While there are conflicting accounts of exactly when ‘runners’ were first used for the delivery of post in the country, it is believed that their origin dates back to at least the Mughal period, if not earlier. The earliest runners were used to gather intelligence for rulers; later, they were used to convey messages and also began to be used by merchants for trade-related work. Gradually, runners also were used to carry private mail.
It was during British rule that the ‘dawk’ system formalised the designation of ‘runner’ and paid these men according to the distance travelled and the weight of the letters carried. The relay system was also introduced at this time—a runner would run a stipulated number of miles, and hand over his mailbag to a waiting runner at a designated time and place.