Rich Blaming Rickshaws for Traffic Congestion
The World Bank for Withdraw of Rickshaw
This article is dedicated to 1970 forgotten freedom fighters (rickshaw pullers), who gave their lives for independence. They never obtained any award or benefit from any governments or civil society.
In this roads they have no claim.
Worn out ribs hold together their stomachs
That are empty.
"Rickshaws have been an important part of transportation in the whole of Asia and remain so in the Indian subcontinent. With the world fast realising the danger of over-dependence on fossil fuels and the search for sustainable modes of transport, some eyes are turning to pedal powered vehicles. But at a time when the west is looking for such sustainable solutions, most Asian governments are ignoring them, and still worse trying to discard them. Rather than improving the cycle rickshaws, they are attempting to eliminate them in a false hope of creating a more "developed" way of living."(Deputy Technical Director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, New York, June 30, 2006)
O my child, my darling one
I could not give thee even a drop of milk
No right have I to rejoice.
Poverty weeps within my doors forever
As my spouse and my child.
Who will play the flute?
Where shall I get the happy smile I have drunk deep the hemlock
Of bitter tears!
And still even today
I hear the mournful tune of the Sanai (violin).
"When death looks greener than starvation"The story behind the headline was that Dukhimon Begum, a 40-year old mother of four from Durgapur Upazila of Rajshahi district had a quarrel with her rickshaw-puller husband, Manik Chand, because she bought a saree for her niece on the occasion of the latter's marriage. The family did not have any food to eat that night and the husband went to pull rickshaw next morning hungry. Faced with starvation, Dukhimon fed her two small daughters pesticide-laced biscuits and took some herself in order to be free from the misery. Little Moni, 6, and Mitu, 8, died, but the mother survived.
The Daily Prothom Alo (Bengali Daily Newspaper)of 18 September 2004 published another report under the headline "Mother said, 'no food, eat poison'; the haughty girl did so." As the story goes, Motalab Matubbar of Hajikandi village of Madaripur district left home six months ago in search of work. His wife, Chandra Banu, has been supporting the family of two daughters and a son by working as a maid in neighbours' houses. During the recent incessant rain, Chandra Banu could not work and get any food for her children. In Shibchar Hospital, the mother told the newsmen that for the last two days she had no food to cook. Starving Rumana asked her for food. Frustrated, she told the girl to take poison. That night Rumana drank pesticide to take her life.
The above incidents represent the most cruel and ultimate solution to hunger. However, such incidents are not common, although there is a commonality in them. The commonality is that girls and women usually take their lives because of hunger, boys do not. Boys normally have other options -- other than committing suicide.
Millions of poor earn their livelihood by rickshaw pulling and now their existence is threatened by ban. Rickshaw is the only environmentally sustainable and zero immission product of Bangladesh.
Monga is a sort of famine that stalks the northern region during the lean period when there is no work for farmers or agricultural labourers. The jobless people lose their food purchasing capacity. "As the local economy is not enough to keep the locals in their own areas, they roam around and finally migrate to the capital as part of their coping mechanism," the economist said. There is no official or unofficial data on how many people migrate to Dhaka each year during Monga. But economists said this time the number of migrated people would definitely be higher than the number in yesteryears. A World Bank report titled "Bangladesh: Development Policy Review" released recently reveals the picture of urban poverty and says the number of the poor among the city population has increased 7.2 percent from 1995-96 to 2000. Based on statistics from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the World Bank report says about 36.6 percent of the people in cities live under the poverty line while it was 29.4 percent five years ago.
Displaced men, women and children are seen waiting on the city pavements, railway stations and launch terminals. Some flock to the district and upazila towns for jobs. Many sell their domestic animals, household goods and other belongings to survive. Most of the newcomers have taken shelter in city slums. Some of them have become rickshawpullers (M. Rahman, November 3, 2004).
Kamala Khatun, 35, was seen begging at Karwan Bazar intersection taking her three-year-old daughter Lipi on her lap. She came to the city from a remote village in Rangpur two weeks back with her husband who has managed a rickshaw to make their living.
"If we were in the villages we would have died. There was no food, no work. For a few days we managed with arum (kachu) and its leaves. We moved here just to save our daughter," sobbed Kamala.
Landless Peasants - Population Migration
Only from 1974 to 1981 the population of Dhaka city increased by 200 per cent, unlike other developing countries this influx was not accompanied by industrialization, but due increase of more landless peasents.The present economic development increasingly widens the gap between the poor and the rich. With the introduction of chemical fibre and plastic bags in the industrial countries jute and jute products declined in importance by nearly 50 per cent between 1981 and 1988 - from 70 per cent to to 31 per cent of total exports. Landless small farmers and as well as urban informal groups constitute 50 per cent of Bangladesh's population. Fifty three per cent of rural population are virtually landless and the result of that a very large percentage of urban population live in slums. For example 30 per cent of the population (about 2 million) in Dhaka live in more than 1500 slums and squatter settlements, where density of settlements is over 6178 persons per hectare and per capita living space available is lower than one square meter.
People in remote areas after recent flood 2004 have also taken rice as loan against advance sale of labour. They alleged that a section of rich people had ganged up to exploit the value of their labour out of their misery. The monga-hit (famine) people in the north, who constitute a third of the country's population, are dependent on farm-work and have to leave their homes in search of work during monga. As they become unemployed around this time every year, many sell their labour in advance and stay with their families. Some start begging and plying rickshaws while many leave for Bogra, Dhaka and other places for jobs (New Age, October 27, 2004).
