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Friday, June 05, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown: Barbers live on razor’s edge, see livelihood shaved off

It might be true that hair salons will see long queues when the lockdown ends. But, at the moment, vulnerability is all that looms on the lives of innumerable barbers that groom the country of 1.3 billion.

Written by Naman Shah | Updated: May 23, 2020 11:07:51 am
coronavirus news, barbers in india, covid-19 outbreak, india lockdown, india news, indian express Covid-19 outbreak calls for physical and social distancing, which is unthinkable for barbers. If salons get exemption in the lockdown, they may spread the virus. (Express photo)

“Govt should add barbers in essential service list, otherwise after quarantine there will be umer abdullah in every house,” read a joke tweeted by former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. Though the joke was shared on a lighter note, the situation remains grim for barbers in the country.

The stalemate effected by the coronavirus lockdown does not apply on the growth of human hair. But for innumerable barbers that groom the country of 1.3 billion, the lockdown has pushed them to a razor’s edge.

“Things have become very difficult ever since I shut my salon on March 22,” said Shailendra, a barber from UP’s Jhansi, who made Rs 500 from his two-seat salon. “Sometimes people call me home for grooming, that helps me earn Rs 100-200,” he adds. Follow Coronavirus India LIVE Updates

But going to clients’ home means violating the lockdown. “A few barbers tried to go homes of their clients in Kolhapur, but they were booked under Section 188 of IPC (violation of lockdown guidelines),” said Dattatreya Anarase, chairman of Maharashtra Nabhik Mahamandal, an association of barbers in Maharashtra.

Covid-19 outbreak calls for physical and social distancing, which is unthinkable for barbers. If salons get exemption in the lockdown, they may spread the virus.

“A customer sits for 30-60 minutes. And we can’t tell if he is sick or not,” said M. Laxman, vice president of the Nayee Brahman community. It is barbers from the community that tonsure heads of pilgrims in the shrine of Tirupati Balaji. “There are 10,000 salons of Nayee Brahmins in Hyderabad and I am afraid how barbers from our community will make their ends meet with no income,” added Laxman.

Savings lost, now borrowing money

Another Nayee Brahman barber, Nagaraj, said, “After these many days without income, I borrowed money from my neighbour.” He runs a four-seat salon with his brother in Hyderabad’s old city. The brothers made about Rs 2000 a day. “We, now, rely on government’s subsidised ration.”

“We made about Rs 3000 daily from our salon in Noida, but the extended lockdown has exhausted my savings and now I have borrowed money from friends,” said Irfan, who ran a salon, along with his father and two other relatives.

Wedding season wasted

Barbers usually looked forward to the marriage season. But they couldn’t exploit it this time. “Wedding season brought extra money, but it isn’t happening this year,” added Irfan.

Ashok Sen, who runs a three-seat salon in MP’s Sagar, said, “Sundays and weddings brought good money. We made anything between Rs 300 and Rs 1000.” Sen ran the salon with his niece. “Now government ration is how we fill our stomachs.”

Same sad story, from rural areas to metros

“Barbers in rural area earns about Rs 200-300 daily. In Talukas, they earn about Rs 500-600. And barbers of metro cities make around Rs 1000-1500,” according to Maharashtra Nabhik Mahamandal’s Anarase.

“There are roughly 5 lakh salons in Maharashtra and they employ about 20 lakh barbers. Most of the barbers earn 50 per cent commission on their service and the owner pays the fixed expenses of rent, electricity etc,” he added. “But the lockdown has made it difficult to manage those expenses, since there is no income.”

Woes of migrant barbers

Abdul Wahib, 29, owns two salons in Hyderabad. He employs eight barbers from UP’s Moradabad. “Three of my barbers left before the lockdown, so I am taking care of the remaining five. For years, they have worked for me, so they are like family. Their parents also trust me. I won’t be able to provide them with salary because business is dead. And they understand it.”

“Big cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nasik have a huge number of barbers who have come from north Indian states,” said Anarase. “My salon employs five migrant barbers. I am obliging to government advisory and providing them with food, shelter and salary, despite zero income.” However, this can’t continue for long.

“We can resume out work but we will have to be extra hygienic and would have to incur more investment in sanitisation, masks, gloves etc,” he adds. “Resuming salons or not, but we need government aid. We have written to finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackerey and Sharad Pawar for help.”

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