Dubai: Meet the Deira cart-pullers who toil day and night to keep businesses alive

Some of the expat logistical force have been in the UAE since the early 1970s

By SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photo by Shihab - KT
Photo by Shihab - KT

Published: Sat 27 Nov 2021, 10:50 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Feb 2023, 4:45 PM

The business hub of Dubai, Deira have people from many walks of life. The logistical force goes unnoticed and toils from morning until evening. They are the driving force behind the businesses in Deira- they are the cart-pullers.

As the clock strikes 8, decked in kurta pyjama (an outfit of Indian subcontinent) sipping chai, thousands of cart-pullers are seen waiting to be hired on the streets of Deira markets. Some recently joined this business, while others have been in the profession since the early 1970s.

Usually hailing from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the cart-pullers are either freelancers or hired on work for local businesses,

Photo by Shihab - KT
Photo by Shihab - KT

One among thousands of cart-pullers is Abdul Khaliq, a Pakistani expat from Azad Kashmir who came to Dubai in the mid-1980s.

"I came here when I was just 15 years old," Abdul Khaliq says. He recalls it was difficult to obtain a Dubai visa, but he was lucky enough to get Umm al Quwain's visa.

"I paid about 1,500 Pakistani rupees for a ticket to Dubai," he added.

Khaliq's father was working at a local store in the city as a cart-puller and brought Khaliq to Dubai for education.

"I wasn't interested to study," he jokingly recalled.

He started to work as an assistant to various professions. As he learned how to move goods from one place to another, he hired a cart to operate in Naif and Murshid bazaar.

"I was 23, when I hired a cart for myself. There were very few cart-pullers back then. And shop owners and buyers hunted for us to get their work done. We never had time to relax."

He also mentioned that the people who hired them was happy to pay the requested amount.

Back then, the small Deira market was in its initial stages of catering to several countries in Asia and Africa.

"The only market here was the Gold souk and Murshid bazaar," Khaliq added. "As the market grew, cart pullers also grew in number."

Khaliq said that the market where he currently operates used to be a barren sandlot with a few one-storey villas. "It was very difficult to pull cart here on soil and sand, and the carts were huge, made of wood."

Photo by Shihab - KT
Photo by Shihab - KT

Another old cart-puller says that the place they operate now used to be the ground where they got their daily dose of sports and exercise.

"You see that Al Ras metro station? It was the playground, and we played cricket and traditional games there," said Ahmed Khwaja, an Afghani cart puller who came to Dubai in the early 1980s.

Over 100 porters and cart-pullers operate in every lane of the Deira market, earning between Dh20 and Dh100 Dhs a day.

"We start our day by trusting the Almighty and everyone here goes home by earning something," said Mujeeb Rahman, a Bangladeshi cart puller who has been in the business for about 20 years now.

Photo by Shihab - KT
Photo by Shihab - KT

"Our earnings depend on the weight of goods we move and the distance covered. We earn around Dh5 to Dh25 depending on the distance and the load," added Rahman.

This logistics force believes that Dubai's development has not only given them their daily bread and butter but hope for survival.

"We are very happy staying in Dubai, and the country takes care of us like it's our home. We all pray the best for this place and the rulers," says Ahmed Mishal, a Syrian cart-puller. After losing his home and business in the war-torn country, he is now toiling to support his family back in Syria.

Mishal said that he is quite satisfied with his work, saying it helped him start a small business in his home country.

"Complaining on what has happened to you should not be an option. Almighty provides to every single human on this earth, and I am grabbing whatever I get from Him. Maybe this is the start after the end for me, and I am happy that I am able to provide for my family,"

The cart-pullers in the Deira market believe that they are over 20,000 in numbers who move goods. They call themselves as one of the driving forces behind Deira's business.

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