Forgotten Freedom fighters
These three innocent rickshaw-pullers were among some 7,000 people killed wantonly by Pakistani troops in Dhaka on that fateful night of March 25 in '71. March 25 arrives once again evoking painful memories of a night of murder and mayhem, the beginning of the genocide of millions of Bangalees by the Pakistani occupation forces. On this night in 1971, the Pakistani military rulers launched "Operation Search Light" against the unarmed Bangalees. Dhaka University was attacked and students exterminated in the hundreds. Death squads roamed Dhaka streets, killing some 7,000 people in a single night. It was to be only the beginning. On March 26, the nation waged an armed struggle against the Pakistani occupation forces following the declaration of independence by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But we have forgotten the contribution of the rickshaw pullers!
Rickshaws in Dhaka
The gradual banning of rickshaws from the major roads of metropolin Dhaka has severely affected the city dwellers. Take the example of Mrs Jahangir, a resident of north Shahjahanpur. A mother of three school-going children, she had got her kids admitted to a good school in the Dhanmondi area. She has sacrificed a lot of her other household expenses with the desire to give her children a better schooling. She used to use rickshaws as the only means of transport to ferry her children up and down. Each trip cost her thirty taka. However with the banning of rickshaws, she finds no other alternative but to admit her children to the schools in the nearby locality. This is just one of many unfortunate tales of city dwellers in recent times.
Rickshaws were probably introduced to the city of Dhaka in the early part of the previous century. Those of us who have been brought up in Dhaka have seen its existence since childhood and it has become a part and parcel of our everyday life. It is by far the most common mode of public transport used by people of all walks of life. To a certain extent, the existence of rickshaws may reflect the true nature of our socio-economic condition. Those who are involved in pulling rickshaws do mostly belong to the deprived class of the society. For a large section of these people, their poverty is the direct consequence of economic mismanagement and ill distribution of wealth in our society. Some of them have lost farms and land, others have lost their homestead devoured by river erosion. They have flocked to the capital in search of livelihood and more often then not end up pulling rickshaws because of scarcity of work in other avenues.
The unbridled growth in numbers of rickshaws resulting in the traffic jams and congestion that the city has experienced in recent times can be attributed to the fact that the government had totally failed to tackle the problem in time and enact an effective plan to encounter it. Let the authorities make a comprehensive plan to tackle the rickshaw problem and bring sanity to our roads. Meanwhile, what will happen to the scores of people like Mrs Jahangir who had to sacrifice their much cherished dreams of not being able to give their children a better education through no fault of their own?
The hardship of the people who have no transport of their own for getting to their workplace, taking their children to school, going to the market and bazaars knows no bounds -- sometimes even changing their life forever, as is the case of Mrs Jahangir (Daily Star, February 14, 2005).
2. Rickshaw or Ricksha
A popular and easy profession in Bangladesh. A rickshaw puller earns about USD 2-3 / day. He can either own a rickshaw or hire from his master. A rickshaw must be registered at the local Municipality and during the evening and night the rickshaw must equipped with a Hurricane-lamp at the back and a small headlight at the front. Rickshaws are comfortable and cheap transport system, definitely do not pollute the environment.
Should we feel proud about rickshaw – the inhuman vehicle? It shocks when a plump of flesh boards on a rickshaw with heaps of luggage and orders the aged rickshaw puller to run fast. But do we even offer a glass of cold water to the pullers who might be thirstier than the passengers do?
People in Bangladesh do not follow traffic rules properly because most drivers are not trained. They are illiterate and got their licenses by bribery. Thus, they do not even know the traffic rules. Even if they know the rules, they do not bother to follow them because there is nobody to enforce them. Besides, roads are also congested and narrow. Most of the roads are damaged because they are constructed with faulty materials like low quality bitumen or tar and not enough stones. After construction, the roads cannot withstand the load of the heavy vehicles.
Rickshaws and baby taxis mainly disregard the red light. To make the people follow the traffic rules, the government has assigned traffic police to see that nobody breaks the traffic laws. But the traffic policemen are not always present if there are traffic jams. Even if they are present, they either get bribed or do not bother to enforce regulations.
There are zebra crossings but none of the vehicles actually slow down or stop. The pedestrians cross the road whenever they like or through a little gap between the cars. This causes accidents. The government has constructed over-bridges, but pedestrians hardly use them to cross the road because they get tired of walking up and down. The over-brideges seem only to serve the purpose of advertising. Because people drive on the wrong side, the road separator has been constructed all though the middle of the road. Some reach the height of three feet!
The climate is also another factor in traffic congestion. In Bangladesh, the rainy season usually lasts for more than six months. The sewage system is also faulty. Drains remain blocked with garbage and they do not pass water easily. Downpours continue for several days. This causes the roads to be flooded because of the poor sewage system.
Most of the drivers in Bangladesh just don't obey speed limits and the police, who are on foot, can't catch them because they don't have modern equipment.Even though more regulations and rules are put, the condition of the traffic stays the same. The poors are to blame!
