“I Ended Up Selling My Gold Family Heirloom”: Plight of Street Vendors in Lockdown
15th September 2020
Two weeks after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a global health crisis, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi implemented a nationwide lockdown. With little to none activity, the streets of Vijayanagar, Bangalore were as scary during the day as they were at night. The blazing sun only made the emptiness more profound.
Fatima, a 27-year old local tender coconut vendor, is one of them. Haunted by the kenopsia, on the third day of lockdown, she fled Bangalore with her 53-year old mother back to her village Birur. In doing so, she had to dispose of tender coconuts worth Rs. 8000 as she had no consumers for it.
Thousands of market vendors like Fatima have been devastated by the ongoing pandemic. The Hindustan Times reports that prices have increased threefold since the lockdown, which has led customers to cheaper options like online delivery. Not only has this led to vendors earning little to no money but also increased prices of transport and storage.
When Pushpa—a 32-year old gooseberry and lemon dealer—exhausted her resources, she had exhausted them for good. With sorrow flooding disconsolate features, she described how she had to spend Rs. 150 per day to travel far distances so that she could restock her citrus fruits as her wholesale dealer had shut down.
Pushpa lamented, “Even though I got good quality and quantity of fruits, I paid twice the price as what the dealer was getting from the fruits from farmers from Andhra Pradesh. I ended up selling my gold family heirloom”. The spike in prices has impacted not only her inventory but also her sales. She disclosed, “Sometimes I had to incur losses to sell enough to get by the night”.
Pushpa also shared the plight of her neighbouring fresh-goods cart owners who left Bengaluru to reach their hometowns and villages safely on the onset of the lockdown. “When they came back, they had lost their usual space, and their carts were displaced and replaced by new vendors. It caused a serious fight making me feel insecure,” she disclosed in a fearful tone.
Poornima, who seems to always welcome her customers with an amiable smile, is aged 43 and owns a shop that sells fried chips, mixtures, and pickle. Additionally, she has to support her family and pay the rent for her home and shop. The condiment shop is the primary, and only source of income for her family.
During the lockdown, tragedy struck and Poornima had to declare bankruptcy with a loss of Rs. 30,000. She explained that because of the perishable nature of her goods, she has had to incur losses daily. She attributed this to her customers’ fears and stated that even her regular customers barely stopped at her shop, other than to buy fresh products.
Struggling to pay rent for her shop, Poornima has stated that she has nowhere else to store her condiments. “We don’t have anywhere else to go, so we decided to endure the losses and just keep the shop. We are hoping to pay back the saviours we are indebted to as we recover,” she expressed gravely.
When asked about her own safety during the pandemic, Poornima waved it off and explained that in the face of hunger, fear of the virus did not stand a chance. "Some customers wear masks and some don't even have the courtesy to not touch the items they will not buy. It's not like I have the power to say anything because if I upset them, I will lose sales”.
Despite such dire circumstances, Poornima remains optimistic about financial recovery as she feels the public scenario is inching towards normalcy day by day.
Poornima might be onto something after all. Recently, Firstpost reported that the government announced a stimulus package for street vendors to alleviate their problems. The credit scheme is worth Rs. 5,000 crores, with each vendor being promised Rs. 10,000 as initial funds. Over 50 lakh people, including vendors, hawkers, thelewalas, rehriwala, theliphadwala etc. in different areas/contexts are likely to benefit from this scheme, the press release stated.
(Sources: Interview taken by Manogna Shivaprasad, Firstpost, Hindustan Times)
Edited by Nayana Dhanya