Calcutta : Hand Pulled Rickhsaws { 40 images } Created 8 Mar 2010

"I am waiting to die in this city", says 50 year old Md. Shahjada. His dialect is not one that is native to this city. It's one of an immigrant, rootless, and filled with anger. Shahjada's anger has a reason. He is one of twenty four thousand rickshaw pullers in Calcutta. And, yes, all of them are waiting to die. The Marxist government in the state of West Bengal decided that it's inhuman to allow rickshaws criss-cross this city.

Most of these human horses are not from West Bengal but have emigrated from the neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand. 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. Of the twenty four thousand rickshaw pullers, only 387 have licenses.
A rickshaw puller earns a meagre wage of 100-150 rupees (US $ 2.25-3.5) a day, of which they have to give a daily rickshaw rent of 60 (US$ 1.35) rupees to the agent at the end of the day.

West Bengal's government's intention to banish this anachronistic vehicle from Calcutta's streets, promises modernity. They go on to call the rickshaw "inhuman" and condem those who mourn the end of this piece of history. The administration feels that the hand-drawn rickshaw belongs to the old economy. The days of feudal lords are bygones and so will the days of the hand pulled rickshaw. In the government's view it offers nothing but chaos, low levels of growth, and human migration driven by the unyielding poverty spiral.

Calcutta, meanwhile, can move on and join the 21st century and, if at all the hand-drawn rickshaw stages a comeback, it most likely will travel back to the Museum. Almost ironical for a mode of transport whose invention some credit to an out-of-work samurai.

Calcutta will turn into a silent city, minus the symphonic clickety-clak, of the human-pulled rickshaws.
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