The spread of coronavirus and subsequent lockdown have turned life upside down for many. Express presents a cross-section of Kerala’s workforce that has been hit hard by the crisis
UNABLE TO STITCH UP LIFE
Dharminder Gautam, 23, a tailor from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, peeps uneasily into his pocket every time he makes a frugal purchase. A little below D1,000 is all that he has now. Employed at a tailoring unit near Njandoorkonam in Thiruvananthapuram, Dharminder used to earn D1,000 to D1,200 daily during the school re-opening period. He and his two friends were looking forward to better times — they had been without work lately —when the lockdown came as a bolt from the blue. “We are hopeful that this dark phase will pass. After a few months, schools will reopen. We hope to earn some money to send it home,” said Dharminder said, who has to take care of his aged parents, two sisters and a younger brother.
Name: Dharminder Gautam Profession: Tailor Age: 23 | Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, staying in T’Puram *Daily income: Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200
RATION IS THE ONLY SOLACE’
With three other family members depending on him for survival, the Perumballichira native has not earned a single rupee over the past three weeks. He fears the novel coronavirus outbreak will render him jobless for months. “Even before Covid-19, I used to earn below `500 a day. On some days, just `50. Now work has been suspended totally. I had to mortgage my wife’s gold, which is the only remaining asset, to stock up essentials for the month. The stock is running out and the ration supplied by the government for yellow card holders (BPL) is the only solace,” he said. As of now, his relief is that he doesn’t have any huge financial liability and owns a home.
Name: Sasi Narayanan Profession: Blacksmith Age: 65 Place: Thodupuzha Daily income: Rs 500 Financial status: No income since the start of lockdown
OUT OF FOCUS
Suja Sony, 37, a single mother of two, who runs a studio in Chengannur, does not know what to do if the lockdown were to continue. She is quite worried and tensed. “There have been a lot of cancellations in March-April and it is going to be very difficult to stick on as we have monthly loans and dues to pay. Around eight major weddings got cancelled. Earlier also, the events we used to cover only catered to my expenses, now with no profit this month, I am worried about the rest of the days,” said Suja, whose husband succumbed to cancer last year.
It was after her husband’s demise, Suja was forced to take charge of the studio. “It has been hard since he passed away. He never took me to any of the events to cover them and always wanted me to look after the office work and attend to the customers coming to the studio. But after he left us, we had no option, I had to step into his shoes,” said Suja, whose children are in their teens. A month ago we used to cover over 15 events. But in March there were just three marriages and that too before the lockdown, said Suja.
If not for the Covid pandemic, Sarath Prasad, wouldn’t have been saddled with a debt. A plumber by profession, he used to earn at least I1,000 daily. But instead of earning money, he has already taken a loan of I3,000 and fear he will have to avail himself more of the same if there is no work post lockdown. “Plumbers were in great demand all the time and I was never without work for more than a day or two,” said Sarath, who has ailing parents to look after. “With no money left to buy medicines, my parents have begun rationing their doses”. Name: Sarath Prasad | Profession: Plumber | Age: 30 Place: Kochi | Daily income:E 1,000
An uncertain future stares at Prema, a transgender construction worker, though she lives in a safe environment. The Covid-19 scare has made her life, like that of several LGBTQ members, even more miserable. “Usually, our community faces discrimination when it comes to accommodation. Now, nobody is willing to give us accommodation,” Prema said. She is now staying in a special home provided by the Punarjani Cultural Society and receives kits from the social justice department.Name: Prema | Profession: Construction sector | Age: 39 | Place: Kozhikode | Daily income: E 800
Name: Suja Sony Profession: Wedding photographer Age: 37 Place: Chengannur
Sankara Narayanan has been working as an electrician for over three decades now. After the lockdown kicked in, Narayanan’s family comprising his wife and two children has been hit hard financially. “My wife works as a helper in a nursery, but the lockdown rendered her jobless.
We are already down to our last savings and are hoping that the lockdown will not be further extended,” he said. Now, Sankara Narayanan makes unique ‘Kathirkkula’ from paddy and sells it for a price ranging from I300 to I500. “I began making Kathirkkula as a hobby, but people started asking me to make one for then, Thus I thought about selling it since we have no income now,” he added.
