The scene outside Kalyan station is chaotic. An autorickshaw driver, having filled his passenger seats, is trying to squeeze his auto out of the narrow exit, but his path is blocked by a tanga on its return journey from Dudhnaka. The auto-driver hurls abuses at the tangawala (carriage-driver). The tangawala and his pony stand quietly, waiting for better sense to prevail. The auto-driver realises, after some time, that it is he who will have to make way since tangas don’t have a reverse gear.
Over the years, with the rising number of motor vehicles and because tangas take up more road space than autos, it has become ever more difficult for the tangawalas to manoeuvre their vehicles. This is one reason why some of them plan to break with 150-year-old tradition and turn to driving autos on the same route — that is, 2.5 km from Kalyan station to Dudhnaka and back.
No tangawala can say for sure why this is their only route. It’s a rule set down 150 years ago, they say, and they abide by it. Autos also travel to Dudhnaka, but autos charge Rs 30 each for three seats, while tangawalas charge Rs 24 for four seats.
Some 123 tangawalas are believed to have applied for auto permits in Kalyan, 60 km from Mumbai. The local autorickshaw union, the Riksha Chalak Malak Sena (RCMS), is helping them. RCMS has submitted an application to the Road Transport Office (RTO) demanding that permits be issued to tangawalas.
“Tangas are fewer by the day,” says Prakash Pendkar, president of RCMS. He says the rising cost of running a tanga, coupled with pressure from animal rights activists, is constraining tangawalas. “There are tangawalas who lead a hand-to-mouth existence. They face losses as the cost of fodder has risen.”
Pendkar has assured the 123 tangawalas of help in arranging bank loans to buy autos if the permits are given. The Kalyan traffic police is verifying the 123 names given by Deputy RTO Sanjay Dhole. “It’s been about five weeks since I forwarded the application to the traffic police,” says Dhole. “The police will now have to find out if those who have filed for permits are indeed tangawalas.” RTO officials suspect that many of the 123 applicants are not actually tangawalas but others who want auto permits.
Members of the Kalyan Tanga Association (KTA) maintain that only 20-25 of the 114 tangawalas who operate in Kalyan have signed on stamp paper to seek permits.
Even those who have actually signed the affidavit, they say, were manipulated by RCMS into thinking that they would get the permits. “Political leaders have been coming for the last few years and telling us that they will get us permits, but nothing has been done,” says Akram Sheikh, KTA president.
tangawalas who spoke to this reporter say they are in fact satisfied with their income. Rauf Falke, 50, has driven a carriage for 20 years. He earns Rs 500-600 in four to six hours. He keeps Rs 350 for his family every day, and Rs 250 is used to take care of the horse. “I don’t mind doing this till the day I die,” he says. “I’m happy with the way things are. They [RCMS] should stop interfering in our lives.”
At the same time, the tangawalas insist they do not mind winding up, so long as they get something in return for decades of service. “We want the government to give us all 114 permits together. Even if one permit is missing none of us will sell our carriages,” says one tangawala. If not permits, then “give us or our children employment in the railways instead”. A third choice is licenced shops in Kalyan’s main market.
The clamour to end the tanga service started a couple of years ago when actress Hema Malini, on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), wrote to the municipal commissioner to seek a ban on horse carriages in Mumbai. (Horse-drawn carriages have been banned in Paris and London, and PETA has been fairly successful in banning tangas in Pune, Delhi and Kolkata.) “In Sholay,” the actress wrote, “I had a terrific co-star named Dhanno [a horse]. Luckily, this affable character will never know the misery that her cousins, who are forced to pull joy-carts, endure.”
The KTA’s Sheikh, however, says the tangawalas consider their horses “dearer than their life”. In summer, a tangawala will stand his horse in the shade even if it means he himself is under the sun.
A horse is considered ready to pull a carriage when it turns three, and can work up to the age of eight. The tangawalas’ horses are mostly named after Bollywood movies, like Raja Hindustani and Dabangg. Sometimes they are named after one of the tangawala’s “enemies”. When the tangas roll to a final stop in Kalyan, the tangawalas will sell their horses for Rs 20,000-25,000 to buyers from other states.
Someone will have to put their vehicle in reverse gear if there is to be a proper conclusion to this debate.