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The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay “A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Dec 2013 back issue
Rickshaws a symbol of inhumanity
by Sero Jun
Hand-pulled rickshaws, largely seen as symbols of inhumanity, are here to stay in Kolkata. In 2006, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, announced that hand-pulled rickshaws would be banned and that rickshaw pullers must be rehabilitated. This resulted in strong protests and strikes from the rickshaw pullers. About 90% of the rickshaw pullers of Kolkata come from the Indian state of Bihar, particularly from its Muslim minority. They embark on a long migration to the city, far away from their families and homes, in order to earn a better living. They can afford the trip back home only every two or three months.  Almost 58% of Biharis are below the age of 25. Mohammed Mustaq, 45, has a wife and 6 children.  He used to work as a peasant farmer in a village in Bihar. But farming is not economically sustainable without owning private land. Farming can perhaps meagerly fulfill the need of food but doesn’t bring any extra money, necessary for others basic needs.  For this reason Mohammed had to leave his family and work in another city. His first child and son, Mohammed Asharaf, 12 years old, has been working in a factory in Delhi for two years. No rickshaw puller own a rickshaw. Each puller pays 1750 rupee (ca. $ 29) a week to rent one. His daily routine begins at 6am and ends at 8 or 9 at night.  On his best day he can earn more than 500 rupees (ca. $ 8.10), but this is rare and it is not uncommon to earn nothing despite a fifteen hour long shift.  In order to save some money he shares a small room in the slum area with 12 other men, there is no water and no toilets. Every rickshaw has its own registration number and plate.  An annual fee of 3500-4000 rupees (ca. $57-65) must be paid by the owner in order to renew the license each year.  No new licenses are being granted by the city of Kolkata, and existing licenses cannot be transferred to new vehicles. In this way old and broken rickshaws cannot be replaced and therefore the numbers of rickshaws are dwindling each year. In 2005 more than 20,000 rickshaws existed, nowadays probably only 5000 are still in circulation.
Mustaq’s mother cooks dinner and a girl from his village helps her. With the exception of the village leader, no-one has electricity.
Mustaq and his second son, Mohammed Asgar Ali (8, third child) have dinner. Mustaq’s mother waits until they finish their meal. Men eat first, women eat later.
Shamima Khatoon (30), first and only wife of Mustaq, washes dishes in front of the house.
The last meal before Mustaq has to leave.
In the waiting room of the train station. Motihari, Bihar, India.
To Kolkata.
To Kolkata.
Mustaq shares a room with 12 men. The flat consists of a room and a kitchen. There is neither a bathroom nor a toilet. Each man pays 150 Rupees (ca. $ 2.40) a month for rent.
Mustaq is taking a rest while other men are preparing dinner.
Pullers use a bell as ‘horn’.
Mustaq’s job does not only consist of carrying people but also goods. Carrying the amount of goods shown in this picture costs 30 rupees (ca. $ 0.45) per kilometer.
On his best day he can earn more than 500 rupees (ca. $ 8.10), but those are rare occasions, and it's not unusual to earn nothing.  Most of his time is spent for waiting customers.
Mustaq, 45 years old (in the middle), with other rickshaw-pullers awaiting customers near their residence.
India's Muslim population is the world ‘s third largest and the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.  90% of pullers who work in Kolkata are Muslim from Bihar. Mustaq is joining them in prayer at the New Bazaar.
For lunch they usually visit local restaurants. Restaurants serve free tap water.
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Raj Kr Sharma, 55 years old, has worked as a mechanic/repairer of rickshaws for the company since he was 12 years old.
Broken rickshaws.
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