Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338





Rickshaw in Perspective of Mahatma Gandhi



Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “After seeing Simla, my views have not changed. No end of money has been spent over the place. Even a proud man like me has had to eat humble pie. The only means of conveyance here is the horse or the rickshaw. I never used the latter while in South Africa, but here I did, thanks to my weakness. All, whether grown - up or young men or women use it. The car is justifiably prohibited. The horse drawn carriage can be used only by the Viceroy and one or two other officials, and this also seems to be justified. The roads in this place are narrow; roads cut through steep hills cannot but be so. Naturally, the plying of horse- drawn vehicles on such roads must perforce be restricted. What is strange, however, is that the rickshaw has become quite an ordinary conveyance, as if it was he most natural thing for any of us to be yoked to a vehicle! I asked the men who pulled the rickshaw which carried me why they had taken up this work. Did they not have a belly to fill? They queried in reply. I know this reply is not quite convincing; it cannot be said, though, that they take pleasure in becoming beasts of burden. On the contrary, my charge is that it is we who force men to become beasts. Why should it be surprising, then, that we have become the Empire's bullocks? It is not the British alone who use the rickshaw. We use it as freely as they do. We who join them in turning people into bullocks have, therefore, become bullocks ourselves. There are four men or every rickshaw. Three of them get Rs. 18 a month each and the fourth, their leader, gets Rs. 20. The slopes up and down along the roads are so steep that, even though there are four of them, the men get out of breath. The rickshaw is made to accommodate only one person at a time. Even this is something to be thankful for. Simla is at an altitude of 7,500 feet. If people understand the implications of the fact that the Government is carried on from such a height, they will know what the Empire means. If in Bombay all the shopkeepers had their shops on the topmost floor in the crawls, what would be the customers' plight? The fourth floor probably goes up to a height of 60 feet. The thirty crore customers of this Government, the country's shopkeeper, have to climb not 60 feet but 7,500 feet! Bombay, we know, cannot carry on its trade on the fourth floor. India’s trade is carried on, actually, on the five hundredth floor! Is it any wonder that the country starves? I should no longer seem strange that, in the foothills of Simla, three crore innocent children famish for want of food.”1

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If I had the power I would abolish the rickshaw. But that I know must remain a pious hope. But is it too much to hope that men who ply these rickshaws will be subjected to a strict medical examination as to their fitness for the heavy work?”2 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Japanese type rickshaw is seen everywhere. The sight of rickshaws did not pain me much, as I had seen them often in Durban. However, when I saw three or four persons huddled together in one rickshaw, I felt like getting down from my carriage and going over to help that rickshaw-puller. I was to reach a destination and could not get down. The wound it inflicted on my mind, however, did not heal. This rickshaw is so built that only one person can sit in it. It is also true that so many persons cannot be huddled in it if the puller protests. The cruelty of the passengers, however, is not the less for that. A human being does a thousand wrong things because of poverty. He even crawls on his stomach, performs many base acts. However, what is to be said of those who witness these things? What of those who compel him to do them? There may even be a law in Cochin that not more than one person can ride in a rickshaw. If this is so, those who thus overload it are doubly guilty. There is a large population of Gujaratis in Cochin; they are influential people. The persons that I saw huddled in the rickshaw were Malayalis. I do not know whether Gujaratis go to this extreme or not. I hope, however, that no Gujarati is so cruel. I would like to request them to serve Cochin. They should educate public opinion there so that no one would misuse rickshaws. I would even advise them to give up using rickshaws. This, by giving them some exercise, would improve their health. Except in case of illness or disability, it seems sinful for a person to be carried by another.”3

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, Mr. Laughton thought that there was danger in our going on foot. He therefore hailed a rickshaw. I had never sat in a rickshaw before, as it was thoroughly disgusting to me to sit in a vehicle pulled by human beings. But I then felt that it was my duty to use that vehicle. I have experienced five or seven times in my life that one whom God wishes to save cannot fall even if he will. If I did not fall I cannot take any credit for it to myself. These rickshaws are pulled by Zulus. The elderly Europeans and the boys threatened the rickshaw-puller that if he allowed me to sit in his rickshaw they would beat him and smash his rickshaw to pieces. The rickshaw boy, therefore, said ‘Kha’ (meaning ‘no’) and went away. I was thus spared the shame of a rickshaw ride.”4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, Mr. Laughton feared that the crowd might swell and hailed a rickshaw. I had never liked the idea of being in a rickshaw. This was to be my first experience. But the youngsters would not let me get into it. They frightened the rickshaw boy out of his life, and he took to his heels. As we went ahead, the crowd continued to swell, until it became impossible to proceed further.  So we decided to leave the place at once. It was drizzling and the station was some distance. We had to take the train from Durban for Phoenix, whence our Settlement was reached by a road of two miles and a half. I was undoubtedly taking a very great risk, but I trusted in God, and proceeded with my task. I sent a messenger to Phoenix in advance, with a message to West to receive us at the station with a hammock, a bottle of hot milk and one of hot water, and six men to carry Kasturba in the hammock. I got a rickshaw to enable me to take her by the next available train, put her into it in that dangerous condition, and marched away. Kasturba needed no cheering up. On the contrary she comforted me, saying: ‘Nothing will happen to me. Don’t worry.’ She was mere skin and bone, having had no nourishment for days. The station platform was very large, and as the rickshaw could not be taken inside, one had to walk some distance before one could reach the train.”5