The major traffic congestion factors are complex mix of traffic and heavy concentration of irresponsible vehicles, absence of adequate public transports, inadequate road infrastructure and poor enforcement of traffic rules.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-DNA adducts among rickshaw drivers in Dhaka City, Bangladesh
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure among city dwellers of Dhaka, Bangladesh. We measured PAH-DNA adducts in white blood cells (WBCs) as a marker of environmental and occupational PAH exposure in 46 rickshaw drivers (who pedal commercial unshielded three-wheelers for passenger transport) and 48 non-rickshaw drivers (comparison group) in Dhaka city. We performed enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to quantify immunologically the WBC PAH-DNA adducts. Rickshaw drivers had a significantly higher WBC PAH-DNA adducts level than the non-rickshaw drivers.
Among rickshaw drivers, adduct levels tended to be positively associated with the duration of residence in the city and cigarette smoking. No such trends were observed among non-rickshaw drivers. In conclusion, the results suggest that urban residents who are occupationally exposed to traffic pollution in Dhaka are at potentially higher risk of health effects from exposure to carcinogenic PAH compounds (Occup Environ Health. 2003 Sep;76(7):533-8).
Dhaka's Rickshaws Under Threat
In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, most journeys are made on foot, and bicycle rickshaws are the main form of vehicular transport. Rickshaws are an efficient, non-polluting way to move around, and for many people without job skills, pulling a rickshaw is the only option other than begging or crime.
Under pressure from the World Bank, Dhaka City Corporation announced that from December 17 it plans to ban rickshaws and non-motorised transport from an important road in Dhaka - Mirpur Road from Russell Square to Azimpur . But this is only the test case in a much larger World Bank plan that would eliminate rickshaws from eight major roads (120 km) in this city of ten million people. Pushing rickshaws off the main roads would allow motor vehicles to become the dominant mode of vehicular transport in the city. At the same time, the World Bank is pressuring the Bangladeshi government to pass a law freeing the bank of legal liability for any harm that results from its policies.
Increasing limitations on rickshaws in Dhaka are causing untold hardship to the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society, reducing the mobility of the middle class (particularly women, children, and the elderly), and contributing to air pollution and motorisation. Meanwhile, roads that have completely banned non-motorised transport are still some of the worst affected by traffic jams.
World Carfree Network, concerned organisations in Bangladesh and around the world, and Dhaka's many rickshaw unions are all prepared for action to save the rickshaws. If the most vulnerable members of the population are to go hungry, it will not happen without a fight. Banning rickshaws and building highways while people face starvation is nothing short of a war on the poor.
Why Rickshaws should not be wiped out :
Rickshaws are in many ways the ideal form of transport: they provide door-to-door transport at all hours and in all weather, emit no fumes, create no noise pollution, use no fossil fuels, and employ large numbers of the poorest people. It is not the rickshaws that are clogging the streets; it's the cars. In 1998, the less than 9% of vehicular transport by car required over 34% of road space, while the 54% travelling by rickshaw took up only 38% of road space. The solution is not to reduce rickshaw transport, but to prevent the growth of car use, by minimising the road space and parking space allocated to cars. In addition, there are many simple solutions that could benefit both the rickshaw-riding majority and the car-owning minority. Instead of banning rickshaws, the World Bank and local authorities could be (a.) providing dedicated lanes and cycle rickshaw stations that would prevent conflicts between modes, (b.) implementing a programme to help improve the quality of the rickshaws, (c.) supporting cycle rickshaw drivers with training, uniforms, tariff standardisation, etc., (d.) creating cycle lanes throughout the city, and (e.) supporting public transit through bus-only lanes, bus-only turns, etc. Many rickshaw pullers fled from starvation in the villages. With exceptionally bad floods this year, many villages lack sufficient food and seeds. Cutting back on rickshaw income means directly attacking the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to survive - not just the rickshaw pullers themselves, but the families and entire villages that they support. The Mirpur Road is a disastrous choice for a rickshaw ban, as there are no alternate roads for rickshaws, and it is extremely difficult to walk on this road because of the prevalence of street vendors. Accommodating the automobile over other modes is undemocratic, supporting a wealthy elite while the majority suffers. In the long run, even the rich will not benefit from rickshaw bans, as current policies will lead to more traffic jams, dirtier air and increased noise pollution. World Bank policy in Dhaka is inconsistent with the spirit of the World Bank's urban transport strategy, Cities on the Move (2001), which is highly progressive and supportive of non-motorised transport. Rickshaws are the main source of vehicular transport for the middle class. Since there are often not alternatives within their means, a rickshaw ban is a restriction of their freedom of movement, and therefore a violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (People Action Alert and World Carfree NetworK, The Bangladesh Observer, December 20, 2004)
3. Poor Landless Farmers and Rickshaw Pulling
Hazrat Ali came to Dhaka in 2003, travelling atop a bus to escape the famine which had gripped eight northern districts of Bangladesh. Today, he survives in the city by pulling a rickshaw. Even after nearly eight months in Dhaka, Ali gets confused about places in the city. Often, he apologetically requests his passengers to show him the way. Even when the passengers don't pay the appropriate fare, he doesn't complain. He's grateful the city is at least feeding him. Many landless farmers in Bangladesh come to Dhaka after a flood or a famine hits their villages. They work as daily-wage laborers, rickshaw pullers, masons and vegetable vendors. They settle down in dirty slums where they become susceptible to many diseases.
