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A standard feature on the Delhi University campus is the rickshaw puller. Migrating from states like Uttar pradesh, Madhya pradesh and Bihar, the rickshaw pullers come to the capital to earn money. Many of them plan to return to their villages some day.

The rickshaw pullers on campus are the only sector facilitating transport that have not been mobilized into a union. While some remain hopeful of its eventual inception, others are cynical. A few years ago an attempt was made to unionize them but was unsuccessful. Many work part-time in other unorganized sectors like bricklaying and construction. Apart from the instability of profession, many of them do not work in the same area for long. Others return to their villages over the festive season or for marriages. An attempt to unionize them seems impossible in the present circumstances.

The absence of a union has resulted in unfair returns for labour. In the three years (1997-2000) that I have spent on campus, the rickshawpuller's rates are almost stagnant. Apart from being stagnant, rates can also be arbitarily fixed by passengers. How much you pay depends on how good your bargaining powers are and how desperate a rickshaw puller is.

On an average a rickshaw puller can earn something between Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 in a month. However, since their vehicles are not their own, they pay upto Rs600 a month to middlemen. Rent deductions for the shacks they live in further depletes income. 40yr old Mohanlal Verma, a rickshaw puller for 25yrs, supports his wife and six children on such meagre earnings.

Of the rickshawpullers I talked to, some have been to Primary school while others are illiterate. I was shocked to know that Dharmendra Singh had been at engineering college before being expelled for a fight. Literate or not, most rickshaw pullers are uneducated about their legal rights. None of them know how a union is formed.

In May 1999, a Draft Report on Guidelines against Sexual Harassment, was submitted to the Vice Chancellor Mr V.R.Mehta. One of the numerous loopholes in the report was the suggestion that rickshaw pullers should be parked 100 yards away from all colleges, hostels and libraries. The underlying assumption being that they were potential eve teasers.The suggestion was preposterous, in fact it was argued that girls felt safer on rickshaws while travelling as opposed to walking. The Febuary 2000 Draft Report, deleted the above proposal.

Ironically, the rickshaw pullers face continous harassment from poloce authorities. some of them told me that in order to park in certain areas, they have to bribe police officials.A failure to comply would mean the confiscation of their license.

The rickshaw pullers on campus need an organization to take up their cause. The formation of a union will lead to cohesion and empowerment. A university should be the last place where injustice is allowed to go unnoticed.