‘Covid Ruined My Life, Not Physically But Financially’

Imran Malik, who owned modular kitchen business in Delhi, says middle class families are the worst affected by the pandemic, and slowly slipping into the poverty pit

I started out as a karigar (craftsman) and slowly rose up the ranks. In 2015, I was lucky enough to start my own small business called Malik Aluminium Decoration. A major chunk of our business was focussed on building modular kitchen fittings. I took the first few years to break even and just as our business was picking up, the pandemic struck.

As I look around, I see almost everyone in the same position. People are just about managing, and their patience is being tested to the extreme by Covid circumstances. Unemployment is rife, future is uncertain and the market is stagnant. Our family finances have dwindled too and only God knows what’s in store for us. The pandemic situation keeps changing every few days, but the stress is constant.

I am a part of a large joint family with five brothers and our mother. My father passed away many years ago and since then my elder brother and I have served as the financial backbone of the large family. But the spine is beginning to crack now.

Malik’s labour-intensive work suffered when his employees left for their native places during lockdown

When the first lockdown was announced, we thought it would only be a matter of a few months and our savings would see us through. None of us was prepared for the lasting impact. I had taken a shop on rent at a prime location in Laxmi Nagar (East Delhi), but when business didn’t pick up even two months after the Unlock, I had to let go of the space. Shifting of raw material, storage also incurred costs.

In the first wave of the pandemic, most of my karigars left for their native places. Whatever little work orders I received, I had not enough people to work on them. My work is labour-intensive. The few karigars that remained with us, I paid their full salary, work or no work. It breaks my heart to see that they are in an even more difficult position than I am.

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The second wave was worse. My sister-in-law got infected and we had arrange oxygen cylinders at a premium. I pray that no one else gets the virus, because apart from the emotional toll it takes on us, the financial impact is also difficult to recover from.

I shudder at the thought of the third wave as people’s finances are stretched beyond limits now. The thing that mattered to us the most: the education (and subsequent employment) of our younger brothers and children, have been put on hold. Studying at home isn’t the same as studying in school.

I feel the middle class is in the most difficult position. Unlike those who truly are living a hand to mouth existence, we don’t want to take recourse to Public Distribution Schemes and unlike the rich, we don’t have fat bank balances. The government must come out with some support for the middle class too. If the government does not take steps on urgent footing, many families will slide into poverty and apart from the physical health, the emotional health of the country will also be in turmoil. I hope we see better days soon.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Lockdowns, 1st Wave, 2nd Wave… Life Is Tough For Migrants’

Mohammad Manan, 25, a migrant worker who came to Delhi-NCR from Bihar, says he has survived so far but is worried about an impending third Covid wave

I came to Delhi- NCR nearly a decade ago for work. Supporting a family is no easy task but I was managing it fine until the pandemic struck.  Since then, things have gotten very confusing and uncertain. The recurring lockdowns, the first wave, the second wave, it is a difficult time for everyone.

After the first wave last year, we thought we had survived the virus. But then came the second wave and I had to return to my village Sonbarsha in Saharsa district (Bihar) to be with my ageing parents. Most migrant workers from the locality I live in left for their native places as they did during first lockdown. We braved the first wave, but the second wave was worse than the first, so we decided to leave.

Lockdowns have impacted everyone’s earnings, be it migrant workers like me or people who run businesses. Everyone has been worried about their job or business security. I went home in April and came back in June-end, so basically I stayed in Bihar for two months. I strained my savings to travel in Three-Tier AC in the train because I was worried about contracting the virus. After all I was going back to earn a living and couldn’t afford to fall sick as soon as I entered the city of my livelihood for so many years.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

When I reached Ghaziabad (NCR), unlock had begun and someone else had been hired in my place at the optical shop I worked for. I spent two weeks in agony not knowing what I would do for a living and applied at various places. A family of six is dependent on me. My wife works as a domestic help and supports the family, but in these times one needs to have enough savings. Kabhi medical help ki zaroorat ho to hamare pas hath me kuch paise hon (there should be reserve cash for medical situation).

