“Rickshaw! Rickshaw!” – This word is probably uttered a record number of times every day in this city. And about fifty percent of the time people are left muttering abuses to the rickshaw drivers who can leave you stranded when you’re in the greatest hurry to get somewhere.
Millions of commuters in Mumbai depend on auto rickshaws in their daily lives to get around. But auto rickshaw drivers have earned a bad reputation for themselves in recent times- with the public accusing them of overcharging by rigging meters, refusing to ferry customers at whim and driving like maniacs with a complete disregard for traffic rules. The media has flashed reports of this general dissatisfaction with autowallahs at length but we have never heard the other side of the story. Here’s another perspective from the eyes of two of our artisans- Meeta and Sushila, whose husbands are autowallahs.
Meeta Gupta, 36, Sahara Cooperative:
My husband has been driving an auto for 17 years now. He is at work from 10 am to 9 pm every day. People say all sorts of things about autowallahs but they don’t take into account that they might have genuine problems too.
Just the other day a cop asked my husband for directions but my husband didn’t know where the place was. The cop started kicking him and abusing him and my husband came home bruised and in pain. As if the humiliation of being kicked wasn’t enough, my husband had to stay silent about the incident because he cannot speak up against the police.
Sushila Gupta, 30, Nirmaan Cooperative.
My husband has been driving an auto for 15 years now. He works from 8 am to 5 pm every day. Like Meeta’s husband, my husband does not have a permit for the auto either because the government stopped issuing permits in 1997. So even though we paid almost 2 lakhs for the auto, we must pay Rs 90,000 to a man who has a permit every 3 years- in order for us to use his permit to drive. Gas costs Rs 125 per day and oil costs another Rs 25. On top of that we have to pay Rs 20 as night parking charges. On an average my husband earns between Rs 400-Rs 600 a day. After deducting the daily expenses we are left with around Rs 250- Rs 300 every day ($5- $6).
There are a lot of health hazards that an autowallah must face- apart from the complications that arise with being in the heat and dust all day, my husband suffers from constant back aches and leg pain. Staying in one position for hours takes a toll on him. I try to do what I can to help him out financially with what I earn at MarketPlace but I feel bad that his job is so physically taxing.