• Calcutta;
  • cultural politics;
  • informal economy;
  • Kolkata;
  • place making;
  • rickshaws


For more than a century, hand-pulled rickshaws have been a prominent part of Calcutta's cityscape. Under the veil of modernization, progress, and globalization, however, the government of West Bengal State declared that rickshaws cause traffic congestion and constitute an exploitative use of human labor. Yet, despite the government-imposed ban, rickshaws continue to ply the streets of central Calcutta. Based on interviews with rickshaw owners, operators, public officials, and local residents, we examine the cultural politics surrounding rickshaw pulling in Calcutta. This article shows that the rickshaw wallahs (pullers), who operate as part of the informal economy, provide an expansive range of services not limited to transportation. Indeed, the rickshaw wallahs form an integral part of Calcutta's social fabric, having made a place for themselves by facilitating social interaction and challenging hegemonic ideas and practices about who belongs where.