Two-thirds of Bangladesh's 130 million people live below the poverty line, according to the UN. Six million households are considered 'ultra poor' - they suffer from chronic food insecurity and severe malnutrition. On an average, they can afford to consume only about 1,800 calories daily, which is far below the recommended daily average of 2,300 calories. According to the Bangladesh Economic Review of June 2004, the incidence of poverty is as high as 39.9 per cent among the farming and fishing communities
Bangladesh is subject to recurrent emergencies/ natural disasters that often deprive the poor segments of the population of whatever few physical assets they have. Every natural disaster brings more people to cities like Dhaka. Although many like Ali want to go back to their villages, they cannot do so because of the famine-like conditions present there. Despite recurring floods, cyclones and other natural disasters, the Bangladesh government still does not have a comprehensive welfare policy or a disaster management plan. Natural calamities continue to destabilize and displace thousands and cause a severe food crisis in the villages.
Although the constitution of Bangladesh recognizes the citizens' right to social security and support from the government during unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other circumstances beyond control (Article 15), the government is yet to initiate any remarkable and effective program for the welfare of the people. Even the Disaster Management Legislation (Act) is still under consideration by the government. The act is aimed at establishing machinery through the State, local government and public corporations, clarifying the responsibilities and providing disaster management plans and policies related to preparedness and emergency measures. It would also provide rehabilitation programmes to deal with disasters (Ekram Kabir, September 12, 2004) .
This was an early January morning in Barisal (Southern Bangladesh) and I was looking for a rickshaw. A small boy about 12 year with a rickshaw said,"Sir I can take you anywhere you like!" I was hesitating and surprised. Than he began to narrate,"Sir, my father is seriously sick and we do not have any food." I took the ride and he began to describe - how they lost their land, lost his younger brother and came to the district town. At best he would like to go to school and play with other children.
I was thinnking of child labour but if he does not bring a few cents than the family will disappear. Many such Babuls are running in the streets! How can I describe - the secret sorrow of a poor boy?
Correlation between Poverty and Ill-health
Ill-health reduces the earning capacity, and increases the risk of families with ill members to drift down the social and economic ladder. In this article, we present a simulation model of how a poor rickshaw puller in Bangladesh copes with illness, in particular tuberculosis (TB). WHO (World Health Orginization) analyze the various coping mechanisms that are set in motion when he starts to suffer from tuberculosis; the impact on household assets, income and food intake will be studied.
The simulation model is then used to analyse the effects on his household of a specific health intervention, namely the Directly Observer Treatment Short Course (DOTS) treatment. It shows that DOTS offers positive improvements of the overall well-being of the household by restoring the working capacity of the rickshaw puller in one treatment course and minimizing lost income. Assets and food consumption would be preserved significantly more in the presence of DOTS, rendering the household both financially and physically less vulnerable. The probability of death of the sick rickshaw puller is also significantly reduced, improving household's welfare over the long run (Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 1999 Mar;30(1):136-48).
We cheer for the vintage and get nostalgic when NGOs speak about the rickshaw pullers. But what measures we had taken since Independence. The rickshaw pullers have no medical facility. Most of them are slum and pavement dwellers. Eighty percent of them are illiterate and thirty per cent suffers from lungs problem. Most of the time the rickshaw pullers are forced by the traffic constable to pay ‘toll’, for no valid reason.
Rickshaw has inspired poets, artists, novelists and even filmmakers. The most controversial cinema ‘City of Joy’ was based on traumatised life of a rickshaw puller (Om Puri) and his wife (Shabana Azmi). It is high time to think about the hand pullers. They should have a fixed rate chart, proper trade association to safeguard their interest and health.
Every day rickshaws make seven million passenger trips, covering eleven million miles. That is double what the London underground does. 200,000 rickshaws ply the streets of Dhaka, in two shifts. This means 400,000 pullers plus 30,000 rickshaw owners and 50,000 ancillary workers, mechanics, etc. Then there are thousands of restaurant workers dependent on rickshaw pullers and other service providers in slums, etc.
4. Unsustainable Livelihoods: Rickshaw-Pulling in Dhaka
Up to 100,000 people derive a living from rickshaw pulling in Dhaka. This quantitative study analyses their livelihoods and finds that while there are short to medium term income and corruption benefits for those who move from rural areas to take up rickshaw pulling the long-term prospects are negative. The longer the number of years spent pulling the shorter the number of days per week that can be worked because of damaged health and accidents. This rickshaw pullers’ income tends to decline significantly as they age. In addition, they face high levels of serious health problems at an early age. The paper concludes that such work provides an unsustainable livelihood and there is little evidence that rickshaw pullers' children improve their prospects through their poverty ‘mining’ human capital ( Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, 2002)
A rickshaw generates Tk 200 per day which translates to Tk 6,000 per month, i.e. $100 a month. Thus, 200,000 rickshaws produce an income of $20 million a month or $240 million a year. Add Tk 50 rent per rickshaw per day: that means $60 million a year. And the ancillary mechanic sector accounts for $30 million a year. So the directly-related rickshaw economy in Dhaka is a $330 million turnover or almost Tk 2,000 crore industry.
If one believes the higher estimate of 400,000 rickshaws in the city, then the size of this economy could reach $500 million a year. More than the World Bank gives per year. The real causes of traffic jams are badly trained traffic police, not enough roads, too many unplanned shopping centres and businesses with no parking space, and hardly any footpaths. Let's not make rickshaws extinct.
Solely blaming rickshaws for traffic congestion is not credible anymore. It fails to explain the never-ending jams on the so-called VIP roads where only motorised vehicles are allowed. A haphazardly expanding city with no regard to 'master plans' is to blame. So is the setting up of shopping plazas and office blocks with no or minimal parking space. People spilling on to the streets from the side force traffic to the right.