Name: Sankara Narayanan Job: Electrician Age: 54 Place: Cherpu Daily income: Average Rs 750 to 1,000
In troubled waters
The Covid-19 scare has dealt a double blow to Shahar Shamsudeen, who works as a fish vendor at Venjaramoodu market. He had returned from the UAE, where he was working as a driver, earlier this year. Due to the suspension of flights, he could not go back on time and is now unsure of his job there. To tide over his financial difficulties and to meet daily expenses, he began to sell fish - a job he used to do before moving abroad. But the lockdown has crippled his business. “If the situation does not change, then I will be in deep trouble,” he said.
Name: Shahar Shamsudeen Profession: Fish vendor Age: 33 Place: Venjaramoodu Daily income: Rs 1,000-1,500
Mahouts always tread the thin line between life and death as they perform one of the riskiest jobs. But the lockdown has put their very livelihood at stake. “The pandemic has come during the fourmonth window of the festival season when we make up for the losses of the remaining eight months. Unlike other jobs we cannot switch jobs. We have to tend to the elephants everyday,” said K.T. Sasi, mahout of the celebrated Mangalamkunnu Ayyappan. “My house is at Thenkara, around 30 kms from Mangalamkunnu, where the elephants are tethered. During the festival season, there will be three mahouts who jointly get Rs 3,500. Of this, I will get Rs 1,500,” he said. “How can we demand money from the owner when he is battling financial problems. We cannot stay in Mangalamkunnu as there are no hotels. Therefore, two of us come daily on motorbike. From June, the elephant will be in musth. My five-member family and my elder sister are dependent on me,” said Sasi.
Name: K T Sasi Profession: Mahout Age: 45 Place: Palakkad Daily income: Rs 250
In a mould of their own
Bheraram belongs to the second generation of a Rajasthani family living beside the NH-66 at Pookad in Kozhikode. There are now 50 Rajasthanis, including women and children, and it is the revenue got from selling sculptures of Gods made using plaster of Paris which sustains them. “February -May is our peak season owing to the temple festivals. Each one of us earns at least Rs10,000 during the season. The lockdown has inflicted a terrible blow,” rues Bheraram. “Pookad grama panchayat supplies us kits containing essential commodities which enables us to satisfy our hunger pangs. We have very little money remaining with us now. As for tomorrow, we haven’t the faintest idea,” says the Rajasthani youth.
Name: Bheraram Age: 24 Native of Rajasthan, Staying in Kozhikode Profession: Sculptor Daily income: Rs 700
Lockdown days are hell
The lockdown days are hell for T D Varghese of Udaya Colony in Kochi. Instead of I950, he used to earn to keep his family fed and clothed, Varghese, a mason by profession, stares at penury these days. According to him, things won’t change for at least some time even after lockdown is lifted. “It will take a long time for everything to get back to normal and the construction sector to get back on its feet,” said Varghese. I have no idea as to how I will manage, he added. Varghese is the sole breadwinner of his family comprising wife, daughter and her three kids and a son.
Name: T D Varghese Profession: Mason Age: 55 Place: Kochi Daily income: Rs 950
Krishnankutty C from Kavalappara in Malappuram is a daily wager who takes up painting jobs for a living. Since the lockdown, like several tribals in the area, he has been rendered jobless “My family consists of my wife and myself. Though we get a few offers, we are unable to travel to the work sites. Earlier, I used to earn J800 daily. I urgently need some work,” he said. Krishnankutty and his wife
Vimisha, who had survived the deadly landslide which had ravaged Kavalappara in 2019, are also worried about the life after lockdown. “Now, we are in a rehabilitation camp in Kavalappara. If the lockdown extends, our rehabilitation will also be delayed,” he said.
Name: Krishnankutty C Profession: Painter Age: 28 Place: Kavalappara in Malappuram Daily income: Rs 800
With his mobile ironing cart laden with clothes, pleasantfaced Vel Murugan is a familiar sight in Kovalam, home to the idyllic sun-kissed beach. Now, he is forced to sit idle at his rented house with his brother and teenaged son. “On an average, I used to earn Rs 500- 1,000. But for the past 15 days I haven’t had any work,” says Murugan, whose is his family’s sole breadwinner. Originally from Theni in Tamil Nadu, he came to Vizhinjam in 1995 when he was barely 15. In 1999, he bought a mobile ironing cart. “I wanted to work independently.” he said. He’s hopeful the restrictions will be lifted once the lockdown period gets over. “Then I can start working. If not, I’ll go to the houses, collect clothes and deliver them back. The other option is to return home,” he adds.
