While thousands of motorized three-wheeled autorickshaws ply roads in New Delhi, foreign diplomats have taken to the streets with their autorickshaws to commute in and around the capital city. Autorickshaw taxis, also known as tuk-tuks, are ubiquitous on Indian roads and in other countries. The mode of transit is popular for short-distance travel as they are cheaper and easily accessible.
Ann Mason is one of the four foreign female diplomats in New Delhi that has shunned luxurious and opulent vehicles and turned to the poor man’s three-wheeled auto rickshaw to commute.
In addition to the vehicle registration of diplomats nailed to their rickshaws, fire extinguishers and official flags wave as the female diplomats drive in the capital.
Mason said she used different vehicles during earlier stints as an official. She would always look and see the auto rickshaws going by and "always wanted to be in the autorickshaw."
"So when I got to India and had the opportunity to buy one, I took it immediately," Mason told Asian News International agency.
Likewise, Ruth Holmberg, Jennifer Bywaters, and Shareen Kitterman are using the three-wheelers for day-to-day transport, including official trips.
Holmberg said that driving the wheeler is linked to part of diplomacy.
"Diplomacy is not all that high level and formal. Diplomacy is people meeting people, people getting to know each other, getting a chance to build relationships and that's what I can do with the auto," she said. People "come up and introduce themselves and with that, I can build that one-on-one relationship, and I think that is a very important part of diplomacy."
India, which has a large auto rickshaw manufacturing industry, is increasingly going electric.
Political experts see the move by diplomats as a way to send a message.
"The novel ways of driving auto rickshaws by four US diplomats, all women, have rightly created a buzz in Delhi's social media circle, " New Delhi-based political commentator Niranjan Sahoo told Anadolu Agency.
"Leaving their comfort air conditioner and embracing vehicles that are meant for common travelers is to send a message for others who work in their cushy offices cut off from the real world."
He said not long ago, autorickshaws were popularized by anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal from the Aam Aadmi Party. Kejriwal is now Chief Minister of the government in the national capital and heads the party.
"When he stormed to become a chief minister by defeating three-time Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in 2013, he rode an auto to his office. For many months, his ministers used autos to visit offices," said Sahoo.
The Americans are not the first diplomats to use the autorickshaw in India.
Several years ago, former Mexican Ambassador Melba Pria was in the headlines after she made the autorickshaw her official vehicle.
Pria said the vehicle causes less pollution and beats traffic on busy Delhi roads.
Air pollution is a persistent problem in New Delhi and the city is often ranked as the most polluted capital in the world. Several studies have pointed out that air pollution in India has contributed to a large number of deaths. The State of Global Air 2019 found that pollution contributed to more than 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.
Environmental experts said the three-wheelers in the capital help with mobility.
"Most of the auto rickshaws are CNG (Compressed natural gas) which is cleaner than petrol and diesel auto. So it helps in cutting pollution. The idea of these diplomats is good," environmentalist Ravindra Khaiwal told Anadolu Agency. "Moreover, it helps in faster mobility and will also inspire women drivers as well."