Street Diaries

Diary of a rickshaw puller

Toriqul Islam | Update:

Rickshaw puller Ruhul Amin. Prothom AloEvery life has a story. No matter who the person may be, everyone has a story to be told.

People are used to listening to success stories, tales of heroes and heroics. Ruhul Amin is no hero. He is just one of the million and a half rickshaw pullers in the Dhaka city, a face in innumerable faces that dot the landscape. But, he has also a story to share. It is a story that has been completely untold.

Ruhul kicks off his day around noon like his other fellow rickshaw pullers and plies the streets till 10:00 at night. He maintains this routine six days a week, rain or shine.

This 36-year-old rickshaw puller elaborates his daily routine to this reporter on Monday on his way to Dhaka University from Karwan Bazar.

In his 19 years of rickshaw-pulling, Ruhul Amin has witnessed every up and down of this city. Everything has changed in front of him, but it brings no changes to his life. Rickshaw puller Ruhul remains a rickshaw puller for the last two decades.

As he was born in a destitute family, life was never a comfort for him.

For the sake of survival, Ruhul started working as a very young child.

“I had to go to work at such an early age when I would normally be wandering around without even any clothes!”

The house in which he used to live with his parents as a child, was just a ‘half-building’, Ruhul said. A six-storey building has been erected there now.

One katha of land cost only Tk 9000 only back then. Today the price of the same piece of land has risen to Tk 2.8 million.

A father of two, Ruhul said the monthly rent of the house was then just Tk 500-800. In the last two decades, the rent has increased by more than seven times.

“At present, I have to pay Tk 3,500 a month as house rent,” he added.

"Rickshaw pulling is no pleasure. The owners are misers. The rickshaw may be wobbly, dancing left to right. It’s hard to steer and move forward. It needs an urgent repairing, but the owner pays no heed, in fear of the costs.”

Ruhul said a rickshaw owner leases out the rickshaw for Tk 120 per day, which was Tk 40-50 a day before.

This rickshaw is now one of his family members, Ruhul Amin said. He earns up to Tk 600, thanks to 10 hours of labour. He rests on Friday and tries to spend ‘a quality time’ with his family.

“I have two children. Due to increasing costs, it has been tough for me to educate my children after family expenses.”

The city has changed a lot in the past few years, said Ruhul, adding that “Once we did not dare to go out after dark. But, now I return home after 10:00 pm.”
Have you had any accidents?

“Accidents happen regularly, but I try to be cautious while pedalling. I fear motorbikes and cars the most on the roads.

“Five years ago, one summer afternoon I was cycling my rickshaw, taking a woman and two children to Old Dhaka from Shahbagh. When I reached the Curzon Hall intersection of Dhaka University, a reckless black car suddenly appeared and hit my rickshaw and drove off. I was seriously injured in the accident. The woman broke a leg and one of the children was seriously hurt. The university students chased the car to the High Court intersection and took five thousand taka from the driver for my treatment.

“Unfortunately, I received only two thousand. The owner of the rickshaw took away one thousand and the police took the rest.

“I was rushed to the Dhaka Medical Hospital where I underwent an operation and had 11 stitches in one of my legs,” Ruhul added.

In course of time, he said, the owner has become a millionaire. But he remains a rickshaw puller.

Ruhul Amin still struggles to earn his daily rice. He still strives hard for extra money to educate his children.

The story is not Ruhul’s alone. There are hundreds of thousands of Ruhul Amins in Dhaka city. Every one of them has a story to tell.

According to a study of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the average income of a rickshaw puller is Tk 446 a day. BBS published its findings in February 2015 after conducting a research on Dhaka city’s rickshaw and van pullers.

History says, the rickshaw was brought to Dhaka by European jute exporters in 1930 exactly 11 years after it was introduced in Chittagong (now Chattogram) in 1919, according to the Banglapedia.

In 1941, Banglapedia added, the Dhaka city had only 37 rickshaws and the number rose to 181 in 1947. “But in 1998, the city's population grew over 8 million and the number of registered rickshaws in the city was 112,572.”

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