Bleak Roads Ahead for Cycle-Rickshaws

In Imphal, Manipur, drivers of cycle-rickshaws are at risk as auto rickshaws flood the city. The cycle rickshaws struggle for two main reasons. Firstly, their rates are higher than the motorized auto rickshaws – sometimes up to three times the price. This means that competition is fierce; the only time that cycle rickshaw drivers can really make money is when there is a general strike and auto rickshaws are not on the roads. Day-to-day the drivers eke out a meager living by transporting people very short distances or finding remote corners of the city where autos are few and far between. With wages only Rs 100 on a good day and often as low as Rs 50 it is impossible for the cycle-rickshaw drivers to support their families. Secondly, and exacerbating this extreme poverty, is the ongoing, and often violent, discrimination faced by minority tribals in the Northeast. The cycle rickshaw drivers come from remote tribal areas, are poorly educated and speak minority tribal languages that are not understood outside their villages. This means that even the simple work of haggling prices with their customers becomes an onerous task and makes the cycle rickshaw drivers a source of ridicule. As their traditional livelihoods phase out, the cycle rickshaw drivers find themselves trapped in an unending cycle of poverty, lack of education and continuing tensions between different tribal groups in Manipur. Unless the community decides to intervene, their road ahead seems bleak.

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