They refuse you rides. They show little or no respect for traffic laws. And yet, here we are, hopelessly dependent on them. In a city that is already fighting against floods, potholes, terrorism and corruption, here comes yet another showstopper. The rickshaw strike hammered down hard on Monday. Word about the strike started spreading only by 9 am. By this time, people had already started on their daily route. Some passengers got rickshaws, but were later made to get off.
Bandra was a mess, to say the least. My search for a rickshaw at 11 am ended in vain. Following the armies of people on the street, I made my way towards the bus stop. Several buses passed by, but my attempts to get in were undone by the million other people pushing me. When I finally couldn’t wait any longer, I gathered all my courage, remembered the titans, and rugby tackled my way through. My otherwise easy ride to work had just got a little more interesting.
Tuesday was slightly more "civilised" since people were aware of the strike and had made alternate arrangements. Some rickshaws were active but decided to charge more because of the apparent risk. But think twice before yelling at them. They might just go on strike again. Wednesday also saw only a few rickshaws. However, by evening, more rickshaws started showing up on the streets.
So let me get this straight. Rickshaw drivers decided to go on strike because the RTO wanted to check for faulty meters? Here we have the whole country, rally after rally, fast after fast, protesting against corruption. And now, when there’s finally something being done, this happens. Rickshaw drivers have proven time and again that they do not understand the responsibility they hold towards the general public. Being rejected by rickshaw drivers has become a frivolous issue these days. However, it is this very attitude that allows them to act the way they do. Why does it feel like they’re doing us a favour each time they agree to drive us around?
On Thursday, after making several fruitless attempts at trying to persuade rickshaws to take me from Andheri to Santacruz, I finally found one "kind" enough to help me out. Now, we all know how much rickshaw drivers love to talk. All he needed was a little nudge. To my surprise, the abuses were not hurled at the RTO. I realised that I had this story all wrong. This is what he had to say.
Last week, the RTO started surprise meter checks on rickshaws near Ghatkopar. The rickshaw drivers whose meters were found faulty were charged massive fines. Unwilling to simply pay for their wrongdoings, they thought they could get away with gathering enough rickshaw drivers and going on a strike. They received support from other drivers who had been fined by the RTO for other reasons and together they made sure that everyone supported their "cause". Drivers unwilling to support them were beaten, and their rickshaws were damaged. The driver also made it clear that, majority of the city drivers were against the strike but didn’t want to risk damage to their rickshaws. Finally, on Wednesday, some of these drivers were arrested and everything went back to normal.
Understandably, he was fairly upset that he had missed three days of work, but at the same time, felt helpless towards the situation. The rest of the journey was fairly quiet. The fact that he looked back each time he spoke, worried me enough to stop asking questions. With this strike behind us, we now look forward to the day when this entire drama starts again. Unless, the authorities in the city can tighten their belts and make sure that the city isn’t dictated by a group of thugs.
(Karan Mhatre is a software engineer and a Dadar resident who travels daily to Bandra for work)