Luckily I got my old job back. I wish there were work opportunities in my village too. Those two months I earned nothing.

Even though I have my old job back, predictions of a third wave has me worried. What will we do if it is even more dangerous than the second and the lockdown stricter and longer? So many business days that have gone waste. Every month I send some money to my parents and God forbid if anyone contracts the virus! I wish the government improves the healthcare facilities in rural areas and also figured out ways to support people who have lost their jobs or whose businesses were impacted.

Right now, we are just about managing somehow but my biggest strength is my wife’s optimism and courage. She says we need to take one day at a time, and be thankful for each day that we have survived. She says even though our position is shaky we can keep figuring out newer ways to earn. I have picked up some tailoring skills and do minor alterations etc and get paid for it.

So we believe God helps those who work hard. My workplace is around 15 minutes away from my home and I use my cycle to commute. Thank God I use a cycle, with the price of petrol shooting up continuously driving a bike is a costly affair.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Migrants Are Back But Afraid Of A Fresh Lockdown’

Mohammad Babul has returned to the labour colony in Greater Noida West a year after the lockdown was announced but the going is still tough, he tells LokMarg

We had a flourishing society before the lockdown was announced in March 2020. My extended family, which included my relatives and friends from my hometown in West Bengal, used to live here (labour colony, Gr Noida West) together and worked in close vicinity as construction labour.

The strength of this community unity saw us flourished. Life was comfortable. We never foresaw a situation that there would be a shortage of food or money as too many of us were always employed at one construction site or another at any given point of time.

But as the lockdown struck due to the coronavirus pandemic, we ran out of our livelihoods. After spending nearly a month without a job, all of us decided to return to our hometowns in West Bengal. Some went on foot for hundreds of kilometres till they hitched a ride on a truck or other transport; the luckier ones were sent home either in sanitised government vehicles or NGO-run buses.

ALSO READ: Migrant Crisis Will Haunt Modi Govt 2.0

We lived through the uncertain times and when the virus began to weaken, with nothing much worthwhile in our hometowns, some of us decided to return to Greater Noida to look for work in the hope that things must have returned to normal.

However, a number of my extended family members, including my sister and brother-in-law decided to hold back, and waited for my feedback if the situation were favourable for them to come back. Their apprehensions were right. Since I have returned here, it’s hard to find a job as the builders and the contractors have run out of money and their projects are still in a limbo.

Earlier, during pre-CoViD times, any daily wager in Noida-Greater Noida used to earn about ₹550 every day, but now we are hardly earning ₹400 a day. It is because although a large number of labourers have returned from Bengal, Purvanchal and other areas, the construction work has not resumed in proportional stead.

ALSO READ: Fearing Lockdown, Workers Return To Villages

There are lesser vacancies and more seekers for work in the locality of Greater Noida West. Thousands of high-rise apartments are being constructed in this area, but due to the consecutive lockdown, work at most of the projects has been halted. Threat of another lockdown is rife, uncertainty of losing the livelihood again looms large on the daily wagers.

That is why many of my extended family are reluctant to return. This is also taking a toll of our daily life. Since there are fewer family and friends, it’s hard to support each other during hard times as flow of money and food is limited. I just hope this pandemic ends soon so that our children don’t sleep hungry.

‘A Year Of Pandemic: First Came Setback, Then Fightback’

Lopamudra, a 28-year-old architect in Ranchi, recounts the hardships and the lessons that one year of Coronavirus brought into her life

What a year 2020-21 has been! I came to Ranchi as a new bride in 2018, with big dreams and a desire to make a name in the field of architecture. I am a freelance architect, which means I work on project-to-project basis.

So, here I was in 2018, taking baby steps towards building a home and a career at the same time. Barely two years into work, in March-end 2020 the pandemic was officially announced, and I wondered what our future would be like! When would the pandemic be over? Would we able to pay our rent? How would construction sector be impacted?

