With the start of Ramadan and the suffocating heat showing no sign of ebbing, it has become immensely challenging to carry on with day to day work. Riskhaw pullers, not only have to get out in the heat, but must also carry out manual labour under the sun for a devastatingly long period of time. This week we talk to three riskshaw pullers and ask them questions about fasting and working outside in the heat.
Delwar Hossain has been driving a rikshaw in Dhaka for over 25 years, in and around the Dhanmondi-Mohammadpur area. “25 or 30,” he says, as if five years is a rather insignificant time difference. When you have to live from one day to another and struggle to make ends meet, it becomes important to just be able to live on and everything else fades into oblivion. “I don't fast,” Delwar readily admits. When asked if he thinks fasting would be compulsory for him, he was sure that it wasn't 'faraz' (obligatory) in his case.
Delwar, like all other rikshawalas, had been fighting the scorching heat for the past three weeks. “I drink a lot of water,” he said, as he quickly buttoned up sensing that his photos will be taken. When asked how much, he provides an estimate that clearly resulted from his lack of understanding of the metric system. “25 to 30 litres a day minimum,” said Delwar smilingly. It soon transpired that he thought the 250ml bottles contained a litre.
Delwar has three kids in Chandpur, where he was unsure if he should visit during Ramadan. “I wanted to go, but thought better of it. May be I will go after Eid,” Delwar said. He would like to have iftar with his family but there isn't anything he can do back home to earn money. It would be better if he could just stick around and earn a little bit more for his children.
Shukkur Ali drives his rikshaw in the Gulshan-Banani area. Originally from Sherpur, Shukkur has been driving the rikshaw for a few years now. “It takes four hours to reach Sherpur from here,” he said when asked how long the journey was and how frequently he goes back. Shukkur doesn't get to visit his folks very often. “After long gaps,” said Shukkur Ali, being very unspecific.
Shukkur can't say how much water he drinks each day. However, he doesn't drink only from the tea stalls but brings along his own bottle. “I try to drink as much as I can. I buy two packs of saline and drink with water,” said Shukkur. When asked if this is something other riskhawalas do he said “if they don't they will get ill,” not really answering the question.
“I did fast the first day,” he timidly confessed. But as the sappy humid heat reached an unbearable intensity after two days of moderate temperature, it once again become physically impossible to fast. Shukkur Ali feels the same, as he nodded to fasting not being obligatory for labourers. When asked if he ever asked a qualified religious scholar for an opinion on this, he merely smiled.
“Brother! My 'kolija' will explode from thirst if I fast,” said Ibrahim, who drives his rikshaw on the Badda Link Road. He makes small trips from near the Gulshan 1 intersection to places in middle Badda.
For half a day Ibrahim pays Tk100 to the garage as rent fee. He also pays Tk250 each day as a 'turning the other way' charge to the police, as rikshaws are not officially permitted on that road.
He thinks the system is corrupt and he will accept if he can't drive on that road, but the law has to be implemented equally for everyone.
Ibrahim was a little distraught answering any of the fasting related questions, seemingly from his inability to fast. Even though everyone should fast, Ibrahim thinks, it would not be fair to expect the same of him as a 'building dweller'. “You live in a building, Allah has given you the good fortune. So, you can fast easily,” he said.
When asked if he still has the traditional iftari food he said with a sly smile “You have to have them sometimes.” Ibrahim looked happy at the prospect of eating piyaju and beguni later that day.