Kolkata's Rickshaw Pullers
Hand-pulled rickshaws have been a feature of Kolkata streets for more than a century. The rickshaws were first introduced in Kolkata in the late 19th century by Chinese traders, primarily to carry goods. But British rulers made them the cheap mode of transportation in 1919. It is a sad and offensive scene on the streets of Kolkata, even after 60 years of independence, to see one man sweating and straining to pull another man. People in the lanes use rickshaw as a 24-hour ambulance service. The steadiest customers are school children. Middle class families contract with a puller to take a child to school and pick him up, puller essentially becoming a family retainer. In monsoon Kolkata gets torrential rains, when the rickshaws are pulled through water that is up-to the pullers' waists.
Thanks to the mounting pressure from humanitarian agencies, the hand-pulled rickshaws of Kolkata could soon be a thing of the past. In a city which loves its traditions, the authorities and human rights groups want the rickshaws phased out. Sooner it is done, better it will be for eradicating the human disgrace and plight of Kolkata's rickshaw pullers.