I own a rickshaw and earn with dignity

Pavel, beneficiary of AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh program, sells saris from a rickshaw in the neighboring village of Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh. Photograph by Prashant Panjiar

The rickshaw business helps me to support my Family and pay my school fees,” says Pavel Kumar.

Eighteen-year-old PAVEL is a busy young man. In the mornings he attends classes at the R.M.P. Inter College in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. In the afternoons he is transformed into a small businessman, selling saris from a rickshaw in the neighboring villages of Sitapur.

Neelam Devi, Pavel’s mother is the brain behind the business idea. She buys the saris at wholesale prices from the nearby town of Biswan. “We sell saris in remote rural areas, where women do not have access to a sari store,” she says. Each sari sells for Rs 250, which earns them a small profit, but is a huge support for the family.

Once, the family depended entirely on the daily wage of Pavel’s father, Swaminath Kumar, who works as a motor mechanic earning Rs 300 a day. They could barely meet their basic needs, so education for the three sons was out of question.

Swaminath and Neelam Devi felt helpless in the face of high rates of illiteracy and unemployment in their area. Sitapur has an average literacy rate of 61%, way behind the national average of 74.04%. With a female literacy at 50%, women were further subjected to socio-economic inequality and gender bias.

Swaminath and Neelam Devi learned about the AIF program of rickshaw collectives in their community. The Rickshaw Sangh program secures an identity for individual rickshaw drivers through key social benefits – an identity card, driver’s license, permit and a uniform. Drivers are mobilized into collectives and linked to credit facilities in the formal financial sector. Rickshaw collectives take joint responsibility for a group of loans, guaranteed by AIF, repaying them in weekly repayments, over a period of one year. And, most important, they own the rickshaws.

“Our lives have been transformed. I have never owned anything. Now I jointly own a rickshaw with my son,” says Neelam Devi.

With joint ownership, the Rickshaw Sangh provides women an equal chance to launch their own micro-enterprise. It has empowered Neelam Devi to overcome gender-based roles that earlier defined and controlled her life.She enjoys her new identity of being a small business woman.

Rickshaw Sangh creates a sense of security and economic freedom among the joint borrowers of the vehicle. After paying the installments on the loan, Pavel pays his and his brothers school fees.

“I own the rickshaw, have the freedom to focus on my studies, and earn with dignity,” says Pavel.

In the spirit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through Rickshaw Sangh, AIF creates economic freedom and sustainable livelihoods (SDG 8, 10), and ensures a dignified profession, while promoting gender equality (SDG 5).

As Director of Communications and Advocacy, Rowena Kay Mascarenhas holds the global responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of AIF’s marketing, communications, and advocacy strategies across the Head Office, Country Office and Regional Offices.

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