Name: Vel Murugan Profession: Presser Age: 40 Location: Kovalam Daily income: Rs 500-Rs 1,000
STARING AT AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
H aving been a cab driver for the past 12 years, he is associated with a taxi service firm in Kochi. The sole earner for his family comprising wife and an eight-year-old daughter, his life is in shambles. The family now depends on essentials supplied through the ration shop. “I don’t know what to do. I am staying in a rented house. I had some savings but used it to settle the debt incurred for treating my mother who died of cancer. I also had to spend a lot on my father’s treatment as he died after a prolonged illness. I don’t have any money left with me
Name: Ratheesh K G Profession: Cab driver Age: 44 Location: North Paravoor Daily income: Around Rs 600
Nirmala Dasan, 58, and her son Sebastian, 38, are among the very many daily wage workers in dire straits following the lockdown. She has been working as a peeling worker at Neendakara and her son is a fisherman. As her husband is a heart patient, the six-member family depended on Nirmala and
Sebastian. “We are without work now. Though we are given free ration, I am not able to feed my
grandchildren snacks or fish,” said Nirmala, adding, “Our agony will not end with the lockdown since there is the trawling ban to follow”.
Name: Nirmala Dasan Profession: Fish peeling Age: 58 Place: Kollam Daily income: Rs 500-1,000
Aigen J C, from Neyyattinkara, is at the receiving end since the lockdown kicked in. Since his parents expired long ago, the money from his daily work was only his source of income. “I used to get at least I1,000. I am able to eat as there is free ration. But I cannot live like this for ever. We can start work
only once the electrical appliances shops are opened,” he said.
Name: Aigen J C Profession: Electrician Age: 30 Place: Neyyattinkara Daily income: Rs 1,000
K N Vellankari, a tribal youth from Choriyanur in Sholayur panchayat of Attappadi, works in the construction sector and the lockdown has robbed him of his income. “ I used to earn I800 to I900
daily. There was a group of tribal youths who also work with me as helpers. All of us are now in dire straits. I have six persons to support,” he says. “We are given free rice from ration shops but we have other expenses also, Vellankari adds.
Name: K N Vellankari | Profession: Mason | Age: 38 | Place: Palakkad | Daily income: Rs800 to Rs 900
IN A TRANCE
An uncertain future stares at Prema, a transgender construction worker, though she lives in a safe environment. The Covid-19 scare has made her life, like that of several LGBTQ members, even more miserable. “Usually, our community faces discrimination when it comes to accommodation. Now, nobody is willing to give us accommodation,” Prema said. She is now staying in a special home provided by the Punarjani Cultural Society and receives kits from the social justice department.
Name: Prema | Profession: Construction sector | Age: 39 | Place: Kozhikode | Daily income: Rs 800
PLUMBING THE DEPTHS
If not for the Covid pandemic, Sarath Prasad, wouldn’t have been saddled with a debt. A plumber by
profession, he used to earn at least I1,000 daily. But instead of earning money, he has already taken a loan of I3,000 and fear he will have to avail himself more of the same if there is no work post lockdown.“Plumbers were in great demand all the time and I was never without work for more than a day or two,” said Sarath, who has ailing parents to look after. “With no money left to buy medicines, my parents have begun rationing their doses”.
Name: Sarath Prasad | Profession: Plumber | Age: 30 Place: Kochi | Daily income:Rs 1,000
Raveendran from Puthalam is now struggling to make ends meet in the wake of lockdown. He has to provide for his five-member family. Though his wife Omana used to make pappads, that income has
stopped. “I usually have to find work every day if it is not a work day under MGNREGS,” he said.
Raveendran has collected the month’s ration and pension. “The pension amount was good enough to get food and medicines. Now, to meet the daily needs I pick coconuts from other properties after taking the
owners’ permission. Then I sell them in the market,” he said.
Name: Raveendran R Profession: Daily wage worker Age: 65 Place: Puthalam in Thiruvananthapuram
Income: Rs 250 per day
CONTRIBUTIONS BY Ajay Kanth, Sovi Vidyadharan, Amiya Meethal, A Satish, Anu Kuruvilla, Shan A S, Krishnachand K, Gopika Varrier, Lesly Joseph, Vishnuprasad K P, Gautham S, Nejma Sulaiman, Anuja Susan Varghese, Sindu Choodan, Gopika I S