Long before COVID-19 hit the world, masked men pulling rickshaws on the streets of Imphal was a common sight—their faces covered with handwoven khudei (cotton towels). The face covers though were not meant to ward off any virus, but to hide the rickshaw pullers’ identity from their acquaintances and avoid the embarrassment. For, most of them were educated youth who had taken up the menial job after failing to secure a decent means of livelihood.
Indeed, at least 25 per cent of Imphal’s 30,000-odd rickshaw pullers had completed school education, a study by Manipur University’s department of anthropology found a decade ago.
But the khudei wasn’t enough to hide the grim reality of a state where a lack of industrialisation and private enterprises as well as limited job opportunities in the government sector led to a high rate of unemployment — making it an ideal breeding ground for insurgency.
The khudei-covered rickshaw pullers though are no longer omnipresent on the streets of Imphal as several of the youth now work as delivery boys. “The job of a delivery boy is the only decent employment opportunity available since the state has not made much progress in terms of development and industrialisation to create ample employment avenues,” says S Rohan Meitei, a delivery boy with a food delivery aggregator.
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