wheels of inhumanity
January 3, 2007 1:14am CST
With the ban on rickshaws by the Bengal government these medieval transport medium in Kolkata are going to be history for our next generation. Let us take a stock of the whole situation. WITH THE BAN on hand-pulled rickshaws by the West Bengal government these medieval and the most eco-friendly transport medium in Kolkata is going to be history for our next generation. First invented in Japan, rickshaws were brought to India by Chinese traders in the late nineteenth century and used them merely for transporting goods. Later, in 1920s, under the British Raj, it became a cheap mode of passenger transport. Official figures show that there are only 5,937 rickshaws but originally there were more than 20,000 rickshaw pullers enrolled themselves in different unions and Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Rickshaw pullers are mainly peasants and daily wage earners who have migrated from neighboring states like Bihar and Jharkhand. However, the notion of one man pulling another was a big debatable issue among human right activists. Its abolition cannot be seen due to a single reason (inhumanity), as this is not the first time that there is a tussle between rickshaw pullers and the government. In the year 1982, the West Bengal government had destroyed many rickshaws as it was creating traffic problems. Another thing that one can see is that the British India’s capital and City of Joy, Kolkata is fast emerging as a major IT hub and its development can be noted with ever-increasing number of high-rise buildings and shopping malls which leave no space for these rickshaws. Probably, the state government is now trying to change the profile of the city in order to attract foreign investment. The chief minister of Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharya pointed it as a shame to Kolkata and declared its abolition but he forgot about those pullers who with their rickshaws have given an identity to the city. Though the government had promised rehabilitation or alternative employment but everybody knows what happens of such promises. In case the government replaces those hand-pulled rickshaws by cycle-rickshaws like in Delhi and Mumbai, it can be another law and order problem as a big network of mafias is engaged in exploiting these poor people by just providing them rickshaws on daily rent basis. Probably, this is the main reason for the huge number of rickshaws running without license. Government should look into this aspect in Kolkata as well as other Indian cities. As far as inhumanity is concerned, everyone wants its abolition whether hand-pulled or cycle-rickshaws but before that the government should find out the exact number of rickshaw-pullers and provide proper compensation to them in some way. Otherwise the abolition of the so-called wheels of inhumanity will lead to another inhuman act and that is of destroying the livelihood of these poor rickshaw pullers.