Today I woke up at 8am - the beginning of morning peak hour in Mumbai, and for some reason I couldn’t help dozing off to the alarm and enjoying the blissful state of a mini-vacation in this chaotic city. My room faces the main road which is off the Western Express highway, and usually even with the windows shut, I can hear the beeping and thumping of cars and bikes and the plethora of autorickshaws chugging along the roads.
As I gained consciousness, it hit that today there is a strike! And all the autorickshaws are parked away and abandoned..millions at a time! And all the taxis were also parked away, the bulky ancient automobiles lined up - one after the other. Though it seems like a peaceful start to the morning, once the news hit - I realised how many people, how many jobs, how much movement in this city of approximately 13 million (and probably more as so many migrants are unaccounted) has been stalled.
On top of the stock market crisis, this just makes things worse.. some could say.
But beyond the cribbing and fussing of most urban youngsters I know, what does this really mean?
The actual reason behind the strike was a planned protest against a “planned phasing out of older vehicles and the growing numbers of private taxis in India’s financial hub”. Of some 50,000 old yellow and black non-AC taxis, about 8500 will have to be phased out by Dec. 4. This gives more way to the private companies, the AC cool cabs and all the golden opportunities available for the big corporate players of India to take over public transportation like they have already started doing within the small medium retail business!
This is what the workers have to say according to Reuters India:
“We are demanding that we should be given sufficient time and subsidies for the phase out of old taxis,” said A.L. Quadros, general secretary of the Mumbai Taxi Mens Union, which called for the one-day strike.
Moreover, as modern India is becoming more consumer-conscious and there is an obvious growing middle class, and a rise in corporatization it is important that the Taxi drivers Union is standing up for their rights and demanding that the Government protect them and their crooked old cabs which have been monopolizing the streets of Mumbai for decades now. Thus, the Union has asked that the state of Maharashtra limit the issue of new licenses to private taxis, which the modern day commuter prefers - especially in South Mumbai, where the wealthier class live and work, and autorickshaws are not allowed to enter!
Interestingly enough, on a day like today, it hit me how the city is so segregated and how each person is affected differently according to the area they live and work in. In some areas such as Thane, which is outside of Mumbai city and is considered the central suburbs, people must have struggled to get around and the local buses were jam packed. This means that on a day like today, mostly men went out and squished themselves into buses and trains.. and women were more likely to stay in and avoid the crowds of people packed in buses and trains. This also means that for the upper-class who mostly travel only by private car and chauffeur, today was just another day that blinked past them.
This event not only highlights the issues of autorickshaw drivers and taxi drivers in India’s most populated city, but it also sheds some light upon the disparities of socio-economic class, gender and infrastructure.
Here is a video that I’d like to highlight.. to remind people that not every autorickshaw driver is a /migrant/poor/uneducated man. And in fact, women can drive too and this job is in fact very empowering as well as a self-sustaining income and livliehood she can provide for her family.
Check out this video profiling Philomena Fernandez of Mumbai!