Monday, February 23, 2015

From the life of a Cycle Rickshaw Puller

We come to see them almost on a daily basis in our lives. At times, we find them blocking our lakhs worth of vehicles from zooming past at fast speeds. At other times, we find them sitting idle, sleeping on their cycle rickshaws, in groups, doing nothing, but sleeping over the whole day. Then, sometimes, when we have to, a lot of us might have bargained one of them over the fare they asked for to take you to your nearest metro station. A lot of us might find a lot of them too slow, too downstandard with what we are, wasting time, theirs and ours as well. Well, all this is changing, and rapidly so. The introduction of E-Rickshaws in the National Capital Territory, and in a number of other cities and states has paved the way for us to get our roads cleared from these slow snails blocking our way to almost everywhere, because, they are everywhere.
Being a citizen, one who doesn't come from so well to do families, I got a chance to interact with people like an ordinary cycle rickshaw pullers to name a few. Now you might be thinking what does my family background has got to do with getting to interact with a rickshaw puller? Well, the answer comes down to a mode of transportation. Those who, at  a point of time didn't have their own vehicle, or even if they still don't have one, might be able to understand the importance of public modes of transport, more importantly ones which could reach your doorstep. Auto-rickshaws became favourites among people, owing to their small sizes and their ability to ply on roads, highways and small streets alike. But the fare and their feasibility for small distances, like for a few kilometres meant there was something much more feasible than an auto-rickshaw was needed. Here came the cycle rickshaw. Something, that, in itself while it was invented in 1880's, was considered a technological advancement, has, with the technological advancement has now reduced to a piece of history. Some records suggest that Cycle Rickshaws were introduced in Delhi in the 1940's, and were considered a great advancement in public transport system, which, when compared to the hand pulled rickshaws, or other animal driven carts were cheaper, and faster. The technological advancement, and the enhancement of our disposable incomes have indeed helped most of us move beyond a piece of history and towards vehicles of the 21st century, Motorcycles, Cars and Electric vehicles have made way in the transportation scenario. While most of us have moved on, some, still chose to cling on that piece of history to earn their livelihood. Till sometime back, their livelihood flourished too, since these were relatively cheaper modes of transportation providing connectivity to inner areas from nodal points.
I too hopped on the bandwagon of the modern men and bought myself a personal vehicle to take me to places I want, at the time I wanted. At times I too have felt these slow things an annoyance because, I had to drive behind them on an already congested road, and the distance I could have covered in a matter of seconds took a couple of minutes. I too remember bargaining them about fare, as what they quoted appeared a bit more to me. A few days back, I had to travel back home without my vehicle. On some other day I would have preferred a 35 minute walk to cover a 4 km stretch from the bus stop to my home. But this day was different. I had bought some stuff, so had added weight. No electric rickshaw was willing to go towards my home, so I had no option left. I walked down some distance, then decided to take a cycle rickshaw to home. I asked him whether he will be willing to take me there. (Yes, in India, we still ask drivers of public transport vehicles about their willingness to take us somewhere, though, our laws empower us that they don't have a right to deny taking us somewhere, in normal circumstances.) He agreed, I asked for the fare, and didn't bargain with him about it.
For sometime, he pulled that cycle rickshaw, and I, as I usually do, had my earphones on, and was listening to music with my phone. An idea clicked. Why shouldn't I Interview him? I, being a sort of introvert, was in two minds whether to start talking with him, or let him do his work. The common thought of drawing conclusions even before actually doing something was holding me back. However, the curiosity of trying to look into a rickshaw puller's life, one whom we think to be a sort of villian, overcharging us at the very next possible chance made me strike the conversation. I had started off the conversation with him, trying to take a deeper look into the socio-economic aspects of someone's life. So, here I go with my interview of the Cycle Rickshaw Puller. But before I delve deep into the conversation between me and him, please allow me to put forth a few facts for your consideration:

