COVID-19 Second Wave: Narratives from the Ground
Businesses that were fortunate enough to stay afloat during the pandemic, had to make many changes to adapt to the ever changing situation. Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are some of the worst hit businesses during these times. We got some insight into the struggles of a local entrepreneur from Ambujwadi, Malad, on the challenges he has faced to keep his business running through both lockdowns.
Jitendra Saroj has lived in Ambujwadi for 15 years with his wife and three children. Both him and his wife are earning members of the family. Two years ago, Jitendra left his job in an online trading company, and began his own venture, M/s. Delta Rubber Industries. His business supplies mechanical parts, chemicals and various industrial material and equipment on the online marketplace. Before the pandemic, he relied on large, regular orders on the government’s digital marketplace. There were no additional costs associated with this trading. However, last year new charges were levied on these transactions with the government, and Jitendra now has to pay Rs. 5,000–7,000 extra. For someone whose annual income is not even Rs. 5,00,000, he cannot afford these extra charges. Jitendra had to transition from selling to the government to selling material locally. However, the local orders are not of the same amount and not regular. Hence, his income and income security have both significantly dropped. However, Jitendra has tried to stay positive and his family is still making ends meet.
Despite dealing with these business challenges, Jitendra also continued to shoulder the responsibility of being a Mohalla Committee leader during this time. This is a unit of local self-governance, mandated under the country’s 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, which focuses on strengthening participatory governance for change.
Jitendra is an effective spokesperson, well versed at explaining different issues to people. He has been spreading awareness about the vaccine and believes that people who are educated will be willing to take it. He uses the example of the polio vaccine that people are familiar with, to explain the need, the process and the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine and busts myths and lies spread on WhatsApp about its risks. Ration stores in the area have been closed due to lockdown, so he has also helped distribute ration kits. He is also distributing sanitation supplies and promoting cleanliness and hygiene in his community.
Jitendra shared that the first lockdown was much scarier for him than the second. At that time, no one knew anything about the virus and everything was entirely shut, with people too afraid to leave their house. This time, at least they understand the situation, and feel habituated to it in some ways. His children’s education, however, has been adversely affected.
‘बहुत प्रभाव पड़ा है। हम लोग को इतना टाइम नहीं मिलता उन्हें पढ़ाने का, और उनका दिल भी नहीं रहता क्यूंकि कोई बच्चा पढ़ता नहीं है तो वो भी नहीं पढ़ते’
Their education has been affected a lot. We don’t get a lot of time to teach them, and they also don’t feel like studying because no other child is studying right now.
He empathises with his children and understands why they don’t feel excited or motivated to study in this situation. Fortunately his family has not faced any serious health issues recently, and they often use home remedies like inhaling steam and drinking warm water to stay in good health.
From his experiences in helping neighbors and community members, Jitendra shared that one of the most pressing issues is lack of documentation. “ज़्यादातर लोगों के पास डॉक्यूमेंट नहीं है, तो उनको उसका जो मोह है वो भी नहीं मिलता ”, he says. (Most people don’t have documents, so they don’t get the associated benefits). Many people don’t have their Aadhar cards, ration cards and other necessary documents that would help them gain access to government schemes, aid and relief, especially in times of crisis.
This is the fourth story in a series of interviews we are conducting with community members, to bring to light the onground situation during the second wave of COVID-19. You can also catch up on the first three stories here: 1, 2, and 3.
Contributed by Niyoshi Parekh and Amit Gawali