‘Husband & I Lost Jobs In March; Survival Is Tough’

Young parents Rimpa Ghatak and her husband Manthu Roy were looking forward to join a Siliguri school as art teachers when the pandemic struck. Ghatak speaks about her struggle and hopes

As if to weather the pandemic with a young child was not enough, my husband and I both lost our jobs during the pandemic. Call it a twist of fate or whatever else but it has been difficult for us to make sense of the whole situation.

My husband Manthu Roy (35) and I both were employed as art teachers at a private residential school in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh and even had new job offers from a reputed school in Siliguri, West Bengal around December 2019. Since the offer was good and Bengal is known for its art appreciation, we decided to take a chance.

My husband, a PGT Fine Arts, and I had just about finished our notice period when the pandemic struck in March 2020. We had resigned from Etawah school and the Siliguri school, which we were supposed to join from new academic session, closed down like many other institutions. Between two stools, we fell to the ground.

Manthu Roy with some of his artworks

There was a time in March when I felt I was close to despair as I didn’t know what future was in store for my child, who was barely six months old. Our savings were dwindling. Given the strict lockdown, we couldn’t even go to our parents. Those were very difficult days from March to June. We had built up an atmosphere for art appreciation in Etawah but it couldn’t provide us even online classes so that we could earn money from it.

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Some of my husband’s students had got placed in premier institutes like NIFT (Kolkata), NID (Ahmedabad) etc. and they kept us motivated to carry on. Manthu and I flew from Etawah to Siliguri the first chance we got and moved in with my elder sister and her husband who also stay in Siliguri.

We managed to get a few online classes but the pandemic has been hard on everyone financially and learning art is not on top of people’s priority. Thus online classes haven’t been very fruitful financially. We have been networking actively on social media, but between household chores, caring for a young baby, doing artwork because you also need to keep on creating work to show after networking, it hasn’t been easy.

Rimpa Ghatak and Manthu Roy

Now, in October we hope something moves for us. It has been nearly seven months without work now. The school at Siliguri that we were supposed to join has been really nice to us and keeps us updated about the state of things.

Art has kept us sane during the pandemic as it has kept many other people sane during the pandemic. So many people have learnt new art forms during the lockdown. It is perhaps time India began to appreciate its artists and help them thrive, especially in the new scenario. We are all in this together, right? Wish us luck!

Covid Is A Crisis But Also An Opportunity For Indian Media

A huge fall-out of the COVID pandemic has been the impact on Indian mainstream media. With overall economic activity declining, one of the first factors to have affected the media is the sharp drop in advertising, the revenue from which is the mainstay of Indian media outlets, particularly print. The fall in advertising revenue has been so huge that leading Indian media brands have resorted to many drastic measures to reduce their costs. Print publications, already reeling from slowing advertising revenues, have been the worst hit. In several newsrooms across the country, this has meant retrenchments and salary cuts, and, in many cases, both.

How bad is the situation? WARC, a London-based market intelligence agency, estimates that global advertising spend could fall by 8.1% ($49.6 billion) to $563 billion this year because of big cuts in investment across product and services categories. According to WARC’s projections, which are based on analysis of data from 96 countries, traditional media—cinema, outdoor advertising, newspapers, magazines, radio and TV–will be hit the hardest. In North America, which accounts for nearly 40% of global adspend, advertising revenues are estimated to decline by 3.7% ($8.5%). In Asia-Pacific, it is set to fall by 7.7% ($14.4 billion); in Europe, the forecast says the drop will be 12.2% ($18.1 billion).

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Interestingly, while in most markets the adspends are trending negatively, in India, according to WARC’s data, adspends will still grow in 2020, not by a lot but a little. In 2019, advertising revenues in India grew by 5%; WARC estimates that in 2020, it could grow by 0.7% to a total of $9.4 billion. This is significant in a global scenario where nearly every large market is set to shrink.

It could be too early to assess the full impact of the ongoing pandemic. For one, it is still raging. And in India, particularly in dense urban hotspots, despite a lockdown imposed in late March, infections have been spreading. And the resurgence of a second phase of outbreaks cannot be ruled out. Yet, there could be a glimmer of hope in the Indian media landscape. Where other comparable markets are shrinking, adspends in India are still set to grow.

India’s print media publications have been hit severely and the quick response to that has been the recent bouts of layoffs, wage cuts and, in many cases, measures to cut costs by reducing the size (or pages) of publications. The fact is that print media in India was already in dire straits: advertising from some of the biggest sectors such as education, real estate and financial services had begun shrinking long before the COVID pandemic began. Partly it was because of sluggish activity in these sectors but also because many advertisers moved online, which can be more cost-effective for them.

