Rickshaw pullers get together

Rickshaw pullers get together On January 5, 2003 hundreds of rickshaw pullers in Hyderabad got together to declare: "Protect our right on roads.' The city was hosting the Asian Social Forum and some 500-rickshaw pullers from different cities and towns had decided to use the occasion to organise in an informal but cohesive way for their rights.

Since rickshaws were introduced in India in early 1930s, it has become a major mode of transport in most of our cities. And rickshaw pulling is a major source of livelihood for millions. In Delhi and Raipur rickshaw pullers are predominantly landholders left jobless by drought and floods in Orissa, Bihar and up. The traffic police very often harass them and the police brand them as petty criminals. Though there are sporadic efforts to incorporate rickshaws in urban planning processes, recognition for them as a legitimate mode of transport in urban areas is yet to come (See box: Tale of two cities).

The rickshaw pullers unions' campaigns revolve around two issues: to allow rickshaw and bicycles to run without restrictions in cities and towns and for lanes designated specifically for rickshaws. Their strategy is to push these demands by projecting rickshaws as the most environment friendly mode of transport in times of grave air pollution.

Mohammad Ali, a rickshaw puller since 15 years in Delhi, says, "We have never been considered as a part of the modern transport system and not granted any rights. When the city now fights air pollution from the modern system, we have to organise ourselves to get the attention we deserve.' "Our roads are designed without considering the rickshaw. So it is difficult for it to run without creating congestion. And without the rickshaw, lives of thousands would be at a standstill,' says Geetam Tiwari, assistant professor, transportation research and injury prevention programme, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. She has designed a master plan that would allow rickshaws in Delhi to run smoothly.

Rickshaws would now proudly display a sticker: "Environment friendly transport and livelihood'. "This sticker would unite us emotionally as it is difficult to organise all the rickshaw pullers across the country,' says Mohammed Sabir, a rickshaw puller from Hyderabad. Then the towns and cities would witness roadside