An electrician by profession, Rajesh Gupta displayed his wares of the day — cabbages, brinjals, onions, ginger and lemon — on his cart in a lane in Sangam Vihar, trying to make the best of his new innings as a vegetable vendor.
In Sangam Vihar, one of the city’s biggest unauthorised colonies and home to a large migrant working-class population, unemployment is currently ubiquitous. “My elder son worked in a shop here but the owner said he can’t pay the staff. My younger son also took out a vegetable cart but because sales are so low, the amount spent on buying the vegetables was getting wasted. So now both of them are looking for work,” said Bipin Gupta, a vegetable vendor at the main market in Sangam Vihar’s G block.
Hearing this, Parvati Rawat — who was haggling with him over the price of coriander — also piped up: “My husband is also without work at home. He worked as a driver for a family for many years, but they asked him to stop coming after the lockdown. My son worked at a counter at a cinema hall and these were the first to close down. Earlier this month, he finally found work in Gurgaon at a company that manufactures masks.”
In this climate of pervasive joblessness, residents are turning to improvisation and adaptation to make ends meet. Rajesh went through the lockdown without any work. However, even after the city began opening up again, he found that he was not being called for work.
“People have no money to spare so they’re only calling when they have extremely urgent work. Before the lockdown, I was earning around Rs 1,000 a day but I found myself barely earning Rs 300 after that. It was just not enough to run the household, so for about a week now I’ve been buying vegetables at Okhla mandi and selling them in the galis. That gets me Rs 200-300 per day, of which the profit is negligible,” he said.
His neighbour Rahmatullah had gone back to his village in Bihar’s Motihari district during the lockdown but returned five days ago, hoping to resume work at the garment manufacturing unit in Okhla which used to employ him before the lockdown. That was not successful. Now, he mans a ramshackle corner pan and tobacco shop that used to be run by his 17-year old son.
“My family is back at our village for now. I used to earn around Rs 14,000 per month at the factory, my older son used to ride an auto, the younger one used to run this shop. So there were multiple people earning for the family. Now it’s just me, and since there’s no other work to be found, I’m just sitting at this shop. Yesterday, I made sales worth Rs 500 — of which the profit is just 10% — which is nothing,” he said.
Many others have not been able to adapt in this manner. “My husband used to sell footwear made here to shops in markets like Greater Kailash and Shahpur Jat. Now, no one in the markets are buying these. The only work that one might get from time to time is construction work at the labour chowk but he doesn’t know how to do that work,” said Arti Devi, another resident of the area.
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