THE HUMAN HORSES - Rickshaw Pullers of Calcutta
93 out of every 100 rickshaw pullers are homeless. They sleep after the city sleeps and wake up before everyone else does. Many of them are the sole bread earners for their family. Many plus 40. Many minus any other specialisation for any other job. “I ran away from my village when I was sixteen, and since then, this is what I have been doing, this is all I know” says 40 year old Ahmed Ali.
Of the twenty four thousand rickshaw pullers, only 387 have licenses. Many rickshaw pullers aren’t left with many choices when they earn a meagre wage of 100-150 rupees (US $ 2.25-3.5) a dayof which they have to give a daily rickshaw rent of 60 (US$ 1.35) rupees to the agent at the end of the day.
They rickshaw pullers are always on the lookout for the extra buck. While they ferry tourists around during the day, they also work as agents for the guesthouses in the tourist area in Sudder Street. “The manager of the guesthouse gives us a commission of 50 rupees (US$ 1.2) for every customer we get.” As the suns sets, the rickshaw pullers work as petty drug dealers and pimps to supplement their nominal daily wages and take their customers to Sonagachi and Kali Ghat, the two red light districts of Calcutta. “I charge double, sometimes even more if they are happy, and they don’t really mind paying me an extra bit…” confesses Md. Shahjada. Even though he gets well paid after taking customers to the sex workers, he doesn’t really like doing it and repents while he confesses, “…I never thought I would see this day and become a pimp…but I have very little choice.”