Friday, 3 August 2012

Rickshaws of Bangladesh and its history

The word ‘’ricksha/riska/rickshaw’’ originates from the Japanese word ‘’jinrikisha’’. In Japanese language ‘’jin’’ means human, ‘’riki’’ means power or force and ‘’sha’’ means vehicle. So, literally ‘’jinirikisha’’ means human powered vehicle.
A Bangladeshi ricksha/ riska/ ricksha/ rickshaw
A riksha/ riska/ rickshaw making garage or workshop
Long before when rickshaw was first introduced it was a two-wheeled cart, pulled by people. There were two rods attached to the sides of the cart that extend to the front. The driver or puller holds a rod in each hand and pulls the rickshaw. Rickshaws can have one or two riders. Only two people can ride at one time. Mostly men pull the rickshaws through the crowded streets. This type of rickshaws were seen in the beginning in Japan and spread out other south-east Asian countries like China, Singapore, Hongkong, Philippine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India. Still now these types of rickshaws are seen in the roads of Kolkata (Culcutta) in India. In Bangladesh rickshaw differs from its originality. Bangladesh has adopted three wheeled rickshaw. In fact, the Bangladeshi rickshaws we can call bicycle rickshaw or trishaw. But publicly in Bangladesh this bicycle rickshaw is called simply as rickshaw. This vehicle looks like a combination between a rickshaw and a bicycle. Instead of pulling the vehicle, the driver pedals in this vehicle. It has three wheels with one wheel in front of the driver and two wheels on the back side supporting the passengers. It’s a light three wheeled cart comprising a door less, chair like body mounted on springs with a collapsible hood. The hood consists of a frame of four bamboo strips with steel fittings and bollards over which an oil skin cover is stretched. It is made of wood, fabric, metal and plastic. It is handmade by the artists and craftsmen. Although it is a hard job to drive a bicycle rickshaw but much easier and better than the human pulled rickshaw. There is a story that how the two wheeled hand pulled rickshaw transformed to a bicycle rickshaw. This transformation happened not in Japan but in China. An American lady named Miss Betty Gordon of Louisville, Kentucky, was in Peking, China who got this idea. In fact the hand pulled rickshaw was slow and tearful job to pull. She tied a hand pulled rickshaw behind a cycle to get more speed with less wear and tear on the rickshaw puller. The idea went great with the Chinese and they started to shape this combination in a better way. As it was easier to drive like this bicycle rickshaw and offered twice or more the speed than of the hand pulled rickshaw.  This type of rickshaw soon gained popularity in China and then in Singapore. They became popular also in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and throughout Asia. Bicycle had got its modern shape by 1890 and helped to get rickshaw now a day’s shape. It too became easier to handle.
  American lady Miss Betty Gordon of Louisville, Kentucky,
with her invented cycle rickshaw
It is still now controversial that who first invented rickshaw. So far as we know that rickshaw was first introduced in Japan widely at the beginning of Meiji restoration, around in the year 1868. From different sources we get different information about the inventor of rickshaw. Some sources say that an American blacksmith Albert Tolman has invented rickshaw around the year 1848 in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a missionary. Others claim that Jonathan Scobie or Jonathan Goble, an American missionary to Japan, invented rickshaw around 1869 to transport his invalid wife through the streets of Yokohama, Japan. Japanese sources often credit Izumi YYosuke, Suzuki  Tikujiro and Takayama Kosuke, who are said to have invented rickshaw in the year 1868. Starting in 1870, the Tokyo city authority issued a permission to build and sell rickshaws to these three men. The seal of one of these inventors was required on every license to operate a rickshaw. Other sources say that the design of the rickshaw was probably based on a old French painting ‘’Les deux carrosses’’ by Claude Gillot in the year 1707, that showed two rickshaw-like carts in a comical scene. These carts known as vinaigrettes, were used in the streets of Paris in the 18th century. But finally we can say despite of all the theories regarding the invention of rickshaw, it had been developed in Japan by about 1868.
 A old French painting ‘’Les deux carrosses’’ by Claude Gillot 
in the year 1707 seems like a pulled rickshaw
In Indian sub-continent rickshaw first appeared in Simla around the year 1880. 20 years later, rickshaw was then introduced in Kolkata(the then Calcutta). There rickshaws were initially used by the Chinese traders to transport goods. Then later on the year 1914 some Chinese people applied for permission to transport passengers. Before or later rickshaw appeared in many big cities in south east Asia. Rickshaw became very soon a popular mode of transport in this region, because of they were cheaper, faster and easyer than the previously used palanquins(Palki-human carried cart) and horse cart(human labour was considerably cheaper than the use of horses). They were also able to get around narrow streets more easily.
Rickshaw riding in a  rural area of Bangladesh
In a rainy day riska/ riksha/ rickshaw riding
Rickshaw riding even in a flood affected area
