25, Sep 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
It has been well documented that job opportunities have shrunk due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown and its aftermath. However expenses have continued to swell, especially for medical treatment. And now as Durga Pujo, the biggest festival of Bengalis approaches, the money crunch is being felt the most.
Many middle income and low income families have run out of savings long ago, as a result, people are forced to leave to different cities they had gone to work in and had taken loans. On their return to the village, many are facing a new crisis, as they remain unemployed. It is ironic that there is a lack of joy in many homes even as the most joyous festival of Bengalis approaches. Many who used to look forward to Durga Puja are now without work, and cannot prepare for the festivity and go shopping as before. A direct impact is being felt by street vendors for their shops on the sidewalks were the busiest this season. They do depend on daily earnings to sustain themselves.
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Alok Mal, a trader who sets up shop on the footpath, said that the prolonged national lockdown means people do not have money to spare. So all kinds of trade has taken a big hit and the impact is being felt the most in the festive season. “I used to rent a cart and sell things on the sidewalks of the city, but I can’t afford to rent it anymore. I also used to hawk my wares on the train but when the railways shut down during the lockdown that stopped too. Now I sell shoes and bags on the sidewalk, and also go to the villages to sell things but the people only buy what is essential,” said Mal. “Due to the lockdown, the education of my son and daughter has stopped. I used to travel every day to work in the stone quarry, but the bus-train stops in the lockdown, the fare is not much for him,” said another hawker.
Ansar Ali, a trader, said he used to go to village fairs and sell toys and jewelry, during various festivals and cultural events. But for the last two years, that has been impossible. “We, the small traders, wait for festivals and religious ceremonies so we can earn some extra money, especially at the fairs, but now all our paths are clocked. Durga Puja is approaching and I bought a stock of some small items on loan to sell at the fair, but I’m scared that if the administration bans the fair, I will not be able to trade at all.”
Since there is no easy way out of this crisis, everyone has realised that the onus of trying to stop the spread of Covid-19 lies with themselves. Apart from Covid protocol such as masks, handwash, distancing, there also needs to be an awareness of empathy towards others. Hopefully, the West Bengal government will take effective steps to improve the living standards of people with limited incomes. Steps also need to be taken to create an investment-friendly environment to revive the economy, say the traders. The small traders are praying that this festive season will be better than the last and bring a sign of hope for the days ahead.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.