a year ago

Refusing to be hired: The rickshaw pullers’ side of the coin

A busy road with rickshaws at Mirpur 10 Goal Chottor, the most densely populated zone in Dhaka Municipality. Photo - MONJURE ALAHI
A busy road with rickshaws at Mirpur 10 Goal Chottor, the most densely populated zone in Dhaka Municipality. Photo - MONJURE ALAHI

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Have you ever been under the scorching sun looking for a vehicle to arrive at your destination just after finishing your office or on some moonlit night when you are just out to take a ride around while taking in fresh air?

A rickshaw is one that you are likelier to opt for in such a situation because it is one of those 'always available' kinglike slow vehicles that can serve you with a king’s comfort with open-air rubbing against your skin at a comfortable pace.

There are times when a rickshaw puller would not agree to give you a ride though, saying ‘no’ straight to your face – with zero explanation. And you are left wondering, why they do so.

While they often go unexplained, it's on us to find out why they sometimes refuse to be hired when passengers are badly in need of their service! 

Md Solaiman explains why they refuse a ride sometimes

The other day, Mr Solaiman was sitting idly on his rickshaw, under the hot mid-day summer sun. Being asked whether he is for hire or not, Solaiman gave a straightforward reply, ‘no.'

As he was begged to show the cause of the refusal, Solaiman referred to his wet shirt and sweaty face and said that he was pulling the rickshaw for quite a few hours at a stretch. He needed to rest before starting again.

Noting that there is nobody who doesn’t want to earn more, he said, while earning one must also see that one’s body is also singing along with one’s mind.

Sometimes, it becomes impossible to continue pulling because of extreme fatigue. Passengers come to hire one after one, and eventually, tiredness blocks the bare generosity to even reply and then he starts throwing deadhead ‘nos’, Mr Solaiman said.

Most of the time, rickshaw pullers around Tong (tea stalls) are seen resting in peace. Passengers being in a hurry don’t seem to care a lot about the situation of the pullers while asking to hire, he said. Mr Solaiman reiterated he has never refused a passenger unless he is too tired to carry on.

Md Nurul Islam explains the rational motives of refusing to get hired

Another puller named Md Nurul Islam was resting nearby.

Sometimes the destination doesn’t match where he wants to go. Maybe he is just finishing off the tiresome pulling when it’s time for getting back to the garage. During that time, if a passenger calls for going somewhere far, he refuses, he said.

Some places require going through a lot of traffic jams. However, the fare seems to be awkwardly lower than the time and muscle the puller will have to invest. Refusal becomes a necessary evil then, Mr Islam further said.

Readers should have the raw tone direct from the horse’s mouth: "Mama, we never discriminate against passengers. However, there are desperate times when we must."

These words barely draw the picture of the sweaty forehead and burned skin.

Md Rafik was eager enough to pose on the camera while discussing the reasons for refusing customers.

Md Rafik, a puller in Mirpur 12, said, “There are times when you don’t feel good. I can tell you about one day. A customer approached me and asked for a ride. I was tired enough to deny him service.”

“However, he tried to force me and offered as much money as I wanted,” Mr Rafik continued, “still, I refused to serve him. Because when you can't work with all your heart, you shouldn’t work at all.”

Rafik mama reinforced the fact repeatedly that rickshaw-pulling, despite being an ordinary low-grade job, is something he does by heart. His respect for the profession shows his integrity toward life as well.

Amdad Chacha, while crossing the roads near TSC, Dhaka University, shared things that are more personal than rational reasons for refusing customers.

"I just don’t like their faces. I get a vibe about who is going to be a nuisance and who will be respectful. Sometimes, we choose by the level of decency they show."

"I welcome a decent passenger even if he pays less. The honour comes first, then comes money," said Amdad chacha, much to this scribe's surprise. Amdad chacha is a senior citizen who has a family to provide for in Bogura, a northern district in Bangladesh.

The rationale seemed interesting and this scribe was curious enough to dig deeper.

One of Amdad chacha’s children, a son who should have taken the yoke of the family, is still unemployed. However, he seems content getting the daughters married well off. He shares happy moments with his grandchildren.

Amdad Chacha refuses passengers with respect issues.

Like most of the rickshaw pullers in the capital, Amdad chacha starts his day in the morning and pulls for half a day. He earns one thousand ‘taka in three days and pays three hundred and thirty takas to the Mohajon (the rickshaw owner). It means he has to deposit one hundred and ten takas per day to pull the rickshaw.

Amdad chacha earns two hundred and fifty takas per day on average. As the profession requires extreme muscle effort, his younger colleagues earn more than him.

The last statement from Chacha refers to a general law of economics.

"Look mama, we get many passengers every day. Most often, rickshaw pullers are in short supply. Since the demand exceeds supply, we get the liberty to choose our passengers. If I don’t like your face (attitude), I won’t carry you."

"When you approach me with a smile on your face and address me with Salam, I melt right away. Most passengers don’t care to pay the due respect we deserve. Why should we comply then?" Amdad chacha concluded with a valid question.

People often treat rickshaw pullers as impersonal beings, just as a mere muscle that carries them to their destination. As a result, they tend to deny the 'right to denial' of the rickshaw pullers.

Having the emotional, rational, and moral reasons for their denials, should we conform to their refusals just as we do for other service forces?

What humanity urges is that they have every right to deny when they must. We should take it easy and try to empathise with their day-to-day struggles.

The harmony we wish to have in a society with equity will only come when we try to feel and share the pain others have to bear, regardless of their class or profession.

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