Advocate for India's rickshaw workers is known as 'the Lioness'

Sr. Celine Arikkat, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, hands over a rickshaw to a migrant earlier this year. Arikkat has organized three-wheel-cycle-cab drivers in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi. (Rita Joseph)

New Delhi, India — An unusual commotion outside her school in 2005 brought Sr. Celine Arikkat out of her principal's office. What the Franciscan Clarist Congregation nun saw appalled her. Some people were thrashing a cycle-rickshaw taxi driver while a crowd, including the man's friends, watched. No one dared to intervene or help the profusely bleeding man, whose only fault was to ask for his fare.

The Catholic nun decided then and there to do something for the hapless people, mostly Hindus and a few Muslims, who operate cycle rickshaws known in the West as pedicabs.

Twelve years later, taxi drivers ply their trade with dignity and civility in the same area — Noida, a satellite town of India's capital, New Delhi. Now none, not even police officers, dares to harass or refuse them a fare.

Indian Mission Society Fr. Joson Tharakan John, who has worked with Arikkat among the rickshaw pullers for the last 10 years, says others now try to replicate her "very impressive" work.

Arikkat, who is now 73, recalls how it all started with that commotion in front of Assisi Convent School, which is managed by her congregation in Noida.

"I wanted to empower them, form a union, as individually they could not fight for their rights," she said. But it was not easy to bring them together because they came from different Indian states and backgrounds.

Advocate for India's rickshaw workers is known as 'the Lioness'

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