Rickshawpullers in Dhaka want to know English


Eighteen hours’ rest sounds very heartening but a 6-hour laborious work like pulling rickshaw is really disheartening and laborious. When a puller pulls rickshaw, be it summer or winter, he sweats buckets. A six-hour job seems a part time job but that isn’t like that. Two meals (of course without any protein except less than a piece of fish smashed into the main curry) at a cost of Tk 60 or Tk 70 are barely enough to keep body and soul together in a shanty. But for long they can’t sustain as the toilsome job tells upon their health. In such work over the years debilitate them, missing out on earning at one stage. They concentrate in the poor suburbs of Dhaka city for poor livelihood, not to mention cheap lodging in the slums. Away from home, away from family they have come to the capital only to earn bread and butter. In stead of earning Tk 1600 at the entry level in a job in a garment factory rickshaw-pulling draws more and more unemployed youths into the toilsome job in Dhaka which is home to over seven lakh rickshaws both registered and unregistered.
Abdus Sabur, single issue of a peasant parent, hails from Gaibandha. Despite having no brother or sister his father could not afford his high school education cost. His father though not landless failed to produce enough to cater to their three-member family. While pulling rickshaw he said he was dropped out of school when he ended his primary education. He is not a regular rickshaw-puller but comes to the capital before two great Muslim festivals like Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-azha. Before and during the occasion the rickshaw-pulling is very lucrative. The jobholders get bonus from their employers and the self-employed businessmen can mobilise extra income during these occasions, drawing the unemployed and semi-employed to Dhaka and Chittagong cities where most of the 29537 crorepatis live, enjoying 90 percent of resources of Bangladesh.
Sabur and Selim come from the same district. Otherwise they are quite unlike. Selim never attended school. He has three brothers and two sisters. His father is landless and a sharecropper. He can’t afford to take lease of land. He started pulling rickshaw — a professional he could hardly attain— since his boyhood. With no life skill to earn his livelihood he resorted to such work, which involves a lot of toil. As he has to support his father’s family he can’t think of depositing money aiming at mobilising capital for future. Selim said, ‘I could earn a little more if I knew English because without English you can’t do a good job.’ ‘I can’t read and write Bangla let alone English language.’ He
Sagir obtained GPA 1.8 in SSC from Kurigram and bragged a bit of his SSC certificate. ‘None of my friends but me pulls rickshaw and if I could get better GPA in the SSC I would have enrolled in a college and change my lot through higher study’ Sagir sighed. Sagir was looking smarter than Sabur and Selim with hair parted, shirt clean and wearing pants though there is no dress code for the rickshaw-pullers in Dhaka and Chittagong. Getting pass grade in English and sees no bright future with his poor results and he thinks he couldn’t spend for private tuition for English as other students of his level do. In spite of knowing that paddling is a hard work he had no other alternative in a country where lakhs of graduates remain unemployed. These graduates are under the illusion that they will get job and honour, though at best they get Member of Lower Subordinate Services (MLSS) jobs.
Latif from Lalmonirhat tried his best to be employed in Indian city Banglalore but all in vain. The new ‘superpower’ provides a few Bangladeshis rather it pushes back its Bangla-speaking own citizen. Indian police take on Bangladeshis, be they visitor, patient or fortune seekers, is harassed and handled with suspicion. Without knowing English Latif crossed the border legally but couldn’t get any job where anti- Bangladesh campaign is very high. India often tries to push in Bangla-speaking people into the country. He now has got a license to pull rickshaw which he owns. He is not like most other rickshaw-pullers in Dhaka. He pulls it whenever he feels convenient. Unlike most other rickshaw-pullers he fast during Ramadan days and takes his three-wheeler out at night.
Bidhan Kumar Sircar hails from Manda under Naogaon district. He dropped out of Class VI just one year ago in 2010. In a country where discrimination on the basis of religion hardly makes news headlines like Indian Sacha Commission report that reveals that 26 percent Muslims in Kolkata get only 3 percent of the govt jobs mostly in lower slabs. His separated and married parents and five brothers and sisters hardly encouraged Bidhan to continue education, aiming at getting better jobs in future. Bidhan most probably crossed his boyhood and yet to grow moustaches will leave Dhaka soon to get back home. I was unsure who was responsible for his plight as he has to hold the rickshaw handle to earn his livelihood but I was quite sure that it was not safe to take a ride on an adolescent’s rickshaw when accidents were rampant in and around Dhaka. Hard-hit by poverty Bidhan knows how to read and write English but can’t think how it could augment his earning. He is too young to think about the importance of learning English. He earns money, pays bills of food and lodging in the poor neighborhood and goes to bed tired and exhausted.
Like most other rickshaw-pullers Mohammad Uzzal from Kotwali thana in Faridpur district in Dhaka division claims that he can manage time for learning English. After a 6-hour rickshaw-pulling he is ready to enroll for free English learning course. He dropped out of high school in eighth grade but has two other brothers studying in colleges in Dhaka and Faridpur. He shares a home with his college going brother on the outskirt of the mega city, no matter what the living condition and rent are. Second among his five brothers and sisters Uzzal could think that a working knowledge in English language could help leave this profession with little or no prestige attached to. Earlier he used to do a job in a factory in Gazipur, a neighboring district of Dhaka. Unmarried Uzzal thinks his earning is fat enough to manage family.
Rickshawpullers in Dhaka have enough time to know English. They work only six hours a day. Most of them live in Dhaka without their families. They live in mess. They pay for their food and lodging. So they don’t have to go to shopping which they usually have to do while living with family. Rest of the time of a day while away time eating, sleeping, playing cards and cutting jokes etc. Most of them think that they can augment their income if they were trained in English language. They could have tried alternative professions other than toilsome rickshawpulling. Not only that they could have helped their school-going wards. They could read the shop signs and other documents written in English and improve their standard of life.

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