Mumbai’s iconic horse carriages, known locally as Victorias, will soon cease to be part of the city’s heritage, except in photos and films. Following a court order issued last year, the horse carriages will be phased out this June. Here’s a look at their journey.
A stroll down Marine Drive in South Mumbai is a unique, awe-inspiring experience, as one recalls the cultural significance of the ancient metropolis. For every tourist who comes to the city, an evening in the old part of Mumbai includes a visit to the iconic Gateway of India, watching the sun set at Nariman Point, and hearing the waves beat against the rocks at Marine Drive. And maybe, a ride on the ‘Victoria’, the legendary silver-coloured horse carriages that have been passed down through the generations from the British era, along with the Railways and the SoBo architecture.
These horse carriages, decked up in lights and decorations, are a special sight at night, as they slowly move down the promenade.
They were used as a primary mode of transport in the 19th century before cars and trams. When India became independent, the carriages transformed from a mode of travel to a symbol of leisure.
In the decades after that, they attained the status of being vintage and attracted tourists in hordes.
As with every icon in Mumbai, Bollywood has immortalised the horse carriage in motion picture. Films such as CID (1956) and Victoria No. 23 (1972) capture the essence of Mumbai’s Victoria.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil from CID was shot mostly on a Victoria.
However, this cultural icon is all set to disappear off the streets, following a court order last year banning them.
The order was passed following pressure from PeTA and other animal rights activists, citing cruelty towards animals.
There was a year-long fight put up by animal rights activists, including demonstrations and poster ads all over the city urging people to join the campaign.
A newspaper report that documented a horse collapsing and not being able to stand up for 20 minutes gave the activists a stronger reason to fight against the abuse.
Many Bollywood stars also showed their support for the ban.
Jacqueline Fernandes was the most frequently-seen face in the campaign, while other voices calling for the ban included actors John Abraham, Richa Chaddha, Zeenat Aman, Anushka Sharma, and Hema Malini.
The ban is also aimed at ironing out the traffic problem caused by slow-moving horse carriages in this part of the town.
According to the court ruling, the 130 horse carriages in Mumbai are to be phased out by June this year.
The government also plans to provide rehabilitation to the riders, horses and the owners to compensate for their loss of livelihood.
While residents feel the pain of the horses that are put to work day and night, they also feel that Mumbai will be missing a part of its heritage.
A resident puts the sentiment into words to DNA: “I am extremely happy and support the HC order as the horses are ill-treated and not fed well. However, I do feel that the carriages on a whole will be missed, as they were synonymous to ‘Bombay’ and the Victorian era.”