The Cycle Rickshaw Pullers

Cycle Rickshaws were introduced in the National Capital around 1940's. At a time, when India, as a country was still ruled by British, and poverty and limited technological advancement, animal driven carts, most of those that now feature as luxury transport for fun and short distances, example, horse driven carts. The introduction of cycle rickshaws was a great technological advancement over the hand pulled rickshaws and the animal driven carts. The cycle rickshaws made way into the interiors of the city, catering to population of interior areas that were not catered by larger modes of transportation like buses and trains. Autorickshaws were not a feasible option for small distances, and thus cycle rickshaws thrived.
In Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has been entrusted the task of registering and governing the cycle rickshaws, and/or other such non-motorised modes of transport/goods carriage. As per the laws of the Union Territory, the cycle rickshaws are required to be registered with the concerned Municipal body of the area the rickshaw is plying in.
A large number of the cycle rickshaws plying on Delhi roads are not owned by the rickshaw pullers but are rented out for a daily rent. Most of the rickshaw pullers are migrants from other states, who migrated to Delhi in search for a better livelihood. A large majority of these rickshaw pullers in Delhi come from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan.
As per the data released by Department of Economics & Statistics, Government of NCT of Delhi, in it's Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2012 (that was the latest one containing data on Cycle Rickshaws, newer editions of 2013, and 2014 have missed out statistics on Man/Animal driven transportation methods.), The number of registered cycle rickshaws over the past few years are:

Ref: Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2012 (Table: 10.3: Man/Animal driven vehicles in Delhi)

The numbers are surprisingly stagnant since 2007-08 to 2010-11, and with no new official data, there's no way for one to know whether this trend has stayed the same over the next years.

Anyways, I will move onwards to the interview.

To start off the conversation, I decided to bring in the Electric Rickshaws that have been introduced in Delhi in the past couple of years, and have made it in large numbers too. I decided to make the conversation sound as regular chat between two people, so as to get the best possible response from the interviewee. While the chat took place in Hindi, the local language, I would translate the same into English, for wider understanding.

Q.1 इलेक्ट्रिक रिक्शा के आने से आप लोगों को तो बहुत नुक्सान हो रहा होगा ? (The introduction of the Electric Rickshaws might be having a great impact on cycle rickshaw pullers' earnings?)

A.1 अरे बाउजी, सारी दिहाड़ी खत्म हो गयी है. (Yes. Infact the e-rickshaws have had a deep impact on our daily earnings. (which, they call dihari in Hindi)) Infact, I had struck a rather painful chord of his life. He went on to express his feelings over the people's behavour towards them.
लोग इ-रिक्शा वाले को 30 रुपये दे देंगे लेकिन हम अगर 30 रुपये मांग लेंगे तो लोग मोल भाव करने लगते हैं. लोग यह नहीं समझते की हमारा काम भी कितना मुश्किल है. इ-रिक्शा तो बैटरी से चलता है, हमारी मेहनत लगती है. वह 15 मिनट में पहुचायेगा हमको आधा घंटा लग जायेगा। वह 6 लोगों को एक साथ बिठा लेगा, हम 4 से ज़्यादा खीच ही नहीं पाएंगे।
(People would happily give the electric rickshaw whatever they ask for (in his words 30 rupees), but will bargain with us, if we ask for the same amount. They don't understand that our work is difficult. E-rickshaw runs on battery, while we have to work hard to pull the rickshaw. They take 15 minutes and for us it takes 30 minutes to cover the same distance. They can earn from 6 passengers at one go, while for us, it'll be hard to pull even four people.

Thus, I got a chance to take this further.

Q.2 आजकल लोगों को जल्दी भी तो होती है. आपलोग जो 30 मिनट लगाओगे वह इ-रिक्शा पर 15 मिनट लगेगा. तो पैसे ज़्यादा लगें तो भी लोग दे देते हैं. (These days people don't want to waste time travelling. The distance you guys cover in 30 minutes will be covered by them in just 15 minutes. So, even if they charge more, people readily pay them.)