Indian publications, including the biggest media groups in the country have been grappling with the challenge they face from online media for more than a decade now. Every publication has an online presence but few have been able to work out business models that could work. Paywalls and subscription-led models have largely not been successful because it is a very small proportion of readers who are willing to pay significant amounts to read publications online. And, although online advertising is growing, the revenues are still nowhere near the levels that could cover the costs of maintaining large newsrooms.

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Newsrooms at many Indian publications are huge in terms of the number of journalists employed. These are fixed costs that are high and require revenues commensurate with those. Indian newspapers have cover prices that are low. For instance, the price of a newspaper hardly covers the cost being delivered to a reader’s door and is a piffling amount compared to the cost of producing and printing it. This has been the principal bane of Indian print media. As a result, it is difficult to charge readers to read online when they are used to getting news/content at dirt cheap prices.

Interestingly, however, the ongoing crisis could be the wake-up call that Indian media, particularly print publications, direly need. Even if the salary and job cuts may be knee-jerk reactions that smack of short-termism—after all, the economy is likely to bounce back after a while and sectors such as healthcare, well-being, and e-commerce could be new advertising sources—the current crisis is probably an opportune time for Indian media to re-strategise.

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It is a time for media owners to introspect and find new ways of providing content. Specialised online multi-media publications that target specific interest groups is one avenue that could be explored. There could be many ways to do that. A few to ponder: reducing the size of bloated newsrooms and replacing them with smaller ones with professionals equipped with higher area expertise; hyper-local online publications that address smaller areas within cities or suburbs; more investments in multimedia content production capabilities; and collaborations between media brands.

Therefore, for Indian media this COVID-induced downcycle could be the source of opportunities. Opportunities to spot new sectors and trends that could emerge out of the changes in social behaviour; opportunities to use online platforms, including social media more effectively; and, of course, opportunities to take a close and hard look at junking the past and thinking of new ways to conduct the business of content generation and distribution.

‘Creating Jobs, Making Profit & Keeping People Safe’

Shiv Bansal, 25, a finance professional in Bengaluru, went to Siliguri to look after his parents when Covid-19 struck. In a week, he launched a start-up

I was born and brought up in Siliguri, West Bengal. But after my honours graduation from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, I took up a job in Bengaluru with an investment bank. When the Covid-19 broke out and a lockdown was imposed, I lost no time in travelling to my native place to see my parents are not inconvenienced during this crisis; both are above 60.

I had been asked to work from home, and therefore Siliguri was as good as Bengaluru with the help of an internet network. Being at home for three days during the lockdown, I realised that procuring essential groceries was a difficult task in towns like Siliguri.

This happened when my parents asked me to get groceries from the local kirana store. Used to online delivery apps, I looked for home delivery services in my location on the Internet but, to my surprise, I couldn’t find any.

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I made a list of things to buy and went to the local grocery store. There I found myself surrounded by a small crowd of buyers who had laid seize to the small shop, completely defeating the purpose of social distancing and putting the buyers at a contagion risk.

This is where the idea of a hyperlocal home delivery system popped up in my head. I searched the internet and news sites to find out that multiple delivery agents in Siliguri had been dealing with unemployment due to reduced food orders. Many were contemplating going back to their villages. 

This is where I saw an opportunity. The skilled manpower was available and so was the demand for home delivery. I only needed to setup a network with logistics. I seized the moment.

I pulled together a five-member team and sorted out operations. I named this start-up Janta Delivery, a hyperlocal doorstep service that would take care of the last-mile logistics of groceries and other essentials.

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In small towns, the network of kirana stores is very strong. People have confidence in the quality of products supplied by their selected stores in their locality. Hence, to source our supply we collaborated with a few famous stores of the town who had the goodwill of the residents here in terms of the quality.

The model is quite simple. Customers place their order by sending a WhatsApp text on a number (+91-76022-50045, in our case) or through our website. Once the order is received, it is sent to the respective store and our team coordinates with them for order preparation. Once the order is prepared, the nearest delivery agent is informed to pick up the order along with the bill and pays for it upfront.

The agent then reaches the customer, hands over the bill made by the network store, receives the payment along with a ₹50 delivery charge and hands over the ordered items to the customer. All the coordination is done over phone calls or Whatsapp texts. 

We are currently doing more than 40 orders per day. We expect this to increase as the word spreads and those who wish to stay indoors during the pandemic join our customers list. The best part is I can handle the team along with my assigned work-from-home assignments.

