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Pedalling a livelihood

Photo: K.R. Deepak

Rain or shine, he has to tug along.

Braving the scorching sun and uneven roads in the city, K. Devudu is an ambassador to promote 'dignity of labour'. For the past three decades he has been hauling passengers in his rickshaw across the ups and downs of the city roadways.

He used to pedal from RTC Complex to Gajuwaka in the early 1980s and with the entry of autorickshaws, jeeps, etc., he now operates only for short distances.

His daily earnings of Rs.60 meets the daily rental of Rs.20 and the balance to support his wife and four children. Hailing from Pellanki near Devarapalli he now resides at the foothill of Seethammadhara and is one of the 80-odd rickshaw pullers operating from RTC Complex.

'Rim jhim....rim jhim..... rickshawallah zindabad moodu chakramulu gira gira tiregite motor car bala door', the popular filmi hit sums up cycle-rickshaw in its heydays that provided livelihood to thousands of unlettered persons. Of course, it is no longer the case. Requiring no technical knowhow or any kind of expertise whatsoever, it is the instant source of employment. It is a relatively inexpensive mode of transport both to own and to operate and is easy to access right at one's doorstep.

Rickshaws were introduced in India as early as in the 1930s. In the early days most of the rickshaws were hand-pulled. Subsequently they gave way to cycle-rickshaws, except in West Bengal.

K. Bullibabu of Simhadripuram was initiated into this profession by his maternal uncle, a rickshaw-puller himself. He doesn't remember for how long he has been at it but "Indiramma time kadi nunchi tokkatunna" (since the time of Indira Gandhi I'm pedalling rickshaw). In a way it reflects how household name is Indira among the downtrodden even a quarter of century after her tragic demise.

P. Lakshmana, driven by poverty and guided by none, opted for this profession on his own. According to him, only vegetable vendors and elderly women, who travel within the radius of five kilometres, prefer rickshaws.

These vehicles are owned by a few businessmen who rent it out. "We provide these poor folks with employment," says Ramu (name changed) who owns 10 rickshaws.

The rickshaw pullers say they are not an organised lot like auto and taxi drivers and by paying a lifetime membership of Rs.400 they come under the protective umbrella of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. The CITU in turn ensures that the benefits offered by the Government like group insurance and scholarships to their children studying in 8th 9th and 10th classes reach the beneficiaries.

The CITU city unit general secretary, R.K.S.P. Kumar, says that at present there are about 700 rickshaws and the number is fast dwindling as many of the rickshaw-pullers are turning into 'hamalis' and have started transporting items like cement, steel and other cargo which fetches better and regular earnings.

Kumar says that earlier school children used to go to school in cycle-rickshaws but today parents prefer autorickshaws.

The city roads steep ups and downs pose a formidable challenge to these emaciated rickshaw-pullers and while their competitors zip across using clutch and gears, the poor rickshawwallahs have to sweat it out - all for a few rupees.

PUSHPA BHARGAVA

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