Communist officials in Kolkata, India, are banning rickshaws.
“Westerners try to associate beggars and these rickshaws with Kolkata’s tradition, but this is not our tradition,” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters, adding that the ban would come into effect within five months.
Chinese traders introduced the hand-pulled rickshaw to Kolkata in the early 20th century and sinewy, barefoot men pulling the vehicles are still a common sight in the city.
They are in especially great demand during the monsoon when flooded streets make it hard for commuters to use taxis or cars.
China banned hand-pulled rickshaws after the communists took power in 1949 and Kolkata is one of the only places left in the world where such rickshaws are used as everyday transport.
The only place I have ever seen rickshaws is Japan: in Takayama, Nara, and Kyoto. The rickshaws were tourist attractions, and there were both bicycle rickshaws and hand-pulled rickshaws. I have a nice picture of a young man pulling two girls in a rickshaw (and totally flirting with them) in Kyoto from our honeymoon, but I haven’t uploaded those pictures yet.
In any case, none of those were anyone’s primary mode of transportation. They were similar to the horse-drawn carriages you’ll find in American cities, like Louisville, Kentucky.
I think rickshaws are a unique part of Asian heritage. As I haven’t seen them the way they are apparently used in Kolkata, I can’t say whether or not the hand-pulled, public transportation variety is truly inhumane. I am glad, however, that rickshaws won’t completely disappear from that city, but that officials plan to replace them with motorized and bicycle versions.