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Covid-19 and the Informal Sector: The Case of Idol Makers and Sellers

Workers belonging to the informal sector faces a bleak future as coronavirus impacts the religious festival economy.


“Most Durga idols we sold last year were priced somewhere between Rs. 60,000 and Rs. 70,000. But this year, the idols we were able to sell were priced between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 15,000,” said Sanoj Yadav, an idol seller in Ranchi, Jharkhand.

It’s not an uncommon fact that due to the Covid-19 induced economic shrunk, the Indian economy has taken a toll on the livelihoods of people; who are now facing a bleak future. More specifically, the group of informal and seasonal workers, whose major source of income depends upon the economic activity surrounding festivals, has taken a big blow. This plethora of artists and craftsmen wait an entire year for the festive season to boost their income, however, with the coronavirus, things are playing out differently in 2020. The state government’s restrictions on religious gathering, coupled with the guidelines of the central government on Durga idol construction, has presented a challenge to various informal sector workers – to run their livelihood. In order to understand the extent to which the pandemic and government restrictions have affected the workers belonging to the informal sector, First Draft talked to a few people who are an integral part of the festive celebration – Durga idol makers.

“Not many organizers booked idols this year, and the ones that did demand a price half of that of last year.” Ambika Prasad, who has been making and selling Durga idols in Jharkhand for45 years now said.

Prasad added, “Not only were there fewer orders, all demanding reduced prices, but also the idols being ordered were smaller.” Another idol maker Chitradeep who is from Chennai, blamed the government and the puja organizers for the lower demand and said “The guidelines are having us make smaller idols, which is justifying the reduction in prices,”

Prasad, who has been in the business for over 45 years, said that he is in his “life’s worst financial crisis.. “With the puja being limited, our market is limited. Almost finished, he further commented.

Yadav said the same, explaining his financial crisis. “My family is surviving on our savings. That’s how we are affording everything, from daily expenses to children’s school fees. We also have loans. It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to re-pay them any time soon.”

After Durga Puja, Diwali is coming up on 14 November,2020 . But there are not many who are hopeful for their business stability. .Manohar Choudhary, a gift shop owner, is one of them. “I have had very little earning these past months. Diwali is a good business booster every year, but this year it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. I expect less spending on gifts.” Yadav showed similar pessimism. “Diwali has always meant good business for us. It makes up a major chunk of our income every year, but this year I have no hope.”

In this case of seasonal workers in the informal sector, such individual struggles make up the bigger picture. In the first quarter of 2020-21 or April-June quater India witnessed 23.9% fall as compared to the previous financial year. It is also the drastic GDP contraction in more than 40 years. The International Monetary Fund, just this past Wednesday, estimated that Bangladesh has now overtaken India in GDP per capita. With 80-90 percent of its workforce in the informal sector, India’s GDP crises imply hundreds of millions of personal financial tragedies similar to what is mentioned above.

Edited by Pujit Tandon and Purvai Parma Shivam