In the recent THE HINDU edition of YOUNG WORLD (the complete newspaper for children), 15 Dec 2006, Antara Das writes about recent West Bengal Government’s decision to abolish the use of hand pulled rickshaws.
The only time I ever traveled on this rickshaw was in early 1990s when I visited Kolkata for the first time in my life. My friends assured me that it’s a lifetime experience and that I should definitely take a ride. I was very uncomfortable sitting in a rickshaw that was hand pulled by a man who was barefoot, was thin and scrawny with minimal clothing. However, I succumbed to my friends’ assurances and I sat on it. That five to ten minute ride was the most uncomfortable journey that I took. I was on the edge of my seat all the time- I was uneasy and was feeling queasy. Once the ride was over. I got off and swore I would never ride one again. It was just weird being pulled by another man like that.
I always thought it was inhumane and I never liked those rickshaws. Now, that the government has decided to scrap them, I was very happy. However, Andata Das’s article sends dual message. Just look at some of her sentences.
# The article is titled “Relic on Wheels”
# “But the death knell for this archaic mode of transport has been sounded”
# “This archaic mode of transport will fade away, and with it the memories associated with the kind of experience it had to offer”
# She asks “Inhuman?” and then answers- “Rickshaws, considered a cheap, pollution free and convenient mode of transport, mainly relied on the unskilled labor…”
# “The system of one man pulling the burden of another was being increasingly considered as inhuman, given the heightened awareness about human rights,” but according to her, “…the rickshaw pullers themselves felt that their work was no less undignified…”
# “…for those accustomed to hailing the sturdy rickshaw-wallah to navigate a water logged street, it is going to be a lonely monsoon”
Antara Das seems doesn’t seem to think it is inhuman. She goes nostalgic about it. She seems to miss them actually. She thinks ‘sturdy’ men run these rickshaws. This is how Indians rationalize all inhuman acts in India. Soon, another author will write the glory days of cleaners of night soil. She will miss those days when those lower caste kids would plunge themselves into sanitary tubes to clean the mess. She will term it as cheap and pollution free methods to clean our shits.
Imagine this is what we are feeding as news to our kids. THE HINDU should have been careful!