Imphal (Manipur) : Meet , Kaba Singh, Age 21 years , Qualification : B.Sc, ; K.Moiramba Singh Age 32 years Qualification : M .A. ; Th. Naocha Sarma, Age 27, Qualification : Diploma in Automoible Engineering ; Sheikhokai Singh , Age 37 years, Qualificaton : MA. MPhil and the list is endless . They all have something in common . They are all masked rickshaw pullers operating at Imphal in the Northeast Indian state of Manipur.
But why despite of being educated they have been forced today to take up this lowly paid job . Yes. there is acute unemployment in the state . There are no industries plus saturation of jobs in the government sector.
There are around 8000 such rickshaw pullers who operate in the city today.
You would have a strange feeling if you see these rickshaw pullers . Their faces are covered with scarves, they sport a pee cap and wear gloves .Your first impression would be perhaps they are covered to protect themselves from the dust or smoke . But the reason is altogether different - they dont want to reveal their identity and earn their bread and butter.
It is the society and their peer groups to whom they do not want to disclose their actual identity. Majority of them come from decent families and between the age group of 16 to 40 years. Most of them are graduates while some are post -graduates , also. They have been forced to pedal rickshaws due to lack of employment opportunities.
The fear of being recognized by their families and friends that they have taken up such jobs, despite of being educated is very crucial to them. So they make it a point that their identity is not disclosed.
37 -year old Sheikhokai Singh says majority of his classmates are well placed and serving in high posts in the Goverment. Pointing at the Main Secretariat he says " my best friend during my university days is a top officer in the government . How can I show my face that today I have been forced to drive a rickshaw just to feed my family "
21 -year old Kaba says " after completion of my graduation I tried to get goverment jobs but everywhere I qualified they asked for a bribe . My father is a retired headmaster of school .. so i could not afford to pay up and finally landed up driving rickshaws,
"The fear of getting identified even my own family members is crucial. See my brother is working in the government department while my sister is a college teacher ." How can I tell them that iam driving a rickshaw . They know that I work in a private company and earn a decent amount ." After my days work i remove my scarves and join in familiy functions and till date they know that i work in a company . Iam happy with the situation but at times i move into a spate of depression " says K.Moiramba Singh .
Th. Naocha Sarma, a resident of Imphal city who has to support his familiy which includes his aged parents says that he had no option to but to buy a rickshaw and start driving . " I tried for jobs in both government and private sectors but could not manage a job . My next option was to either join a militant group or do something on my own . I choose the latter. ", he says
Politicians from the state say that there is no support and funding from the Central goverment . Of course , things look bit better now with a new goverment in the state.
As they hope for things to improve , it is the commoner , like Sheikhokai Singh , the rickshaw driver, who continues to hide his identity and drive his rickshaw through the streets of Imphal .