Desi autos a hero in Iraqis’ fight for rights – Times of India

BAGHDAD: For about two months now, ordinary Iraqis have been protesting against corruption, repression and poverty. Every day, thousands pour into Tahrir Square, the centre of Baghdad, to be beaten, tear-gassed and shot. An AP report describes it as “the largest grassroots protest movement in Iraq’s modern history”, but its symbol and ‘hero’ is the humble autorickshaw, made in India.
For most of its five years in Iraq, the Bajaj ‘RE’ — called ‘tuk-tuk’ on the street — was reviled as a poor man’s taxi, but now, German newspaper Spiegel reports: the taxis for the poor have transformed into the ‘knights of the revolution’.
Walls around Tahrir Square even have graffiti showing a winged tuk-tuk. Hussam Alrassam’s song ‘Abu Altoktok’ has clocked over 60 lakh views and 2.4 lakh likes on YouTube in less than a month. The international press is already calling it the ‘Tuk-Tuk Movement’, and it’s likely that history will remember it that way.
The tuk tuk earned people’s respect when it became central to the movement. Three-wheelers squeeze in — four abreast sometimes — where no car or ambulance would, and when police open fire, they get out nimbly.
“They bring injured people from the front lines to the field hospitals in the rear, and then they return with water and concrete blocks for the barricades,” says the Spiegel report. Also, “food, water, first aid, masks, helmets and anti-tear gas goggles,” says a report in Vice.
People’s attitude towards auto drivers has also changed because they have been serving the cause for free. Some have been shot, their vehicles have been badly damaged, but they have not deserted. Vice quotes Wafaa, a 22-year-old woman protester: “I apologise (to the drivers) for every bad word or look…I regret constantly criticising them, but I’ve made it up to them by sending specially-prepared meals for them to Tahrir Square twice a week.”
In honour of the autos, the movement’s field newspaper is also called Tuk Tuk. A team of six volunteers publishes the 8-page newspaper from Tahrir Square every alternate day. It has a circulation of 3,000 and the editors plan to make it a daily, says the AP report. They started it after the Iraqi government shut down the internet following the first wave of protests in October. “We knew it would happen again, there needed to be something to keep everyone informed,” one of the editors told AP.


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