apologia for a strike

The auto rickshaws are supposed to go on strike today. This means pwhy will bear a deserted look as many of our children - the tiny and special ones - are fetched from their slum homes in such vehicles. The strike they say is indefinite whatever that means. The reason: the government's insistence that all autos install a Global Positioning System by tomorrow or face its ire! The cost of the system to be borne by them: a whopping 7000 Rs installation and 600 Rs a month maintenance.

I too was once among those who ranted and raved about the behaviour of auto drivers till I was forced to enter their world. You see many of our kids are children of auto drivers and we at pwhy use them as a sole means of transportation. So I am well qualified to write this apologia.

Most of Delhi's auto drivers come from other states having left their habitat of origin for economic reasons. Many after devastating floods or quakes. They come to the big city and manage against many odds to get their driving licenses and are ready to join the fleet. Now in Delhi you either own your vehicle or drive one on rent. In the later case you need to pay a hefty daily sum to the owner who are often hard core businessmen. You pay for the fuel, the minor repairs and take home what remains. This means that if you earn 1000 rs on a good day, you take home a mere 400. In case you own your scooter you have bought it on credit from wily creditors who charge a hefty rate of interest and work out some inane monthly installment that you more often than not are unable to pay - an illness in the family, the child's school fees etc -. The cunning creditor then reworks your dues and your are landed with a higher installment. Sometimes you even borrow at a whopping 10% a month to pay your installment and have not one but two creditors a month. Owning your vehicle can take years if you are lucky and the creditor does not impound your vehicle.

Auto drivers have families to support and these families have urban dreams. School for the children, a TV for the house and so on, so life is never easy. But you carry on. There are no social benefits, no insurances you are on your own. Life is a struggle and the urban dream slowly turns sour. So when you are slapped with an additional 7000 Rs and 600 Rs a month you see red. It is not that you do not want the GPS installed, you do not know how you will meet your month ends. Like all people in the city you are not living but surviving.

One can of course also argue for or against the installation of a GPS system. The first thing that comes to mind is the safety of such a system in an open vehicle often parked on streets at night. Tongues are also wagging and it is being said that the company that provides these systems is owned by the relative of a high placed politician. Could be true as this is often an insidious form of corruption we are all too familiar with.

I do not know what the outcome of the strike will be. Probably not good for the auto drivers who will ultimately be forced into submission as is always the case. I also do not know what the day hold for us at pwhy as we too depend on autos to survive. I am bracing myself for a hard day.