The other day, I took a rickshaw from the main gate of my college to the metro station. It is not much of a distance but I wasn’t well, so decided that a rickshaw would be the best possible option. I don’t like e-ricks because you have to share rides and there are always four eyes right in front of you. That makes me uncomfortable.
It was a lazy day, so I decided to have a short conversation with the bhaiyya driving the rickshaw. What followed was a bleak reality.
How much do you think they earn?
I asked him how many rides he manages to complete in a day, to which he replied that he does earn upto 500 rupees everyday. However, out of that the rent for the rickshaw is 400 rupees.
From that, he has almost 100 rupees for himself. Out of those 100 rupees, he will have to manage two meals a day for himself and pay his house rent. There are no savings.
The hegemony of e-rickshaws
When asked further, he told me that the e-rickshaw drivers earn between 1500-2000 rupees, and I assume that the rent will be higher for them since the capital is more. But let those things aside for a moment.
The e-rickshaw drivers have hegemony because they are a more organized group. They charge 10 bucks for a ride which will cost the manual rickshaw pullers almost 20-40 bucks, so the flow of customers to the manual rickshaw pullers is curtailed.
Let’s get to the finances
It is a shock to see how widespread the exploitation exists. To my knowledge, a single manual rickshaw will not cost more than 20,000 rupees. Yet, the owner is taking 400 rupees everyday which amounts to a total of 12,000 bucks a month.
The owner is actually exploiting these people to death, if I should not be shying from such a strong term.
Is university only for students?
This is one major question that I had been grappling with ever since I had a conversation with the rickshawalla bhaiyya. Do the rights of citizens within university spaces only apply to students? Is it only the time when your freedom of speech is threatened that you will organize yourself into rallies and launch mass protests?
I believe even more strongly that all the ideas that we study within the classroom are just learnt and left there. There is no real engagement with the people outside.
Classrooms are enclosed spaces for intellectual masturbation. It sounds nice. It sounds fancy to talk about inequality, oppression, feminism. But the moment you step outside, all these things are somewhat lost.
It is not just us the e-rickshaw drivers that harass these people. The MCD adds up to the burden as it fleeces them. Although the number of rickshaws has been curbed by the Delhi High Court in 2012, the MCD uses dumped, discarded rickshaws and hands away bogus receipts to pullers in exchange of bribes.
They have to earn a living anyhow, and that is what has been happening for all those years, to which I had been blind for the first two years in college.