The Financial Express


Life of vendors in time of the pandemic

| Updated: April 03, 2021 00:14:52

Life of vendors in time  of the pandemic

It was a knee-jerk reaction initially when general holiday---a misnomer of lockdown ---was announced for restriction of people's movement. The hard-pressed segments of people were at the greatest disadvantage. Some well-off people also had to seek help from law enforcement agencies for victuals. Most people were terrified with a possible encounter with the unknown and unseen enemy that was wreaking havoc in Europe in particular following its travel from China.

Early signs were alarming but soon it started becoming clear that people earning their bread from manual labour hardly suffered serious health consequences even if they were infected. One striking example is the invulnerability of inhabitants of slums in the capital and elsewhere. Their infection was asymptomatic and nothing serious. The same goes with villages where people think they are immune from Covid-19.

When residents of the educated, privileged, middle and even lower-middle classes were confining themselves to their homes avoiding movement outside, the working class either from compulsion or from the conviction that they were not vulnerable to the disease came out and came out looking for some alternative sources of income. They, moreover, could not help doing otherwise because they had hardly any savings to maintain their families.

A new batch of vendors emerges. Even educated young men who had lost their private jobs or vending business on footpath now turned to selling vegetables and essentials without which families in home confinement could not make do. By this time doctors and nutritionists started advising the people not only to maintain health protocols but also eat nutritious foods including fruits rich in vitamin C. Initially there was panic buying but not all required foodstuffs like leafy vegetables and lemon can be preserved for long in refrigerators. So the services of these vendors proved mutually beneficial.

There are many people who never went to the kitchen market during the pandemic and depended mostly on such vendors bringing on their vans vegetables and other essentials to the former's doorsteps. Many entered in an arrangement with one or two such vendors or even kitchen market sellers for regular supply of their requirements. Some vendors brought fish and others eggs and fowls. In the early days, supply of the last two farm products suffered immensely on account of transport constraint. Wonder of wonders, still prices of eggs or fowls did not skyrocket because demand also slumped. The poultry farms and dairies suffered huge losses.

Then there were a new kind of vendors who appeared rather ubiquitously almost anywhere ---at the street corner, on footpath and before the kitchen market. After the initial crisis of personal protective equipment (PPE), those items started flooding the market with many manufacturers producing and supplying substandard face masks, sanitizer and disinfectant. The vendors had no way of checking the quality of the wares.  

Now that phase is over and people are behaving as if the threat from coronavirus has disappeared. In fact, it has not. Until recently, the impression was that the country has been spared of its second or third wave of onslaught. But over the past week, things have taken a turn for the worse. By this time the authorities have admitted the detection of the UK-variant cases of the Cvid-19 in Bangladesh.

Now the question is: will the working class people who have so far remained invulnerable to the disease can remain equally safe from the new variant if it spreads exponentially as it has done in the UK? The more fortunate people can shut themselves up in their homes but what if the new variant continues its rampage in the come high summer? Many of the small traders who display their wares on roadside in the afternoon and do business till about 10 pm, have returned to their original trade leaving their temporary retailing of essentials.

A few by this time have become small entrepreneurs. Some have been operating as fish suppliers others are still supplying essentials to their known customers. A few have successfully used social sites or portals for promotion of their commodities. Those who have earned trust of their customers for supplying genuine or organic and fresh products and on time could thrive. On this count, women entrepreneurs have performed better than their male counterparts. Online business happily has brought entrepreneurship out of many women.              

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