Every year, nearly 25,000 cars hit the capital's roads. How long before we reach one million cars? Kolkata in West Bengal recently marked the arrival of its millionth car. Roads only cover 6 percent of their city. We have 8 percent. They seem to be coping better than us. Our government is rushing to inaugurate its first flyover this November. We are so keen, we are not prepared to wait for the right number of shock absorbers to be installed. In the meantime, Kolkata has constructed over a dozen flyovers, an underground metro system, bypass roads and more.
Nearly all Asian cities once had non-motorised transport. From Shanghai to Singapore, Bangkok to Saigon, Delhi to Rangoon. Now pedals and cycles are disappearing as countries motorise their economies. Our leaders want to join the club too. They feel embarrassed when they have to accompany a foreign dignitary from the airport. VIP roads have been created to hide them but you cannot miss the rickshaw. Poverty hits you immediately you set out of ZIA airport.
The rickshaw is the symbol of our backwardness. If you cannot get the real thing (getting rid of poverty), why not accept its substitute -- the appearance of 'modernity'. So we attack the symptoms, not the underlying causes. Always looking for the shortcut.ÊIn January, the city will be hosting a motley crew of South Asian leaders in a SAARC summit. So the city is in the midst of a 'beautification' scheme. Have you noticed the flowerbeds and trees being planted? The journey along the VIP roads is being choreographed, like the catwalk in a fashion show.
The irecent impetus for the anti-rickshaw drive came from two sources. It was "Traffic Week" and they had to be seen to be doing something decisive. Moreover, a World Bank mission had been in town to check on their flawed Dhaka Urban Transport Project. They showed their displeasure at the slow progress in withdrawing the rickshaws from the main thoroughfares. They have grudgingly 'extended the deadline' for our authorities to carry out the attack on the rickshaws. They may have to revise their calculations if the show of strength continues this winter.
Our current vision is to see a minority of middle-class consumers in 'rickshaw-free' roads jam-packed with cars crawling their way to shopping malls, along boulevards lined with flower-beds. Is this meant to be 'beautification'(F. Bakht ,October 28, 2004)?
Banning rickshaws today and getting rid of them from Dhaka will make the traffic situation worse! No, this is not a typing error. Please read on with an open mind. Until now, you have been fed the propaganda against rickshaws. Reading this newspaper means you probably own a car or certainly ride in one. So you know the solution. It's been written in countless articles and letters. Get rid of rickshaws and the streets will be smooth? Think how many pictures (perhaps even in this newspaper) you have seen of rickshaws causing huge traffic jams. You have seen it with your own eyes. But what have you really seen?
Did you see how much space a rickshaw takes while carrying two passengers (plus the driver)? We drive private cars. If you take the maneuvering space into account, each car takes the space of 4 rickshaws and mostly carries just one passenger. The government is making a massive mistake by implementing the flawed Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP). A mistake that will be devastating for millions of people.
5. Art of Rickshaw Painting
The first section provides an excellent introduction to ricksha art and the ricksha as a vehicle of transport in Bangladesh. It begins with a picture of a movie banner artist finishing his masterpiece? the lush, enticing, gigantic face of a beautiful female film star. Shadowed in blue, the wide huge eyes of this heroine penetrate the hearts of many men in the streets. In the background plays a modern Bengali song sung by Dhaka pop singer Suvro Dev: ?How beautiful, how beautiful are your two eyes. . . . Just as the ocean is blue, bearing the hunger of a thirsty heart, indifferent as the sky. . . .? Although the song is relevant to the subject matter of the painting, since ricksha art is for the ?ordinary people,? a folk song that celebrates womens? eyes would be more appropriate. It perhaps would have been more appropriate to see a ricksha artist painting his vehicle rather than a movie banner artist.
The order of the materials presented in this section might also best be reversed; the author could introduce the ricksha followed by ricksha art. The author may have wanted at the outset to communicate to her readers/viewers that Bangladesh is a male-dominated country. Rickshas belong to the venue of the streets, and streets in Bangladesh are mostly the domain of males
In addition to geometric motifs, the colorful ricksha paintings incorporate imagery such as animals, birds, flowers, airplanes, ships and boats along with popular movie stars, especially actresses of Bengali and Hindi movies. Religious beliefs of the majority population of Bangladesh are often reflected in ricksha paintings. Favorite religious images include a mosque with its ablution pool, the image of the holy Ka?bah with a little boy praying before a Quran stand, or a blessing written in Arabic. Other themes include depictions of historical buildings such as the Taj Mahal, village scenes with thatched huts near a river, city scenes with criss-crossing aerial roadways, or huge animals in combat, such as an elephant and a tiger wrapped in a lethal embrace.
In Bangladesh, almost every square inch of the frame, hood and seat of these large tricycles is decorated. The decorations are traced around cardboard patterns, then cut from bright coloured plastic in bright pinks, yellow, blue, green, silver and gold, or painted on tinplate in the case of panels.
Some artists earn their living by decorating rickshaws. Most images represent a dream world drawn from cinema, advertising and other popular media; they conjure up an urban fantasy of a peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh full of skyscrapers, brilliant colours, beautiful women and dashing heroes. Rural scenes are also very popular, such as waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, chickens, cows, ducks, palm trees, water lilies and boats sailing across rivers and lakes. Film stars are often vividly portrayed, as are scenes from the war that led to the country's independence in 1971.
