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The foot soldiers: our cities' rickshaw pullers

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Pedal is what they do for a living, plodding on with passengers and payload in their rickety cycle rickshaws

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Slowly they are being edged out, but some have not given up on the cycle rickshaw yet. In the polluted lanes and bylanes, these men do the thankless, back-breaking job of ferrying passengers, drawing on the last reserves of strength of their bodies and the rickshaws, in a losing race with modern means of transport. Most of them do not even own the rickshaws they ply and have to pay rent. Bhola of Lucknow, who was once a beggar, earns about ₹250 a day, but ₹40 of it goes towards the rent of the rickshaw. At night, Bhola stretches out on a tarpaulin sheet on the pavement, his home for the night.

Once these men and their cycle rickshaws were the undisputed purveyors of men and material through the arteries of towns and cities. Now, it’s a poor man’s job. Planners and policy makers continue to see rickshaws as a nuisance on city streets, seeking to either control their numbers or ban them. They are often seen as irritants hampering the smooth flow of traffic. A misfit in the smart, global cities of today. The contribution of rickshaws to urban mobility is under-estimated. Despite the excitement about metro rail systems and flyovers, rickshaws somehow retain a place.

(Text by Shaju John)

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