Thursday, April 26, 2007

'cul de sac' for the kolkata richshawwallahs?

in november 2005 and february 2007 i had posted about the dying breed of the rickshawwallahs of kolkata,thanks to the west bengal government's apathy. considering the act of man pulling man as barbarious,handpulled rickshaws have been taken off the kolkata streets. what happens to the poor and unfortunate rickshawallahs does not seem to be really anybody's concern.has not a kind act been done to him,so the powers that may be,ask? during my recent kolkata visit, i tried to see whether they were really out of bounds.not really.the moment i entered into park circus area, i could spot the familiar sight. and then as i drove into ballygunge, i saw many more of them. out of the 20,000 and odd rickshawpullers, many have left the trade and have changed their vocation. but quite a few still hang on .like a drowning man to a straw. because that is the only skill that they have.passed on from one generation to another.

jyoti basu who was the longest ruling chief minister(25 years) and who retired in 2000 tried to ban rickshaws in 1984.then two more attempts were made. which also failed. but this time around the government is serious and will definitely phase them out according to government spokespersons. the alternatives for the rickshawpuller is driving a bicyclepulled rickshaw or an autorickshaw .their skill and dexterity in manoeuvering waterlogged and narrow lanes is wellknown. and of course they are very cheap.25 cents(rs 10) a kilometre.

most of the rickshawwallahs hail from bihar,the poorest state in india.they were earning about100-150 dollars( rs 4000-6000) per month and supporting their large families back home. while some have educated their sons many others have not done so.though the government claims that there are many schemes for self-help,the rickshawwallahs have clearly lost hopes.they feel that the government is no more listening to them and are blindly pursuing the path to rapid industrialisation at the cost of the poor.nandigram and singur are recent examples.

and when i was leaving kolkata for mumbai,i saw an eyecatching ad in the 'daily telegraph'inserted by "malayala manorama". the humble kolkata richshawwallah was the centrepiece. "mithya,mithya,aapni ki bhabhe boltepaaren je bhaarater sabcheyi beyshi bikriya praadeshik bhaasha pratidin baanglate noi." lie!,lie!, how can you say india's largest selling regional language daily isn't in bengali".the truth is that malayala manorama which is a malayalam daily has a circulation of 15.14 lakh copies! it has the largest circulation among regional language dailies.

what a tragic irony that a kolkata rickshawallah has to be used to express surprise that the largest selling regional language newspaper is not in bengali!


David J said...

Unfortunate circumstances sometimes lead to unwanted intervention. Your story tells so much of this paradox. Is it the poverty that our governments are stamping out or just the appearance of poverty? Maybe these men earn their dignity by their own resourcefulness what will they have if this is taken from them. Did they feel degraded? Do they now that they are no longer pulling carts?

gs said...

you have a valid point.govt is looking at form and not i said,i am afraid that nothing really is being done for the rickshawallahs from whom their source of living has been snatched.they feel terribly let down.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gopal and David J,

A warm greeting to both of you. This as you both know is a subject very close to my heart.

As someone who was born and bred in Calcutta, this was a very special post for me.

Well done, Gopal, for giving us this follow-up.

Now to another question - I'd love to see your take on the 737 that has been deserted in Chembur.

Do let me know.



gs said...

hi david
the whole of last week was spent in madurai and bangalore.i had heard about this boeing getting stuck on the back in mumbai now and will catch up with this incident.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Gopal,

Look forward to it!