The owners of rickshaws personalize their vehicles with elaborate paintings that incorporate floral and geometric motifs, animals as satire on human foibles or as themselves in combat, and religious themes, village landscapes and urban themes, and pictures of movie stars. Rickshaw art is an expression of the fondest desires in men's hearts-for wealth, sex, power, one's village home, religious blessings, and consumer goods
Joanna Kirkpatrick has photographed these vehicles for more than 20 years, cataloging styles and motifs. Her study becomes a window on Bangladesh culture and religion (Indiana University, USA, 2003). A movie banner artist touches up his masterpiece--the lush, enticing, and gigantic face of a beautiful woman, a film star, a heroine of movie nights in squalid theaters and the daydreams of ordinary men of the streets. Shadowed in blue, they penetrate the heart. She is the representative metaphor of this collection of ricksha art images, a popular medium which represents the heart's desires of ordinary men, as manifested in the objects of their gaze.This is genuinely popular art, similar to the hand-painted film billboards one sees across South Asia. Kirkpatrick carried out research between 1975 and 1998 in several districts of Bangladesh, though not, it should be pointed out, any other South Asian cities with cycle-rickshaws. She was able to differentiate types of rickshaw as well as distinct artistic styles,
Sadly, as she notes, the cycle rickshaw appears to be losing out to motorized transport, despite the efforts of sustainable devlopment agencies who correctly see the cycle rickshaw as a very efficient and appropriate mode of transport in the flatter areas of South Asia.
Generally speaking, in the eighties the elites of Bangladesh scorned ricksha art as vulgar while at the same time many fine artists of the country took it seriously as an expression of the taste and interests of the masses. I know this because I visited Dhaka Arts College and Chittagong Arts College and spoke with fine artists in those institutions. When I asked ricksha-wallas, ricksha artists, and sellers of ricksha decor who was the audience for this art, they all replied one way or another, "the ordinary people". One man even used the English word "ordinary", as in "ordinari lok".
What sort of art is ricksha art? From my outsider point of view, I consider it "peoples' art". It is not necessary to force it into a unitary category as it combines folkloric, movie, political and commercial imagery and techniques. It serves the expression of heart's desires of the man in the street for women, power, wealth, as well as for religious devotion. Ricksha art also serves prestige and economic functions for the people who make, use and enjoy it.
But let the ricksha artists have the last word: When I asked Alauddin in 1986 if he thought of ricksha art as fine art or as commercial, he said it was commercial art, which to him is art to be seen at a glance, not art to be studied and thought over, such as "fine art". That year I also visited an artist in Rajshahi (having first met him ten years earlier). The man is a prominent sign painter, ricksha artist, and decorative interior wall painter, to whom I put the same question. He told me a witty story about his puzzlement with modern art. He said he had been visiting the Rajshahi University campus to keep a business appointment with one of the professors. While there he noticed a painting hung up on a wall whose subject he could not decipher. It seemed merely a hodgepodge of painted swirls. He asked the professor to tell him what the painting represented and the professor replied, "A girl dancing". Trying to understand, the sign painter asked, "But, how do you know this?" and the professor replied, "The artist told me!" (Joanna Kirkpatrick, 1997)
In Asia, there are all kinds of excessively decorated vehicles, and the rickshaw of Bangladesh is one of such kind. As can be imagined by its name, rickshaw is actually derived from the Japanese jinrikisha. Japan's jinrikisha, which was a leading item for export in the Meiji Period, was exported not just to Asia but as far as Africa, where its form changed to suit each locality. Even today, in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, the streets are filled with gorgeously ornamented rickshaws. While the folk paintings of Bengal District constitute their groundwork, they more directly refer to posters and calendars and, all over the rickshaw, they paint scenes from rural and urban lifestyles.
The Dhaka city had only 37 rickshaws in 1941 and 181 rickshaws in 1947. Before 1947, Dhaka was a district town, which had a population of 62,469 only according to 1951 census. But in 1998, the city's population grew over 8 million and the number of registered rickshaws in the city was 112,572. The number of rickshaws in all other cities of Bangladesh in that year was 274,265 and in all villages 91,040. Rickshaw and rickshaw vans (also a tricycle vehicle similar to rickshaw but with the difference that instead of passenger seats, these have a flat bed of wooden bars resting on the axle over the rear pair of wheels and they carry goods in small lots) are now fast replacing the traditional transports like horse carriages and bullock carts in the country.
It is a popular guess that the total number of rickshaws in the city is at least two and a half times that of the registered ones and accordingly, the city had at least 280,000 rickshaws in 2000. Estimates based on the figures that each rickshaw is operated by two pullers in morning and evening shifts and the average number of family members of a rickshaw puller is five, suggest that the rickshaws of Dhaka city alone is a source of income for nearly three million people.
Fifty percent of the value added in transport sector is being contributed by rickshaws and the mode of transport provides employment and living to people engaged not only as the pullers directly but also as its manufacturers of its mainframe, the body with seat and hoods and its spare parts. A great number of people depends for the living on the decoration of rickshaw body, artwork on it and rickshaw garages.
6.Sustainable vs Motor Age
Rickshaw-pullers (citizens and voters too) are being removed from so-called VIP roads. This will extend to other roads. So passengers will not want to use rickshaws for many journeys. 200,000 rickshaws cannot just survive in narrow streets. This is therefore death by a thousand cuts. Simultaneously, we are encouraging private car use. By lowering import duties, the middle class can buy cars. Cheap credit is now available.
