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Art on the Move

Rickshaw Painters in Bangladesh

Gopa Samanta

Art in the form of decorating rickshaws, a very popular mode of mobility in Bangladesh, especially in Dhaka city, was developed in the 1950s to make the rickshaw more popular so that it could compete with the horse-drawn “tomtom.” Syed Ahmed Hossain, a rickshaw artist more commonly known in Dhaka as Ahmed, was a small boy then, living in a small house located on a narrow by-lane of old Dhaka city. He used to draw things on his school copy book with a small eroded pencil. Ahmed never had any formal training in painting because his father could not afford that. By the time Ahmed grew up, however, there was a growing demand for people who could decorate rickshaws and Ahmed found that job suitable to earn a livelihood for his family.

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Mobility in the Margins

Hand-pulled Rickshaws in Kolkata

Gopa Samanta and Sumita Roy

This article examines the marginal mobilities of hand-pulled rickshaws and rickshaw-pullers in Kolkata, India. It traces the politics of rickshaw mobilities, showing how debates about modernity and the informal economy frequently overshadow the experience of the marginalized community of hand-rickshaw pullers. It shows how the hand-pulled rickshaw rarely becomes the focus of research or debate because of its marginal status—technologically (being more primitive than the cycle rickshaw); geographically (operating only in Kolkata city); and in terms of the social status of the operators (the majority being Bihari migrants in Kolkata). Drawing upon both quantitative and qualitative research, this study focuses on the backgrounds of the rickshaw-pullers, their strategies for earning livelihoods, the role of social networks in their life and work, and their perceptions of the profession—including their views of the state government's policy of seeking to abolish hand-pulled rickshaws. The article concludes by addressing the question of subalternity.