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Victoria No 57

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Last updated on: August 14, 2015 11:01 IST
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In our Special Independence Day series, Rediff.com looks at India through the lives of her people.

Today: Kamlesh R Prajapati, a Victoria horse carriage driver, who is anguished about losing his livelihood. The Bombay high court has declared horse drawn carriages illegal and ordered its phasing out by next year.

Don't miss the video featuring him, his Victoria and Rocky, the horse, at the end of the feature!

Kamlesh Prajapati with his horse carriage

IMAGE: Kamlesh, Rocky and Victoria. The horse drawn carriages or Victorias are popular with tourists in Mumbai. Photograph: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

The complete coverageWhat azaadi? We cannot ride horses, so what freedom and what azaadi?

All these PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) people have got a high court order against us (that horse drawn carriages must be withdrawn from Mumbai).

The government must do something to help us. Yeh sarkar toh PETA ki sarkar lagti hai (This government is for PETA).

Go and check the Parel hospital where they (PETA) keep the (rescued) horses. They give them dried grass to eat and see what we feed them with -- chana (gram), carrots, beetroots.

We ride our horses for only five hours -- from 12 noon to 5 pm. In two shifts. Each horseman has two horses. Every Saturday, the horses undergo medical tests. We only use horses that are deemed medically fit.

Victoria rides have been in Mumbai since the days of the British. If the government brings an end to this, what is the point of tourists coming to the Gateway of India?

Earlier, people used to only travel in Victorias. People from all over the world come to experience a Victoria ride. Where will they go now? Neither do we have any alternate source of employment.

Ten people earn their livelihood from one horse alone -- the maalishwallah (the man who gives the horse a massage and scrub down, driver, owner, ghaswallah (the man who feeds the horse) etc.

A horse driven carriage outside the Taj Mahal hotel

IMAGE: About 130 Victorias operate in the city. Photograph: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

My great grandfather used to drive horse carriages. My family was issued a license in 1920. Horses have been our livelihood for generations.

We are from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. My great grandfather used to provide Ayurvedic treatment to horses and that's what brought him to Mumbai. When the license for Victoria rides were issued, he took one.

I make Rs 20,000 a month which is decent.

If you ask me which is the best area in Mumbai to travel by Victoria, it would be Colaba (South Mumbai). It is very clean. There is the backdrop of the Taj Hotel... This is so different from the rest of India.

Today, in India there are only two places where you can see Victoria carriages. Calcutta and Mumbai. No one is asking for its closure in Calcutta, so why in Mumbai?

I have heard that Victorias can even be seen in Ooty. Why are these PETA guys only after us, I don't know?

If the ban becomes effective then it will be a complete ban, na?

There are so many horse races happening at the race course. Nobody bans them. Policewallahs use horses in border areas. Don't they use horses in hilly regions where cars cannot go? Why not ban them there too?

We also use this horse at weddings. If they ban the use of these horses, where will they get horses for the baraat?

Go to the villages and see how badly animals are treated and slaughtered, but they (PETA) won't do that.

This horse is like a family member.

Kamlesh R Prajapati

IMAGE: Kamlesh's great grandfather got a license to ply a Victoria in 1920. Victorias will be phased out by next year. Photograph: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

My day begins early as I get up and give food to Rocky (his horse). Then I do maalish (give Rocky a massage and scrub down). It is my duty. After that I give him jaggery water, carrots, grass and water to drink.

I then bring him here to the Gateway of India where I make him drink water again.

I ride him for only five hours. Rocky can't go on for more than that. He gets tired.

I have made Vidya Balan sit on this horse. Also, Kareena Kapoor, Ajay Devgn and Kajol.

My favourite customers are from Saudi Arabia and Dubai. They love these horses so much that they call from there and ask about them. They also give good tips.

Usually I get around Rs 200 per trip, but they are willing to give more to poor souls like us.

I have absolutely no difficulty in doing this work. I have been doing this since my childhood. It is my heritage.

If you ask me, how far our country has progressed, I would say there are so many changes in India. However, I am worried about my future after the Victoria ban comes into effect. The government must give us some other alternative.

I have done my second year BA, after that I came here to do this job. How many people get jobs after graduation? You need to give a bribe for a good job in the government. For a peon's job, you need to pay Rs 7 lakh (Rs 700,000).

I have absolutely no idea what I will do after this ban comes into effect.

The most dangerous day in my life was on 26/11/2008. The day Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai and the Taj. I was here when the terrorists entered the Taj. We thought some gang war was happening. We came to know only later that it was a terrorist attack.

We could not ply the Victoria for 45 days and I was without work. After seeing so many dead bodies, I could not eat for days.

There are about 130 Victoria carriages in Mumbai. A part of the city's popular culture, Victoria rides are a tourist attraction at the Gateway of India and on Marine Drive.

The Bombay high court observed that Victorias are 'illegal and violative of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,' and directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to completely ban them after a year. The court has directed the state government to come up with a rehabilitation plan for those affected by the ban.

Kamlesh R Prajapati spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com Video: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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