Our opinion formers are under a huge illusion. They think that motorisation equals modernisation. The more motor vehicles we have clogging our streets, the more modern we are! This is not modern thinking. The new innovative strategies worldwide are to curb car use, strengthen public transport, and encourage people to use cycles.
We want to leap into the motor age when others, far ahead of us, are thinking another way. In the 21st country, they see a place for the cycle. I am not suggesting we all start pedaling! Socially, the middle class would die rather than be seen on a bike.
But we already have cycles -- tricycle rickshaws in place! So why not use them?
The authorities seem to think rickshaw-pullers will simply pack up and go home. Where's home? The villages? And why do they think they came to Dhaka in the first place? To look for jobs because there is nothing left back home. There has been no investment in agriculture -- the mainstay of the economy. So they have to search for work in the big city. We do not provide a proper education system, so many cannot read or write. So what's the easiest thing to do? Pull a rickshaw.
Unlicensed rickshaws seized by the police in Dhaka City play a significant role in the election campaign of the influential BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami lawmakers who are distributing the three-wheelers among the people in their constituencies. Local Government Division officials admitted that they are allotting the seized rickshaws according to recommendations from ministers and MPs. With the parliamentary election round the corner, the lawmakers are now applying for more rickshaws, sources said.
Officials of the Traffic Department of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) said the government has so far allotted 40,000 rickshaws while the Rickshaw Van Malik Sramik Shangram Parishad (RVMSSP) claimed the government has handed over 50,000 rickshaws to the BNP and Jamaat lawmakers and ministers. Sources said the lawmakers apply for allotment of the seized rickshaws through the office of deputy commissioners in their respective constituencies. The Dhaka Divisional Commissioner's office received a large number of such applications, though they do not have more than 500 rickshaws at the dumping station at Agargaon.
"Most of the rickshaws have already been sent to districts on recommendations by the ministers and MPs. But we are allotting the rickshaws only in favour of deputy commissioners as per a government decision," said an official. A source at the dumping station said as the lawmakers have already started campaign for the next election they want more rickshaws to be allotted for their constituencies. "They are now pressuring the police to seize more illegal rickshaws." Safiqul Islam, general secretary of Pirojpur district Jamaat-e-Islami, said Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the Jamaat lawmaker of Pirojpur-1 constituency, arranged an allotment of 700 rickshaws. He however received 400 in three instalments. All these rickshaws have been distributed among the poor people through local leaders.
Insur Ali, member secretary of Rickshaw Van Malik Sramik Sangram Parishad, said seized rickshaws are being used for buying votes ahead of election.
"We have demanded that the seizure of rickshaws and harassment of the poor rickshaw-pullers should be stopped and the authorities must increase the number of authorised rickshaws in the city. But nothing happened in favour of the rickshaw-pullers. Now the politicians are using the seized rickshaws for their election campaign," he said. The Dhaka City Corporation has licensed 79,000 rickshaws in the city. It is estimated that over 400,000 rickshaws are operating illegally in the metropolis. Over a million people, most of them migrating from impoverished northern regions are directly involved with rickshaw pulling in the city (The Daily Star, September 4, 2006).
Signature campaign against ban on rickshaw
More than 10,000 residents of the capital joined a signature campaign demanding separate lanes for rickshaws. Manusher Janya Rasta, an alliance of non-governmental organisations, conducted the two-day campaign at three spots demanding separate lanes instead of a full-fledged ban on rickshaws. The campaign comes just before the Dhaka City Corporation’s announcement to make two more stretches of road — from the Elephant Road to the National Press Club, and from the Shapla Square to the Ittefaq crossing — off-limits to rickshaws by the end of August.
According to the alliance, the campaign was overwhelmed with public response just after it kicked off on Sunday in front of the Sonali Bank headquarters at Motijheel at 10:00am. Hundreds came forward to sign up and it goes to prove that the general public does not approve of banning rickshaws. The alliance conducted the campaign at Motijheel, in front of the National Press Club and the Shahbagh crossing. A leaflet of the alliance calls out to people to resist World Bank prescribed ban of rickshaws and demand a separate lanes for vehicles.
Amit said the ban is not a solution to traffic congestion as the roads where rickshaws are banned are still riddled with frequent traffic congestion ‘because of an increase in the number of privately-owned cars.’ Citing a survey conducted by the Dhaka Urban Transport Project in 1998, Amit said rickshaws carry 53.9 per cent of the commuters in the city, buses carry 28.3 per cent and the privately-owned cars carry 8.73 per cent. He said ban on rickshaws would not help but to increase the suffering of the poor. He urged the city corporation not to put ban on rickshaws, and to set up separate lanes for rickshaws to help reduce environment pollution (New Age, August 16, 2005).
Rickshaws At Off-limits Points
Poor transport planning causes havoc
Rickshaws are clogging city roads linked with rickshaw-free roads because of short-sighted and faulty transport planning worsening the traffic chaos in the city. With hundreds of poor people coming into the city during Ramadan and more than a usual crowd visiting Dhaka from across the country to shop for Eid, traffic congestions are becoming unbearable. The government has already completed Dhaka Urban Transport Project (DUTP) to develop the transportation system in the capital city where some main arterials were made rickshaw free for hours. Rickshaws play a key role in transport within the city as it carries 40 percent of the passengers, but parking and management of rickshaws under the massive development project were neglected.
