Hit by pandemic, broken by poverty

For a living:  Hussain Ali, who worked at a firm in Haryana, started selling dairy products on a pushcart after losing his job in 2020.

For a living: Hussain Ali, who worked at a firm in Haryana, started selling dairy products on a pushcart after losing his job in 2020.

The recent death of a Zomato delivery executive, Salil Tripathi, in an accident has initiated a dialogue on how the middle class is impacted by the pandemic.

Tripathi was a restaurant manager who was forced to become a delivery executive after he lost his job to the pandemic.

Like him, Hussain Ali, who worked in a private company manufacturing orthopaedic equipment in Haryana, lost his job when the lockdown was imposed in 2020. There was a sudden sense of insecurity and unimaginable worry about the future, said the 46-year-old. What to do next, how to earn a living, became his daily diet of unanswered questions.

A relative suggested he buy a pushcart and sell dairy products. Mr. Ali did not think twice because feeding his children was his topmost priority. In these last few months, he has managed to make ends meet by selling cheese, peas, soya chaap and khoya .

Scores of middle class people like Mr. Ali and Tripathi lost their jobs due to the pandemic and were pushed towards poverty. It forced many to adjust to lower living standards.

Mr. Ali used to earn ₹20,000 a month to feed his family, which included his wife and five sons aged between 5 and 18 years. “When the lockdown was announced, we stopped going to work. Three months later, I received a call from the office asking me to look for a new job. I had worked at this place for eight years and I did not see this coming,” he said.

He tried looking for jobs but could did not find a suitable one due to the pandemic. “I had worked in a firm in Seelampur for 18 years before I joined the company in Haryana. When I returned to Seelampur for a job, the money offered was half the salary I was earning,” Mr. Ali said, adding that “it was then I took my relative’s advice as he was also selling dairy products”.

‘Can’t pay school fee’

Three of Mr. Ali’s sons – studying in classes XII, VII and V – used to attend a private school but he had to take two of them out and admit them to a government school. He said the private school fee was beyond his reach. His son studying in Class V got selected under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and continues to attend the private school. His eldest son,18, is pursuing chartered accountancy.

The sole breadwinner of the family, Mr. Ali leaves his home in north-east Delhi’s Bhagirathi Vihar at 8 a.m. every day, pushing his cart across Ganga Vihar, Yamuna Vihar, Noor-e-Ilahi, Subhash Mohalla and Ghonda before returning home in the evening. “I have lost 10 kg in these few months,” he said.

Rampal Rawat, 48, is living through a similar experience. A resident of Dwarka and a native of Uttarakhand’s Pauri, Mr. Rawat was working at Delhi Golf Club till he received a message on his phone on May 23, 2020, that his full and final payment was ready and his services were no longer required. Over 60 employees of the food and beverages department were laid off during the pandemic.

“I was a permanent employee of the club for 29 years and this is the treatment meted out to me. I was shocked when I received the message because we were not informed that something like this was going to happen. No notice was given,” he said, adding that talks with the management were ongoing and the team had even offered to continue at half the salary. The club has been closed since the lockdown was announced and employees have not been going since.

Mr. Rawat, who used to earn over ₹60,000 a month, wasn’t able to get a job and has now set up a small restaurant in Pauri on rent. He said he used up all his savings in the last 19 months when he was without a job.

“My daughter is in Class XI and my son has just completed higher secondary. He wanted to make a career in cricket and was earlier training for it. When I lost my job, he quit everything and is now pursuing graduation from Delhi University. The future of my kids is now looking dark,” he rued.

According to a study by Pew Research Centre, the middle class in India has shrunk by 32 million (earning between ₹750 to ₹1,400 a day) and the number of poor (earning ₹150 or less a day) has increased by 75 million.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 2:27:40 pm |