Living on a rickshaw

By Kate Nutting:

When you step out onto the streets of New Delhi, one of first things you notice is the array of brightly coloured rickshaws lined up along the road. In urban India, automated and tandem rickshaws are a regular sight as both are a common form of transport, often used in place of taxis. It is estimated that there approximately seven million rickshaws operating in India today. Since most drivers can only afford to rent their rickshaw, they generally only receive a meagre 50% of their daily income as profit.

A recent study conducted by Madeline Hickman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has unsurprisingly found that bicycle rickshaws are not safe for the drivers. Bicycle rickshaws have only one speed and an extremely high gear ratio, making it difficult for drivers to pedal while weighted down by up to five people on board. Given that rickshaw drivers are often malnourished, the drivers are at serious risk of health complications due to the physical stress that they are under on a daily basis.

Anbu has been driving his rickshaw for around eight years. In broken English, he tells me that he is far from home and spends most nights asleep on the backseat of his rickshaw. He works in the city to send money back to his wife and children who live far away. He laughs and say that he gets very tired. He does not really understand my questions but you can tell that he desperately wants to go home. Anbu looks sad and tired, but proud when we pay him and say farewell. His tiresome day and story would be strikingly similar to thousands of other men around India who work in the gruelling rickshaw business.

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