The authority did not arrange any parking space for rickshaws at the linking points and as a result rickshaws that arrive at Farmgate along Green Road, Indira Road and the linking road are clogging at the cut-off point on the main road. When investigated into the reasons behind the clogging at these points, authorities blamed the lack of coordination among the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) organs, uncontrolled increase of illegal rickshaws, faulty design of the transport infrastructure and conditions laid down by the donor agencies.
The authority (WHO IS THIS AUTHORITY???) asked how they could plan for illegal rickshaws. "It is a matter of implementation not planning," the authority said. When asked how long e city dwellers will have to suffer because of heavy traffic congestions, due to lack of implementation and faulty planning, one DUTP official said: "As long as corruption, ignorance, and non-coordination exist." He said the DUTP was a Tk 1,200 crore project but the budget was trimmed down to Tk 800 crore after half of the scheduled time had elapsed and the government found that only 16 percent the work had been completed. Under the project, the authority constructed two flyovers, 100 km road network, 110 km footpath, 22,000 square meter parking spaces and twelve foot over bridges at different points in the city. The official said that though the infrastructure is essential, it would create a long-term problem if not built in the right place. He said: "One can not expect solutions from a curtailed and faulty project which was produced by a foreign consultant who does not have knowledge of the socio economic condition of the city." (Daily Star, October 1, 2006)
The London Observer summed it up neatly: Rickshaw pullers walk out! Rickshaw pullers went off the roads last Saturday(October 23, 2004) as a response to the Dhaka City authorities' seizure of 'unlicensed' rickshaws. The Bangladesh Rickshaw-Van Owners and Employees' Action Council enforced a dawn-to-dusk strike. Technically, it was a success with over 90 percent on strike.
The strike had an impact however. After a two-year suspension, the Dhaka City Corporation agreed to meet one demand and will issue licences at the rate of 1,000 a day till the end of the year. That works out at just over 70,000 and probably less if the expected hartals take place. If they not renege on their promise then, in total, 150,000 rickshaws will legally ply the streets. What about the other 250,000 rickshaws?
They have been sacrificed, along with thousands employed in workshops, and restaurants. This would mean more than a 1000 crore taka being cut out of the rural-urban economy every year.
48-hour rickshaw strike from Saturday
Twenty-six organisations of the rickshaw and van owners and employees, as part of their earlier announced programmes, will also observe a 48-hour rickshaw strike in the city from December 18, 2004 The programmes will be observed to press home their 7-point charter of demands, including cancellation of the decision to make the portion of the Mirpur Road off-limits to rickshaws. Other demands include issuance of 43,000 fresh licences for rickshaws in line with an agreement signed in 2001 between the city corporation and the council, driving licence for rickshaw pullers, trade licence for mechanics, construction of separate lanes along the roads made off-limits to rickshaws and rehabilitation of the pullers before drives against rickshaws.
Rickshaw and van owners and employees will form a human chain from Russell Square to Azimpur, a portion of the Mirpur Road, on Friday in protest against the making of the portion off-limits to rickshaws.
The programmes will be observed to press home their 7-point charter of demands, including cancellation of the decision to make the portion of the Mirpur Road off-limits to rickshaws. Other demands include issuance of 43,000 fresh licences for rickshaws in line with an agreement signed in 2001 between the city corporation and the council, driving licence for rickshaw pullers, trade licence for mechanics, construction of separate lanes along the roads made off-limits to rickshaws and rehabilitation of the pullers before drives against rickshaws (New Age, December 16, 2004).
Shreya Gadepalli was a design consultant to the India Cycle Rickshaw Improvement Project. She presently works as the Deputy Technical Director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, New York writes (July, 2006):
The modernization of cycle rickshaw technology in India has already proven to be a more cost effective way of reducing CO2 and TSP emissions than projects promoting electric and other alternative fuel vehicles. With the successful commercialization of this technology, the emissions reduction impacts per rupee of investment would be extremely low indeed. It is of course conceivable that the entire cycle rickshaw fleet in India might begin a process of sustained technological innovation throughout India. The beneficiaries of these projects are also among the lowest income populations in the world, which contrasts markedly with the beneficiaries of alternative fuel vehicle promotion projects, where the beneficiaries in the long run are likely to be multinational corporations.
Nonetheless, it is possible to quantify the emissions reduction benefits of this type of project, and it is possible to convince open-minded funding agencies that modernizing human powered vehicle technologies is a more cost effective method of reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions than alternative fuel vehicle promotion projects.
As such projects do not directly benefit any multi-national corporations, however, it is difficult for them to find political support among development institutions all too often influenced by corporate lobbyists. For this reason, it is critical that such projects find political support among the increasingly vocal environmental and bicycle advocacy community.
With inadequate arrangements for public transportation and the need of millions for daily commuting, rickshaws provide affordable and clean transport and form an extremely smooth subsystem in the larger web of transportation in small as well as large cities, not counting the hundreds of small towns and thousands of villages. Rickshaws are here to stay.
We demand:Top of Page
Instead of rickshaw free streets - motor free roads. Old city and central Dhaka should be restricted only to mechanical vehicles. Medical and housing facilities for rickshaw pullers. Sustainable development in rural areas so that people does not migrate to cities. To set example of environmental sustainable cities of the world. To stop police corruption and peoples participation in sustainable traffic mangement. The conditions set by the World Bank should be regarded as anti poor and environmentally unsustainable. Unite and raise your voice for sustainable development.
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Last Modified: Sept 27, 2008