A. 2 सर, अब क्या करें, हम इससे तेज़ तो चल नहीं सकते. आप हमारे रिक्शा पर बैठोगे तो हम तुरंत चल पड़ेंगे, इ-रिक्शा वाले 15-20 मिनट सवारी का इंतज़ार करेंगे की उनका रिक्शा भरे तब चलेंगे. (Sir, this is our limit. We can't go faster than that. Even if you compare the e-rickshaws with us, as soon as you hire us, we leave off for the destination, while e-rickshaws make you wait for 15-20 minutes for more passengers so that they could leave with a full capacity.)

The next couple of questions were to understand his economic conditions:

Q. 3 तो फिर, कितनी  दिहाड़ी बना लेते हैं आप लोग? (So, how much money do you earn on a regular working day?)

A. 3 कमाई का क्या है, कभी 100 कभी 150 तो कभी 300-400 रुपये भी हो जाते हैं. सब सवारी के ऊपर होता है. सवारी मिल गयी तो कमा लेते हैं, नहीं तो जो मिल जाये उसी से तसल्ली करनी पड़ती है.  (Earning is not fixed. sometimes, we get Rs. 100, 150 and at times we earn as much as 300-400 rupees in a single day too. Everything depends on the passengers. If we get more passengers, we earn more, if not, then whatever we get, we have to be satisfied with it.)

Q. 4 तो, फिर आप कुछ और भी करते हैं, रिक्शा चलाने के अलावा? (So, do you do anything else beyond pulling this cycle rickshaw?) Behind this question, a past interaction with an auto-rickshaw driver was working. That interaction revealed that driving auto-rickshaw was his part time job, and he worked up as an insurance agent, selling Life insurance policies.

A.4 नहीं बाउजी, और कुछ नहीं करता. सुबह से शाम तक रिक्शा ही चलाता हूँ। (No sir, I don't do anything else. I just pull this rickshaw from morning till evening.)

Q. 5 यह रिक्शा तो किराये पर होगा? कितना किराया देते हैं इसका? (I guess this rickshaw is rented? How much rent do you pay?)

A. 5 हाँ, किराये पर है. ऐसे आसान रहता है। कभी घर वगेरह जाना हुआ तो रिकशे की चिंता नहीं करनी पड़ती। वैसे भी किराये पर रहते हैं, तो रिकशा मालिक को वापस कर के चले जाते हैं। वापस आये तो फिर ले लिया किराये पर। दिन का 40 रुपये किराया लगता है। (Yes, this rickshaw is rented out. It's easy this way. If we ever need to go to the hometown, we can leave the rickshaw to the owner. Anyways, we live off in a rented home. When we come back, we approach the owner to get the rickshaw.)

I decided to move off to social aspects of his life now. The best way was to start off with his native place.

Q.6 वैसे कहाँ से हैं आप? उत्तर प्रदेश? (Anyways, where do you hail from? Uttar Pradesh?) At this point, I was thinking that a lot of rickshaw pullers hail from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Since I couldn't detect a specific tone typical to people from Bihar, (most of those from Bihar, do have that specific signature with which one can easily make where do they hail from.) so I guessed he was from UP (Uttar Pradesh).

A. 6 राजस्थान. (Rajasthan). He actually told me his native place, which, I couldn't understand due to the surrounding noise.

Q. 7 यहां अकेले रहते हैं आप? (Do you live here all by your own?)

A. 7 नहीं, बीवी बच्चे हैं। एक लड़का है, दो लड़कियाँ।  (No, I live with my wife and children. I've got a son and two daughters.)