No, so far I have not thought about any future plans once the things return to normal. But, right now my team is focused on keeping the current operations smooth so that we can meet the needs of people in Siliguri and keep them safe. The work is monetarily rewarding as well as fulfilling. My aspiration in life is to use my skills and experience to solve problems that improve people’s lives. I love plugging existing gaps to build sustainable solutions.

‘It Is Humiliating, But I Accept Food Donations For Kids’

Sarvesh Kumar, 29, a factory guard in Greater Noida, wasn’t paid his two-month salary due to the lockdown. He finds living on charity humiliating but has accepted it to feed his family

I never thought I would see such days in my life when I would need donated food to survive. Not long ago, I had registered myself with a private security agency in Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh). The agency deputed me to a private factory as a guard. My wife and two young children – one is three-year old and another one-year – also settled with me. Then this virus outbreak and the sudden lockdown turned our lives upside down.

When the factory downed shutters, and I saw migrant labourers leaving for their native places, I too planned to back to my native Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh. However, I was yet to receive my salary and other dues from the contractor. Initially, my supervisor kept delaying the payments at one or the other pretext. But when I ran out of even daily ration, and asked him for my money firmly, he told me he doesn’t have the money to pay. Nor could he commute in the lockdown to provide me food items.

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When I told him about my little children going hungry, he became abusive. I know this is a crime to default on an employee’s salary, so I went to the local police chowki to file a written complaint but all in vain. The policemen hounded me out and told me not to come out and stay put wherever I was till the lockdown ended.

It was when I was returning from the police station disheartened, some apartment dwellers spotted me walking in the sun. They asked about my situation and offered some packets of biscuits and water. As I narrated my story, they even arranged some dry ration for my family.

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I never wanted to live on charity but this situation is critical. I don’t have land or farms back home. If I can find work, I am ready to labour for 24 hours to feed my children. It is humiliating when I see my children cry with hunger and I have little to offer.

Security guards of nearby industries often help me with food and milk. I don’t want it for free as it makes me feel like a beggar. Yet, I am accepting all such donations because of my children. I don’t know for how long I will survive like this. I want to work and earn money. 

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When the lockdown was imposed, I never thought such a situation would arise. I am grateful to the people who are helping me but I want to request the government to help people like me feed their children. I want this lockdown to end soon. I am worried about my children. If this continues, people like me will be forced to go out on streets in search of food.

Job Loss In Covid-19 lockdown

‘I Got Fired. Don’t Know How I’ll Pay EMIs, Kids Fee’

Bikash Tripathy, an IT professional, sees unimaginable miseries for him in store after he lost his job along with a dozen other colleagues amid Coronavirus crisis

I was employed as a vice-president at Canvas IT Solutions, an information & technology group in Noida which works for US-based projects. I was living happily with my family in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. I recently bought a flat at Crossings Republic, the loan instalments of which are quiet hefty.

In the last week of March, when the lockdown was imposed, most employees in our company were asked to work from home. The management initially decided to send many employees on unpaid leave. Since I was part of the policy decision-making team, in my capacity as the vice-president, I resisted such a move. Little did I realise that such a step would cost me my own job.

It first appeared that the company has resolved the matter, as I, like most other employees, was asked to work from home. I was confident that we would be able to generate business for the company. However, on April 10, I received an email from my office, about termination of my contract. A dozen other employees had received a similar notice. I tried to contact the company management through calls, messages and emails but all in vain. The management is still not reachable to us.

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In the termination letter, the company stated that I will get the salary for one month. I was ready for salary deduction, but my requests heeded no attention. After this month, I don’t know how I will manage my expense.

I have a house loan, a personal loan and I have to pay the school fee for my only daughter. My elderly parents are stuck in my hometown in Odisha since the lockdown and I am not able to help them. Eighty five per cent of my earnings are spent on liabilities. So frankly, I have no idea how I will manage these liabilities. My job was the only source of income for my family.

In the lockdown, no company is hiring. So there are few chances of my finding suitable occupation. I cannot sleep in the nights since then. I am locked inside my apartment and can do nothing much.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Turned Me Into A Beggar

I understand that staying inside will save us from the Coronavirus pandemic but what will happen to people like us if there is no support from the government. With no earnings, the savings will not last for long. I am requesting the government to help people like me, but I have little hope.

The lockdown crisis and pandemic would be a matter of months; hence a salary deduction for all employees would have saved many jobs. But the company did not think that way. The rules for employees safeguard are tilted in favour of employers in India. I such difficult times for the entire world, the most disheartening thing is to lose one’s job without any prior notice.