 Mahatma Gandhi wrote,  “You know of course how you can reach that place From Kalol to Mehsana, and from there to Delhi on the meter gauge line; from there to Dehra Dun and then to Mussoorie in motor-car. You may have to hire a litter or pony or rickshaw for two or three miles if you cannot walk that much distance.”6 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “And then at last Gandhiji went uninterrupted to Mussoorie. The cars do not go beyond Bhatt. An uphill distance of nearly three miles had to be covered either on foot, by dandy or rickshaw or on horseback. Gandhiji insisted on walking and got into a rickshaw only when he was about to enter the bazaar. This however proved most trying for him. Crowds pressed in upon the rickshaw from all sides. The din and the dust and the shower of flowers choked him. This went on for nearly an hour. He sat dazed and dejected in the rickshaw feeling perfectly helpless. Truly is a crowd’s affection embarrassing when it is blindly exhibited.”7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have shared your letter with Kumarappa. If you can establish contact with rickshaw-pullers, it would be a great thing. They can easily spin, weave and add to their meagre earnings.”8 Jivraj writes to say that you should not climb uphill. You also say that it does not produce a good effect. There are rickshaws there. One can use them in illness. You may get into a rickshaw wherever there is a climb. In this way you can go to a new place every day for a walk. I see nothing wrong in this. This is the only way of deriving full benefit from your stay in Simla. Shummy seems to be advising exactly the opposite in regard to Durga. If so, my advice should be disregarded. If I were present there, I would of course wrestle with Shummy.”9 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, You are keeping good watch over my health from all that distance. Ramjibhai showed me your telegram. I was aware that I should not climb any heights and had therefore intended to swallow the bitter draught of riding in a rickshaw.”10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The poor slave for you. They draw your rickshaws. It hurts me, and it ought to hurt you too, that a fellow human being should pull the rickshaw of a healthy and able-bodied person. I say this not to criticize you but to remind you of those whose very existence you are otherwise apt to forget, but who nevertheless are India. It is up to you to think of them and enter into their lives.”11 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Gandhiji spoke of the poor rickshaw-pullers and load-carriers there. They should be everyone’s concern. They made life possible for the wealthy and yet the latter, while willing to take from them even the inhuman service of rickshaw-pulling, did not care to see where and how they lived, what they ate and what they earned. He had heard that these poor men lived in tiny rooms without adequate light and air; they did not want to reveal how many herded together into one room lest they should be evicted or fined. They were dirtily clad as could be seen from the little crowd of them that had come to attend the prayers that evening. But perhaps they had not the wherewithal to afford a change of clothes. They might be like the woman in Bihar, when he first went there, who, when asked to wash herself and her clothes, said to Ba: “How can I bathe when I have not another sari to put on? “It was the bended duty of those to whom God had given more than their needs to spend the extra money on those who were in want. He had been told that the Congress Government was now in power and would see to it that labour quarters everywhere were rebuilt. If they did so it would be a good thing. It would be no more than their bare duty. That would not, however, exonerate rickshaw-riders from their duty. Doctors had told him that these poor people pulled these vehicles for four years or so and the work was so hard they died soon after of lung and heart trouble. How could the users be so callous as not to see that rickshaw-pullers were properly housed and sufficiently paid and clothed and not overworked?”12




  1. 1.      Navajivan, 22-5-1921
  2. 2.      Young India, 19-3-1925
  3. 3.        Navajivan, 22-3-1925
  4. 4.        VOL. 34 : 11 FEBRUARY, 1926 - 1 APRIL, 1926 51
  5. 5.        VOL. 44 : 16 JANUARY, 1929 - 3 FEBRUARY, 1929 233
  6. 6.      LETTER TO PRABHUDAS GANDHI, October 13, 1929
  7. 7.      VOL. 47: 1 SEPTEMBER, 1929 - 20 NOVEMBER, 1929 337
  8. 8.      LETTER TO AMRIT KAUR, July 4, 1935
  9. 9.        LETTER TO MAHADEV DESAI, October 15, 1938
  10. 10.    LETTER TO DR. JIVRAJ N. MEHTA, September 5, 1939
  11. 11.  The Bombay Chronicle, 31-5-1946
  12. 12.   Harijan, 16-6-1946





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