Life in Para-transit
This post is part of a series on auto-rickshaws.
Data can tell interesting stories. The Comprehensive Transportation Study (CTS) for Hyderabad Metropolitan Area (HMA) conducted by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) in 2011, estimates that 12.1% of the city’s population makes use of the auto-rickshaw for mobility on a daily basis. This means that, if we follow the Census of India statistic, over 9 lakh people travel by the auto-rickshaw every single day. This estimate is also a conservative one as the sample of respondents does not include school going children and the members of the transient population that use auto-rickshaws from train stations and intercity bus stops. Auto-rickshaws are deeply embedded in the informal economy involving several transactions of which the commuter gets to see only one face; the driver’s face.
Why are men drawn to drive the auto-rickshaw as an occupation? Our conversations with drivers revealed a variety of socioeconomic conditions that led them into the field. Many auto drivers migrate to the city from nearby distressed districts, while many others are long time residents of Hyderabad. Some are educated while others are high school or college drop-outs. Some enter the industry due to a lack of employment opportunities, while others do so after being laid off from their earlier jobs or displaced from areas where they practiced their occupation. Others enter it to make a quick buck given the relative absence of competition and seeming independence of operation; basically because it is a low barrier, entry level, cash-in-hand job. Either way it is circumstantial compulsion due to the lack of a skill-based education and a growing family to support that motivates their admission into the field. It is only after they enter, that they realize the intricate constraining regulations and the several informal transactions that impinge upon the life of an auto driver. Most first generation migrant auto drivers maintain strong relationships with their families in their native districts. They often contribute to the family’s economy by sending monthly remittances of a few thousand rupees or work in order to reach a particular target income before returning home.
In this post we go through short vignettes of auto-drivers’ lives collected through auto rides in the city. They reveal the varied backgrounds from which these individuals come, the conditions that led to their entry into the field and how they juggle their responsibilities, plans and dreams.
Mohd. Javed is in his mid 40s and had just managed to pay off the loan to his financier a couple of weeks ago. The 2nd hand auto he has been driving for four years is now his own. He began driving an auto- rickshaw in 1994, before which he worked as a mechanic. The repayment of the loan took about 4 years as he had to take an additional loan for his eldest daughter’s marriage. He has two other daughters who are in secondary school now, and his only son, after passing his 8th standard exams, works as an apprentice to a mechanic near Old City where they live. Having cleared the debt on both loans, he says ‘There is still time before they are grown-up enough to be married and so I can finally rest a little and take it easy for some time’ [25th February 2015]
Srinu is 19 years old and has been driving an auto-rickshaw for the past year and a half. He came to Hyderabad two years ago from a farming family in Mahbubnagar after his eldest sister’s marriage and lives with her family in Vidyanagar. The auto-rickshaw he drives is under finance and was bought by his brother-in-law 8 months ago. Srinu and his brother-in-law drive the auto-rickshaw on alternate days and thus manage to run the household. He has four siblings. His elder brother is a bus driver with the RTC. Srinu started working after studying up till 8Th standard, first for a local Kirana shop owner and then for a bigger shop at the weekly market near his village. In the process Srinu learned how to drive a car, a bus ,and a truck as well. He started driving an auto-rickshaw only after he came to Hyderabad and is only doing it to help his sister and brother-in-law get settled so they can start a family. He doesn’t like driving an auto and wants to become an RTC bus driver like his elder brother. Though he already has a license, he is waiting for his badge so he can apply when a notification is released. [5Th April 2015]
Sunil is 24 years old and has been married for over 2 years. He lives with his wife and parents in Barkatpura. He has been driving an auto-rickshaw for 4 years now. Unlike other renter-drivers he doesn’t have to pay daily rent to the owner and is under no obligation to return the vehicle at the end of the day. His only responsibility is to ferry school children to-and-fro from different pick up points – Nallakunta, Amberpet, and VST and so on – to a particular co-education convent school in Abids. This is how he pays the rent for the vehicle. The rest of the day he is free to ferry customers on fare across the city. The owner of his vehicle owns six such auto- rickshaws, all performing the same pick up and drop service to the same school and all exempt from conventional rent conditions.
Sunil says he became an auto driver because of ‘love failure’. For 5 years, before he started driving, Sunil worked at an office near Tank Bund. He joined as staff just after he finished his 10th and in the next 5 years his salary increased from Rs 2500 to Rs 12000. There he had an ongoing romantic relationship with another staff employee, and when his immediate senior found out, there was a scandal. Scared of losing her job, the girl, he claims, blamed him for the entire affair. Sunil was subsequently fired and no other establishment in the area would hire him as a result of the scandal. His family was informed and very soon after, his marriage was fixed and he started driving an auto-rickshaw through a contact of his to-be in-laws.
Relieved that that episode of his life is over, Sunil enjoys driving the auto-rickshaw for the particular owner now and is able to secure on certain days up to Rs 700 if he works very hard. In a month, after covering fuel and oiling costs, he is able to earn between Rs 12, 000 – Rs 15, 00. Though he still reminisces about working in the office where he wouldn’t be as exhausted at the end of the day, the current arrangement works well for him and allows him to fulfill his responsibilities towards his family. [28th February 2015]
Mohd. Firoze is in his mid-30s and has been driving the auto-rickshaw since just a month. He used to run a dental workshop in Santoshnagar near Old city, which got demolished due to the road widening undertaken by the GHMC two years ago. He tried his luck with odd jobs here and there and eventually ended up driving an auto-rickshaw through a friend. The auto-rickshaw was also from Santoshnagar and the owner lives in the same area where Firoze lives with his wife and two primary school-going children. ‘Inshallah’ he found something that would bring him at least Rs 500 a day after paying rent and fuel costs, which is much more than what they had to live on in the two years after the demolition. Mohd. Firoze has a two wheeler license and so far has been lucky to not get caught by the traffic police. He says he doesn’t ask for inappropriate fares, follows traffic rules, always goes by the meter, sometimes asking for a little (Rs 10 or Rs 20) over the meter, harms no one and ‘inshallah’ no harm has come onto him.’ [17the March 2015]
Continue to page 2 for more vignettes.