Ramesh Bahadur Khatri does not feel well but the idea of taking a leave from pulling the rickshaw is an idea, a little too expensive to afford with. For it is his only source of a meagre income helping him sustain his family through thick and thin. A resident of Shantinagar in Bhairahawa, Ramesh sets out early for the bus park, rubbing his sleepy eyes, long before the crack of the dawn.
â€œ What can I do? If I stop pulling the rickshaw then I will have nothing to eat,â€ says Ramesh whose thin figure has just managed to fight fits of cough, a common phenomenon among his brethrens.
Budhe B K, another rickshaw-puller in the town is worried about the new responsibility that has accorded him with the new wife.
Budhe who is originally from Chandraute in Kapilvastu moved to Bhairahawa after pedalling rickshaws failed to give him a financial break in his hometown.
Married just six months ago, Budhe joined the rickshaw pulling profession at Bhairahawa after both his parents died when he was quite young.
â€œThis might be the reason why he has not been able to gain much heightâ€, say his fellow rickshaw pullers referring to Budheâ€™s small height.
I did not have the opportunity to go to schools, but I have a desire to send my brothers and sisters to school, said Budhe, when asked what wishes he had in life.
The physical rigours that the back-bending task of pedalling a rickshaw demands, hastens ageing and Rame and Saili have just turned 33 betray their age by appearance. They look like 50 years old. Rame is physically ill but he cannot stop pulling the rickshaw, which gives him just enough for two square meals a day. Tuberculosis has been rampant among the rickshaw pullers in the country.
â€œI know I have a very weak health, but I manage to pull the rickshaw anywayâ€, says Rame. He also shares about the rude behaviour of people who give him less than the actual fares, complaining that they are being looked down by the public.
Poverty is not my fault, there is nobody to help the poor and people still try to agonize them further, he adds.
The children of the rickshaw pullers are also in a very sorry state of affairs. They have never been to schools. â€œI want to send them to a school but itâ€™s difficult to feed them, and less likely to send them to schoolsâ€, said Rame.
Rickshaw pullers usually work from early morning to late in the night and majority of them end their day with a drink, making them highly prone to diseases like tuberculosis.
They however complain of the low price that they receive in return of their labour. Expressing concern over the sorry state of the rickshaw pullers, a rickshaw traveller says, â€œThe people working in most of the sectors have their labour-price increased along with the inflation hike in the market. But nobody seems to bother about increasing the labour-price of the rickshaw pullersâ€.
The Rickshaw Pullersâ€™ Associations constituted in Nepal doesnâ€™t even have any official count on the number of rickshaw pullers in the country. Labour organisations for the protection of professional rights and well-being have mushroomed following the restoration of democracy in the country. But, not a single forum has been set up in order to raise voice for our interests, say the rickshaw pullers.