KOCHI: Nothing can deter him from finding out a way to sustain living during these difficult times when COVID-19 has precipitated am economic crisis. Subeesh Kumar, a native of Elanthikkara, a village in Ernakulam district, was working as a physical education teacher in a private school during the pre-COVID-19 days. But the coronavirus and the following national lockdown have turned his life upside down.
With no salary due to the temporary closure of the school during lockdown, Subeesh and his wife, who is also working as a teacher in the same school, found it tough to sustain their lives . However, the PT teacher was not ready to succumb. He decided to take up fish vending to support his four member family and never bothered about what the society would think of his decision.
“With no other means of income, I was forced to take up fish vending. Since fresh fishes are easily available in my village, I have decided to work as a fish vendor. A shop was taken on rent at Kuthiyathodu, a place near my village, and a temporary stall has been set up three weeks ago. Though the business is yet to pick up I am able to run the family through the business,” he said.
“We are passing through the most uncertain times. No one can predict when the pandemic will end. It was a difficult to decision to turn to a fish vendor from a PT teacher. But it is my responsibility to take care of my family and my family members have supported me,” he added.
COVID-19 cripples job market in Kerala
Reflection of the job loss phenomenon due to global pandemic has been seen across all sectors of society. In Kerala, where foreign remittance, lottery and tourism are the backbone of the economy, thousands of people, especially Gulf expatriates, have become jobless. Signs of job doom are everywhere as many white collar workers have been forced to take up wayside vending to home delivery of food to sustain living.
There is deep distress in all sectors, from IT, tourism to traditional industries like coir and handloom. There has been massive closure of small and medium commercial enterprises.
“I know several traders who had to close down shops as they found it difficult to pay rent and repay bank loans. They knew that the moratorium on loan repayment is not going to help them much. Several textiles, shops selling footwear and bags, sports goods, cosmetics and stationary items downed the shutters due to financial crunch and loss of stock. Stocks of leather products and apparels got damaged during the more than two months lockdown,” said Chenthamarakshan, a shop owner in Market Road, Kochi.
The sudden surge in the number of wayside vendors in busy towns in Kerala clearly indicates the extent of job loss. The temporary vendors are selling everything, from groceries to eatables. Most of the vendors are taxi, auto drivers, stage artists, private bus workers and Gulf returnees, who lost job on account of the pandemic.
The tourism and hospitality sectors have been devastated completely. Now, with the opening of tourism destinations in the state, the entrepreneurs in the sector are hoping for a gradual revival.
“Hundreds of people employed with the tourism and travel enterprises are in distress. While some of the entrepreneurs have resumed functioning with very limited resources, many of them quit the business and diverted to other sectors like farming or food business which are more profitable now. Some prominent travel agencies with 70 to 100 employees have now reopened with 15 or 20 people. An entrepreneur in tourism sector will have to shell out huge amount to bring back the business to normalcy which is not feasible. I think, more entrepreneurs will quit once the moratorium on bank loan ends,” said CP Ajith Kumar of Suburban Travels, Kochi.
The massive exodus of migrant labourers has hit the business enterprises to a big extent. Small scale traders in rural areas operating in rented buildings have downed shutters and those having own space are struggling to tide over the unprecedented crunch.
“Most of my regular customers were migrant workers and I used to sell minimum of 7 to 8 sacks of rice every week. With majority of them left for their states, sales volume has dropped considerably. The domestic daily labourers are spending cautiously due to reduced work. I am able to manage with reduced revenue because I don’t have to pay rent or repay bank loan,” said Balakrishnan M, a grocery store owner in the outskirts of Kochi.