Kolkata is the last city on earth to use enormous Chinese-style rickshaws pulled by men on foot. The rickshaws were introduced in the 19th century by Chinese traders and the British made it a legal form of transportation in 1919. Kolkata has about 6,000 licensed rickshaw operators, but at least as many operate without licenses. The Communist government of West Bengal—concerned about its image as it positions Kolkata as a technology hub—placed a ban on the human-powered vehicles in late 2006. Government officials called the hand-pulled rickshaws "barbaric" and "inhuman" and vowed not to renew operators' licenses. But the rickshaw-puller union is fighting the move and remains skeptical of the government's offer to retrain pullers to be parking lot attendants. Many pullers say they would never want to use cycle-rickshaw wallahs, who use bicycles to transport their passengers. If you ever get the chance to pull a rickshaw, you will be surprised at how difficult it is, even when the rickshaw is empty.
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