Q. 8 आपकी बीवी भी कुछ काम वगेरह करती ही होंगी? (Your wife too must be doing something to earn money?) Given the fact that in a city like Delhi, against all tall claims of politicians and parties claiming to have reduced inflation to dirt and also that one can have a good meal for a measily 5 rupees, I knew the hard reality of living and the costs associated with living with one's family in a city like Delhi. There are a number of businesses that thrive on such poor and needy people. A number of works ranging from the manual labour behind the expensive fancy jewellery sold in high end shops in shopping malls throughout the city and the country as well, to stitching of clothes, putting together components of an electric appliance to packaging items. A lot of the things that are labour intensive are outsourced to these people, and the wages they get will put the country's labour laws to shame. A rate of Rupees 2, for example, per metre of very small beads that make way to fancy sarees and designer attire for the rich, that too, you get paid only if you do it all right as per the specifications, or all your hard work gets wasted as it is discarded. The question I asked, had to show me, for obvious reasons, the utter helplessness of a father/ a husband, who couldn't earn enough to provide for his family, and as a result, has to allow his wife/children to work so that they could collectively earn enough to meet their ends.

A. 8 अब आदमी इतना नहीं कमायेगा तो औरत को काम करना ही पड़ेगा ना, नहीं तो घर कैसे चलेगा? वह भी काम करती है घरों में। (If the husband isn't able to meet the ends from his income, the wife has to work to help them earn enough to live. She also works in people's homes.) That meant, she worked as a maid.

Q. 9 और बच्चे? स्कूल जाते हैं या वह भी कहीं काम करते हैं? (And your kids? Do you send them to school, or they too work somewhere). I was, for some reasons, under the impression that they too might be working somewhere. To my utter surprise, the answer I got, I felt that the awareness campaigns run by the governments had some impact among the masses. While that impact is yet to reach throughout the country's masses, as we still find thousands of cases of child labour, but, it has to start somewhere.

A. 9 दोनों लडकियां सरकारी स्कूल में जाती हैं, और लड़का, जो की 5 साल का है, प्राइवेट स्कूल में है। (Both the girls go the government run school while the son, who is 5 years old studies in a private school.) I could very well sense the proud feeling he had while he was telling me that. Now this was something welcome, as even a poor rickshaw puller understood the importance of education. Even though, the notion still remained, and he found the Privately run school a better place for his son, whom, he was expecting to earn and look after his parents, later. The girls were going to the government school, because he understood the importance of education in one's life, and that the notion that he'll have to marry off his girls who would go to someone else's home after marriage, and his income, had forced him to discriminate between the girls and the boy. I tried to motivate him saying education is important, and that every parent wants his/her children to do better than themselves in their lives.

Q.10 बच्चे की पढाई की फीस में कुछ छूट मिलती है? आप ने EWS सर्टिफिकेट बनवा रखा है? Do you get any relaxation in terms of your son's school fees, since the government run schools don't charge any fees, and the EWS quota, as enacted in schools in Delhi, under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, as enacted w.e.f April 1, 2010 by the Indian Parliament, provides all the children of this country, a right to atleast elementary education, and as per this act only, Privately run schools of the country (either aided by the government or not, are required to reserve 25% seats for kids of Economically Weaker Sections of the society. Now whether the schools follow the guidelines properly or not is another matter for discussion.)

A. 10 हमको क्या पता यह क्या होता है? और रही बात बच्चे की स्कूल फीस की तो 100 रूपया महीने फीस लगता है।  (I don't know what that is-EWS Income certificate. And as far as the fees is concerned, it is 100 rupees a month.) Now this was something I didn't expect. As per my belief, I thought these people knew things that were done for their good, even if it was on paper. This person denied the very fact that he didn't know what an EWS Income certificate is, and that he was entitled to free education for his children even in Private schools. Though, it wouldn't have been easy to secure a place for all his children in a private school under the EWS quota, but the very fact that he didn't know about any such thing meant that a lot of ground work still needs to be done.

Now my journey had come to an end. I had reached my destination. So, I stopped the thing there itself. I decided to share it here, on my blog, for others to get an insight inside a common Indian's life, one who can't afford to visit fancy restaurants every weekend, or order food over phone, or visit the theme parks for recreation and ones whom we come across in our daily lives, still we neglect the very existence of them as parts of our own society, our very own people. Remember the pledge we took daily in our schools? - India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters...

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