So far we know that rickshaw was first seen in Bangladesh in Chittagong in the year 1919. Not from India but from Myanmar(the then Burma) rickshaw reached in Chittagong in Bangladesh. More interestingly, rickshaw did not spread out to Dhaka and other cities of Bangladesh from Chittagong. Rickshaws were seen in the streets of Dhaka around the year 1938. Dhaka got rickshaw from Kolkata(Calcutta). We get different information when rickshaw was first introduced in Dhaka city and other parts of Bangladesh. Some sources say that rickshaw came before Dhaka city in Narayangonj and Netrokona(now it’s a district, before it was a part of Mymensing district). The European jute exporters living in Narayangonj and Netrokona had first imported cyckel rickshas from Kolkata in 1930 for their personal use. From another source we come to know that in the year 1936 or 1937, two people from Mowlovibazar, Dhaka imported two rickshaws for the first time. They imported them from the French Coloney Chandan Nagor in West Bengal. Both were cyckel rickshaws. Each cost 180 rupees that time. According to writer Satten Sen, these two men were the path finder to operate rickshas in Dhaka city. From Rob Gallagher’s book ‘’Rickhsaws of Bangladesh’’ published in 1992 from UPL publication, Dhaka; states that a Bangali zaminder and a Marwari business man imported for the first time six rickshas in the year 1938. Some sources say that the zaminder lived in Sutrapur, Dhaka and Marwari business man lived in Wari, Dhaka. Besides these cyckel rickshas in the beginning of operating in Dhaka, seven two wheel human pulled rickshas were also imported and started to pull in the streets of Dhaka. People were shameful to ride these rickshas and avoided these human pulled rickshas. For the lack of public interest to use these rickshas, gradually they disappeared and bicycle rickshas became popular. Colorful decoration of the rickshas started after 1950’s in Bangladesh. Some sources say that rickshaw licence started to issue in Dhaka in the year 1944 and in Chittagong 1947. Now Dhaka City Corporation(DCC) has the authority to issue new rickshaw licence but they have made it stop not to issue any more rickshaw license since 1987. But the Wheel Tax Section of DCC renew rickshaw license every year. A issued rickshaw license or registration number can be sold to someone. So the rickshaw license gets a new owner and new address. At present Dhaka city’s rickshaw license number -1 (one) holder is Salauddin Mahmud, son of late Mohiuddin Mahmud, 65/2 New Poltan Line, Azimpur, Dhaka. He is also owner of the rickshaw license number 2 and 6. Salauddin Mahmud’s father was a school teacher and had a hobby to collect and be owner of the rickshaw license number from 1 to 10. He parched the number 1 rickshaw license at the cost of 6000 taka (that time it was Pakistani rupee). In Dhaka city that time market price of one Bigha (33 decimal) land was also around 6000 taka. He had 40 rickshaws. But during the liberation war in 1971, Pakistani army set in fire his garage.
Back side of a decorated rickshaw
A rickshaw driver is waiting with his decorated rickshaw for passengers
There are no accurate figures or statics of rickshaws that operates in the streets of Dhaka. I guess around 700,000- 800,000 rickshaws are  operating in Dhaka city now in the year 1012.  I have tried to collect some statics of rickshaw numbers in Dhaka city in different years from different sources. In the year 1941, Dhaka city had only 37 rickshaws and 181 rickshaws in the end of the year 1947. This information we get from historian Nazir Ahamed’s book ’’Dhakar Ittihas’’(History of Dhaka). According to another Dhaka historian Dr. Sharif Uddin Ahamed, there were 4025 rickshaws in the streets of Dhaka in the year 1962. After the liberation war the scenario of Dhaka city started to change very rapidly. The presser of migration from rural areas to Dhaka city also increased rapidly. At the same time increased the number of rickshaws in the city. In an estimate there were around 14000 rickshaws in Dhaka city in 1974. In the year 1982-83 the number of rickshaws became doubled and reached up to 28,703. Thereafter rickshaw numbers in Dhaka city have increased very rapidly. There were 88,000 rickshaws by the end of 1986-87. Obviously this was official legal registered number of rickshaws but according to various government authorities and newspapers journalists the figure could be around 150,000 to 200,000 rickshaws in the roads of Dhaka. In another report we see that in the year 2005 there were 500,000 rickshaws in Dhaka city.      
Rikshas/riskas/rickshaws in a crowded city's road
When rickshaw was first introduced in Bangladesh in 1919s and afterwards still today the rickshaw design has changed almost nothing. They have got their present look by around the 1950’s. Since then, the design, technology and operation of rickshaws in Bangladesh have showed little change. Most rickshaw drivers don’t own their own rickshaws and the owners themselves have very little reason to improve their vehicles because they are already making good profits. Due to the vicious cycle of poverty, the smaller owners, the misteris (those who build or make a rickshaw) and rickshaw drivers who (are directly involved in the system, have the possibility to improve their vehicles but don’t have the ability to do it) may clearly like to improve their vehicles do not have the ability to do it. This reason we cannot set to the country’s engineer and scientists. They just ignore and neglect to develop any advancement of the rickshaws. Due to lack of interests that development should have happened has not happened.
Still now in Bangladesh as a profession of rickshaw driving is considered very low status job. Very a few passengers behave with respect to a rickshaw driver. In bangla people call a rickshaw driver as ‘’ricshawala’’. We don’t think how these rickshaw drivers rolling our rural economy and keeping the environment carbon free in some degrees.
Rickshaw has become a symbol of Bangladesh and especially for its design and arts. And Dhaka capital city of Bangladesh is known as the world’s capital city of rickshaws.  

