The Vanishing Rickshaw Puller

Photo: Aazeen Ghaus

By Aazeen Ghaus

The rickshaw pullers of Jamia Nagar might be among the last in Delhi. Their numbers are dwindling day by day. They are living on the edge. Paddle rickshaws, once the only mode of local transportation, are no longer a feasible alternative for people, nor are they able to properly feed their pullers.


Rickshaw is one of the inventions widely assumed to have been invented in Japan in the 1860s, at the start of an era of tremendous technological growth. Rickshaw pulling became a cheap and popular mean of transportation across Asia in the nineteenth century. Rickshaws originally arrived in India around 1880, at Simla. It was first introduced in Kolkata (Calcutta) at the turn of the century. Since then, the rickshaw has evolved from the pulled rickshaw, which is still popular in Kolkata, to the pedal rickshaw. However, time passes quickly and things change. Some people, like the rickshaw driver in Jamia Nagar, are left behind in the process of development.

After the introduction of the e-rickshaw, the popularity of the rickshaw has waned.
The rickshaw driver has suffered a significant financial loss as a result of e-rickshaw.
They are compelled to live in poverty. Many of them switched to another source of income, but those who remained did that because of little or no choice.

A large number of rickshaw drivers are from Bihar and Bengal. They claim they are unable to save money at this time. They hardly make 200-300 rupees every day. They are unable to transmit funds to their loved ones. A few years back they used to earn more than a thousand in a day.

According to Salman ( name changed), a very old rickshaw driver from Bihar, he was forced to pedal a rickshaw against his will due to a large debt he incurred following his daughter’s marriage.

Another rickshaw peddler from Bengal, Rafeeq ( name changed), says that a lot has changed with regards to their sole source of income. For the past 12 years, he has been paddling rickshaws and has witnessed the change that took place in a decade. He is unsure about his future and is finding it tough to meet his family’s requirements on a daily basis. He wants his children to be educated but finds it difficult to provide them with a good education, particularly after covid.

These rickshaw pullers are facing trouble switching to another source of income because according to them they have been using a pedal rickshaw for a long time. They are now unable to adapt to the changes brought about by development. Some rickshaw drivers claim that driving an e-rickshaw requires special abilities and that they are too set in their ways to abandon the traditional means of transportation. They also lack the financial means to purchase e-rickshaws. Driving on a rented vehicle is also not an option due to a lack of proper required documentation.

People prefer to travel small distances in e-rickshaws since they are both inexpensive and quick. They pay 20 rupees for a distance of nearly 4 kilometers while the same distance costs 50 rupees on a paddle rickshaw. This is the reason why traditional rickshaw peddlers have been vanishing.

Their prospects do not look promising. These pedal rickshaws will vanish one day. Our children may not be aware that this means of transportation existed in the past.


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