Manipur: The masked rickshaw pullers of Imphal

November 17, 2017, 1:33 pm
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 .

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