Ashok Kumar Nayak
This year Durga Puja Pandals in Kolkata are distributing new clothes & ration to the neighborhood poor & needy. The Puja organizers are coming up with many humanitarian efforts for celebrating Durgapuja this year amidst of COVID 19 pandemic. Many puja organizers also depict the recent issue of migrant workers in COIVD 19 through their pandals. The objective of decorating pandals on migrant workers’ theme is to bringing larger attention and sensitivity to fellow citizens.
The major festive season is on in India now, when the whole world is trapped badly by COVID -19 pandemic for the last 7 months from now. Millions of individuals and families have lost their livelihoods and are badly trapped under an abysmal economic crisis. The economic impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in India has been extremely disruptive. In the last quarter, efforts were made to allow people to slowly get into economic activities.
People in informal and unorganized sectors continue to struggle to earn bare minimum and to meet their basic survival need. People are putting the hardest effort to survive and regain their economic life. Many people joined in street vending, as they realized the impracticality to go back to their earlier livelihoods source that they used to practice before the COVID pandemic.
Yesterday morning ie. 23rd October 2020, while I was buying vegetables from my neighborhood Bansdroni market, Kolkata I met Kunti (name changed) 62 years old widow vegetable street vendor, I was curious to know about the revival of their business during this Puja festive. But what she mentioned “yesterday I earned only INR 100 from my vegetable vending for that I spent around 11 hr.
from 5 am to collect the vegetable from our local wholesale market, then come along with fellow vendors to Kolkata (30 Km.), then take a cycle rickshaw to reach to my vending place at Bansdroni Daily Market in Kolkata, sale the vegetable for 7 hr then go back and reached home around 4 pm. This is the normal duration I spent daily for my venture. But the situation continues to be so bad prices of vegetable are abnormally high now and lots of new people are venturing to the vegetable vending, seems increasingly difficult for me to survive”.
Kunti has lost her husband 15 years back, while she was helping hand to her husband. She has one son and one daughter. Son is a casual worker who does not have a definite income, he is having his wife and two children. The income of Kunti is considered as the mainstay for their family. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, there are 10 million street vendors in India. National Hawkers Federation (NHF) claims there are more than 40 million street vendors are in India as per their survey in 2015. According to a recent estimate of NHF, after the nationwide lockdown was imposed in last March 80 percent of the hawkers have lost business.
Kolkata has a population of 4.9 million and it is estimated that about 1.6 million people in West Bengal work as street vendors, while in Kolkata their numbers could be estimated around 3 lakh out of which women vendor is nearly 12.7 percent. The female vendors are largely widows, single women, and women head families. This section is among the most vulnerable socio-economic category in our country. Street vendors continue to maintain a substantial level of income after they work 10 to 12 hours per day and their conditions remain impoverished.
The street vendors, who have been trying to make their living from sales in the street, are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The lockdown period has been very harsh on them because they were the first to lose their livelihoods and became vulnerable to multiple levels of deprivation. These vendors are standing helpless with the increasing trend of online shopping and also mega national retail chains that often attract consumers with the most competitive prices along with so-called festive offers. These vendors do not have any clue about the future of their occupation and foresee a hopeless future. Since the year 2014, India has legislation in place to regulate street vending and protect livelihoods of the street vendor.
The Kolkata Durgapuja organizers have demonstrated social responsiveness. And the same social responsiveness can be expected from all individual families while buying their daily needs. As responsible citizens, we can always be conscious of our purchasing behavior during these festive seasons. One can always think of spending a portion of her/ his shopping from the street vendors. We can make a conscious choice while buying vegetables, fish, other kinds of stuff from women street vendors.
More than 1 million families are living in this city, and all are buying their daily needs. Remember no big Bollywood star is going to prompt us to buy stuff from a women street vendor like Kunti. It is our consciousness and responsiveness. It is just about sensitiveness and solidarity to stand with the most deprived who is struggling to survive with dignity in this pandemic. Lets’ stand together and celebrate with great cheer and satisfaction! As a country we are are 1.3 billion people and have all potential to make a conscious choice for our fellow citizens and extned our synergy to revive our economy.
(Author is a development professional based in Kolkata. Views are Personal)