S:;;;;; Rickshaw and Prejudice by Robert Gallagher, August 1998;

Read also:           Rickshaw and Bangladesh from economic perspective:one for another-why and   how
                                  Rikshaw in Bangladesh


  1. Recharge your Bangladeshi mobile balance from any where in the world. Just follow the link

    Its easy and reliable.

  2. Thanks for the insightful article.
    I live in Europe and own a rickshaw from Bengladesh (never been there) and was very glad to see how they are built and used. And using it to transport people, I appreciate how hard it has to be for those people to bike the whole, sometimes in floodings.
    The pictures illustrating the article are beautiful.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Its really amazing that you have a rickshaw in your home country. You don't have mentioned which country, but really interesting that you use it in Europe. Thanks again for reading my article.

  3. Europeans are proud of the number of trips they make by bicycle, and are attempting to increase those numbers. They understand that bicycles take up very little road space, do not pollute, cost cyclists and the government very little for transport, and are good for health.

    Ironically, while Western Europeans, some of the richest people in the world, are happy to cycle for transport, here in Bangladesh we prioritize motorized modes. We have contempt for the rickshaw, despite the fact that the rickshaw is simply a three-wheeled bicycle, delivering almost all the benefits of the bicycle to those who cannot use one.

    Why the contempt for the rickshaw? One reason is that the rickshaw provides safe, convenient, door-to-door transport, and thus makes life easy for those who do not have a car. Those in the business of selling cars know that the existence of the rickshaw decreases the demand for a car. Why take out a loan to buy a vehicle you can’t afford when you can easily move about without one?

    Judging from Western Europe, there is absolutely nothing outdated or backward about the rickshaw. In fact, the rickshaw, like the bicycle, is at the peak of civilization and modernity, a vehicle appropriate for an age of concern about climate change and environmental issues in general. Just as Europeans—Dutch, Swedes, Danes, Germans, and so on—appreciate the many advantages of their fuel-free travel option, so we too should appreciate and value the rickshaw.

  4. hi, would you have a number (approximate even) of the number of rickshaws operating in the whole of bangladesh. registered or unregistered. Also an unrelated question - would you know if most, if not all, rickshaw drivers own/use mobile phones?

  5. Population of Bangladesh is high.Our roads are always congestion. Rickshaws help air pollution free but this is one of the reasons for traffic jam.

    1. just need to cautious about traffic regulation and dedicated path for them to solve this problem.

  6. Hello. Can someone please tell me the name and number of a store in dhaka that makes and sell riklshaw cycles i would really appreciate it