumane as we should treat our kind as man and not man-of-burden. On the other side of the coin, the trade barely provides a livelihood for many poor Indians to make ends meet.

    The State Government should work in partnership with those who still hold licences of hand-pulled rickshaws and find ways to compensate them gratutiously not only in monetary terms but also find work for them to work in the long run.

    I salute the rickshaw pullers for their endurance, strength and hard earned wages. Someday, I hope a story will emerge as Slumdog Millionaire to bring forth their plight and the many stories behind each and every hand-pulled rickshaw wallah for their livelihoond improvement cause.

  2. tt says:

    Yes I do agree that it is very inhumane to see people working like animals but the reality is that it is daily bread and butter for these unfortunate lot.I do agree with Liang that the government must find some form of alternatve where they can earn their livlihood with dignity.I would also like to mention that we must treat them with respect and kindness.I was apalled to see the kind of behavior that some of the chinese show towards these lowly paid workers.They are very rude and discriminating.

  3. Subhashis Basu says:

    Hi Leon,
    This very good topic.I love hand-pulled rickshaws and i think it have a great historical value.So i am deadly aginest to ban hand-pulled rickshaws.

  4. ADITYA says:

    I KNOW THAT THE PULLING OF HAND RICKSHOWS IS A VERY INHUMAN PROCESS,BUT IT IS ALSO INJURIOS TO HEALTH FOR THE RIKSHOW DRIVER.IF THE DRIVER WORKS FOR A LONG
    TIME , BECAUSE OF THE BURDEN OF THE PASSENGERS HE CAN HAVE SPINAL CORD INJURIES.
    I AGREE WITH THE WEST BENGAL GOVERNMENT FOR BANNING HAND PULLED RICKSHAWS,BUT IT IS ALSO A DUTY OF THE GOVERNMENT TO FIND A BETTER ALTERNATIVE WORK FOR THE RICKSHOW PULLERS ,SO THAT THEY CAN EARN THEIR DAILY BREAD AND BUTTER.

  5. Liang says:

    We have read about and taken rides on a hand-pulled rickshaw many times in our daily activity.

    Have we ever wondered how these poor richshaw wallahs survive within harsh conditions under the scorching sun, in heavy downpour of rain and wading through flooded streets of Kolkata – in order to make a living and to satify their customers’ needs of taking them to their required destinations.

    Here’s a clip on a happier note where rickshaw pullers got their act together to enjoy their day out on competition in their well docorated rickshaws with colourful streams for fun. Enjoy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqi88BJKY2U

  6. Arun Gandhi says:

    Its inhumane, dangerous to health, like animals treatment with the human being and horrible to see/view.
    It should be simply vanished without making delay. The present chief minister may plan for a rehabilatory package for them. A PIL should also be filled against this inhumane practice that exists in Kolkata (India) only.
    A socio-economic survey should be conducted to study the conditions of handpulled rickshaw pullers in terms of their educational level, health hazards, constraints or limitations. The study will show the ways to get them in the mainstream. It is much more worst than the scavengers.
    I am planning to conduct a socio-economic survey/study of handpulled rickshaw pullers in kolkata and will also try to find out the ways to rehabilitate them by providing opportunities to provide skill of other / alternate income generating activities, to research the possibility to cost effective re-designing (paddle system or motorised)their rickshaw, if they want to continue with the same service. I may submit a proposal for their rehabilitation to the state government. Its really a curse and requires agitation against cruelty.
    Arun Gandhi