Photos: For Indian Railways coolies changing times mean dwindling incomes

Once the first line of contact for passengers boarding the Indian Railways, the demand for the services of the coolie or sahayak has taken a hit as modern infrastructure makes commuters self-reliant.

Updated On Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST 8 Photos
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The coolie or train porter in his bright red shirt and copper armband has been ubiquitous at Indian railway stations ferrying luggage to and from trains – even glamorised in cinema courtesy Amitabh Bachchan. Once the go-to option for passengers looking for quick passage through platforms, newer infrastructure facilities for the aid of commuters have greatly reduced dependence on these porters. Their concerns are compounded by demands for better working conditions and occupational perks. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The coolie or train porter in his bright red shirt and copper armband has been ubiquitous at Indian railway stations ferrying luggage to and from trains – even glamorised in cinema courtesy Amitabh Bachchan. Once the go-to option for passengers looking for quick passage through platforms, newer infrastructure facilities for the aid of commuters have greatly reduced dependence on these porters. Their concerns are compounded by demands for better working conditions and occupational perks. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The coolies were renamed in 2016 as ‘sahayaks’ by Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu, in a move to shed the negative colonial connotations of the term. The rebranding however has brought no change in their work or condition. Advertising their services, the coolie was once the first interaction a passenger had at the railway station. Advancements such as wheeled suitcases and escalators at stations now cause most railway passengers to simply ignore their calls. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The coolies were renamed in 2016 as ‘sahayaks’ by Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu, in a move to shed the negative colonial connotations of the term. The rebranding however has brought no change in their work or condition. Advertising their services, the coolie was once the first interaction a passenger had at the railway station. Advancements such as wheeled suitcases and escalators at stations now cause most railway passengers to simply ignore their calls. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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Another aspect of long haul railway commutes in India had been bundles of bedding hauled in by trundling commuters. The coolie would step in, easing the load of passengers, eking an assured sum. The provision of bedding by the Indian Railways put a halt to even this assured avenue of earning money. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Another aspect of long haul railway commutes in India had been bundles of bedding hauled in by trundling commuters. The coolie would step in, easing the load of passengers, eking an assured sum. The provision of bedding by the Indian Railways put a halt to even this assured avenue of earning money. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The nearly 20,000 coolies present across India by definition are not employees of the Indian Railways. Their employment depends on the payment of an annual license fee and they draw no salary from the government. The Railways reviews their rate cards and has pegged prices at ₹60 for 40kg, but these do not accurately reflect on-ground prices which are dictated by demand and supply for their services across railway stations. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The nearly 20,000 coolies present across India by definition are not employees of the Indian Railways. Their employment depends on the payment of an annual license fee and they draw no salary from the government. The Railways reviews their rate cards and has pegged prices at ₹60 for 40kg, but these do not accurately reflect on-ground prices which are dictated by demand and supply for their services across railway stations. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The back-breaking work of carrying heavy loads through the day takes a toll on the coolies’ bodies rendering their effective employment periods around 10-15 years on average. Most end up transferring their licenses to their children and immediate relatives under existing provisions. The majority of the 1200 porters at the New Delhi Railway Station for instance are in their 20s or 30s. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The back-breaking work of carrying heavy loads through the day takes a toll on the coolies’ bodies rendering their effective employment periods around 10-15 years on average. Most end up transferring their licenses to their children and immediate relatives under existing provisions. The majority of the 1200 porters at the New Delhi Railway Station for instance are in their 20s or 30s. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The recent floods in the eastern parts of the country have also dwindled their daily earning of ₹300-400. Passengers aboard trains heading in and towards high density areas meant more prospective customers willing to avail their services. With the coolies effectively their own bosses, dwindling footfall spells more time spent idling away on the platforms. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The recent floods in the eastern parts of the country have also dwindled their daily earning of ₹300-400. Passengers aboard trains heading in and towards high density areas meant more prospective customers willing to avail their services. With the coolies effectively their own bosses, dwindling footfall spells more time spent idling away on the platforms. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The demands of the porters are few but revolve crucially around job security and revisions to their wages. A pressing demand is for a hike in rates from the ₹60 to at least ₹100 per 40kg and the provision of an annually valid travel pass instead of the current two month to-and-fro pass to their native areas. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The demands of the porters are few but revolve crucially around job security and revisions to their wages. A pressing demand is for a hike in rates from the ₹60 to at least ₹100 per 40kg and the provision of an annually valid travel pass instead of the current two month to-and-fro pass to their native areas. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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The unions representing coolies have also been demanding their inclusion into the Group D category of workers for a number of years, which would accord them medical benefits, pensions and other allowances. Currently bereft of these facilities the coolies’ license itself --transferable to the immediate male and now female family members-- which fetches a significant premium if the porter decides to sell it, is their last resort. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

The unions representing coolies have also been demanding their inclusion into the Group D category of workers for a number of years, which would accord them medical benefits, pensions and other allowances. Currently bereft of these facilities the coolies’ license itself --transferable to the immediate male and now female family members-- which fetches a significant premium if the porter decides to sell it, is their last resort. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

Updated on Aug 24, 2017 04:35 PM IST
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