On May 8th, AIF participated in a unique event in New York City, designed to promote awareness of the plight of India’s marginalized rickshaw pullers, and to raise funds to support them. Partnering with photographer Greg Vore; Pamela Bell, a founding partner of the Kate Spade brand; Versatile Studios; and The Garden Party in a reflection of the multi-tiered approach essential to successful development projects, AIF presented the Rickshaw Sangh program at an intimate gathering of New York’s authors, creative directors, photographers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. AIF Board members also attended the social cocktail party, providing insight into how AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh combats the systemic exploitation of rickshaw pullers in India by collectivizing drivers to ultimately own their own vehicles.
The elegant event featured stunning prints from renowned photographer Greg Vore’s Rickshaw Wallah portfolio that illustrated not only different types of artisan-made and historic rickshaws throughout India and South Asia, but also glimpses into the tremendously difficult lives that rickshaw pullers can lead.
“Over the past six years while researching and conducting interviews in Varanasi, Allahabad, Kolkata, and Dhaka, I have photographed over 100 rickshaws and rickshaw pullers. […]
I took many rickshaw rides in Allahabad and spoke with several pullers and was struck by their difficult street life. Some were sleeping under their rickshaws at night warming themselves by burning rags or tire rubber. Some were without shoes or any comforts beyond the clothes on their back. These clothes were often thread bare. To be fair, not all rickshaw pullers live this way. Some stay in dormitories with other transient pullers and some have a home that they share with their family, most who work as well. Many of the rickshaw pullers I met had a strikingly pleasant disposition despite the hardship of their station in life. When asked why he pulled a rickshaw one puller in Kolkata said “it is my duty to pull the rickshaw, so I pull it.” […]
The police tax, fine, physically abuse and sometimes confiscate the rickshaw itself which is impounded until the rickshaw stable owner pays the fine for whatever the offense, real or manufactured. Like taxi drivers in the U.S. , few rickshaw pullers own their own rickshaw. Almost all pullers rent from the license holder who collects a daily rental fee. It is only after this rental fee is paid that the puller can turn a profit. With the constant threat of damage from cars and buses in traffic, abuse from patrons, police and extortion from organized crime, all of which they endure, the rickshaw puller’s life is fragile at best. They are an anachronistic underdog in a society desperately trying to modernize. Empowered by the knowledge of their plight, I felt that to focus on the beauty of the folk art was a positive way to draw attention to and perhaps help them in some way.”
-Greg Vore, rickshawwallah.com
The event brought AIF’s work to the attention of high profile figures in fashion and advertising including Conde Nast, Kate Spade, J. Crew, ESPN, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, and Hearst International, among others. Proceeds from the evening will support both AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh and Moti, a rickshaw puller from Varanasi, India who deeply influenced Greg’s Rickshaw Wallah portfolio. The exhibit is planning to make its way to Delhi in the coming year, with the hope of bringing global attention to the issues faced by rickshaw pullers and support to AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh as we work to systemically improve the system.
Who Would’ve Thought Rickshaws Could Be So Fascinating? This Photographer – Conde Nast Traveler, 5/7/2014
Conde Nast Traveler & The Garden Party Presents: Rickshaw Wallah By Greg Vore – Buzzfeed, 5/12/2014