Rickshaw Pullers

Kolkata is the last city on earth to use enormous Chinese-style rickshaws pulled by men on foot. The rickshaws were introduced in the 19th century by Chinese traders, and the British made it a legal form of transportation in 1919. Kolkata has about 6,000 licensed rickshaw operators, but at least as many operate without licenses. In 2005, the Communist government of West Bengal—concerned about its image as it positioned Kolkata as a technology hub—placed a ban on the human-powered vehicles. Government officials called the hand-pulled rickshaws "barbaric" and "inhuman" and vowed not to renew operators' licenses. But the rickshaw-puller union continues to fight the ban, saying the hand-drawn rickshaws are a symbol of the old city. Though cycle-rickshaws have taken over in most areas, you may still find the hand-drawn ones operating in some parts of town. Recently the Kolkata’s mayor announced that the new government is keen to issue photo IDs to the licensed rickshaw pullers, most of who are from the neighboring, impoverished states of Bihar and Jharkhand.

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