As it turned out, the infrastructure/construction sector was one of the worst affected. It all came to a standstill and labourers started packing off to their villages or hometowns in droves. Since my husband was also employed in the infrastructure sector, it meant a double hit for us.

Apart from not being able to get any new work, our continuing projects also stopped in the lockdown. For nearly three months (March-June) there was no income; we managed with our savings. And we kept praying that neither of us should contract coronavirus.

ALSO READ: ‘In Initial Days, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

We decided not to lose heart and take each day at a time. We started learning new aspects of our work by watching YouTube and also took to reading more on architecture, construction and infrastructure. To keep the stress away, I picked up photography and tried capturing beautiful things around us from the terrace during lockdown. It taught me to be positive.

The lockdown was the most difficult period to say the least, as nothing moved in those three months. Even when the phased unlock began rolling out, the scenario was shaky and the future uncertain. No one was undertaking big projects and most migrant labourers still hadn’t made their way back. Figuring out new clients for new projects seemed like an uphill task.

We started networking with people new and old. We had also worked a lot on our communication skills (both verbal and written) and thus armed with new confidence we started doing the rounds. Another month went past without a project, but I finally found one in August.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be Part Of Vaccination Drive’

A little window of hope opened from there and we started rebuilding our lives bit by bit. It has been six months since life gave us a second chance and we are using that chance to the fullest. To say that we have become financially wiser would be an understatement. We now know a lot more about funds, investment plans and policies than ever before. Now my husband and I shop wisely, manage resources skilfully, we keep ourselves in good health, we take all Covid precautions and restrictions seriously and we communicate with each other a lo

A good, attentive partner means you can weather any storm, even that of being without any income for nearly 3 months. People save for a rainy day, last year was like one whole rainy year for so many of us. Financial planning is the need of the hour

‘In Initial Days Of Covid-19, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

Dr Arista Lahiri, 31, Sr Resident (Epidemiology) at College Of Medicine & Sagor Dutta Hospital in Kolkata, recounts how healthcare professionals battled the unknown virus and why we can’t let the guard down even now

I was fresh out of medical school when the pandemic struck. Even though my field of study was community medicine and thus I was well-versed with the incidence, spread and possible control of diseases during an epidemic/pandemic, yet nothing had prepared us for a crisis of such epic proportions that affected the whole world.

I was posted at the District Hospital in 24 Parganas (North) and had gone to another city to attend a medical conference in January 2020 when coronavirus began to be discussed seriously. Wuhan was already reeling under its impact and slowly the medical fraternity across the world had begun to realise that the virus was soon going to spread much, much farther than China.

In March-end, when the pandemic was officially declared in India, I dedicated myself completely to fighting the unknown virus. We were a four-member team doing 24×7 surveillance of both active as well as potential cases to target and isolate. We were doing everything from data entry to helping Covid patients get admission in hospitals to occasionally going out in the fields to see how the situation was panning out.

ALSO READ: ‘I Delivered My Child Amid Pandemic’

For two-three months we had no sense of time, putting in every hour of work that we could and going home only to sleep. We had no life outside work for those several months and no outlet to unwind. We just kept each other motivated and in good spirits.

Dr Lahiri says battling the virus is not the job of healthcare professionals alone

I was myself scared of the contagion; there were so many people suffering around us. Each day, I pulled myself up and marched on stronger. My parents were extremely supportive and understood my duty as a medical professional.

While the rest of the country was facing only Covid, nature dealt a double blow to West Bengal: cyclone Amphan. I am quite happy with the way our state government handled the crisis. The entire state machinery from the primary to district to state-level worked in tandem. Post-Amphan, there was a shifting of roles and responsibilities and I was asked to be a member of the Covid State Cell in Kolkata in June end.

ALSO READ: ‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination Drive’

We had all learnt better by then and were able to streamline our work better. The workload eased off just a tiny bit, though we were still checking in hundreds and hundreds of patients each day. One thing I was happy about was that I was now living with my parents in Kolkata.

Since then I have been working in Kolkata itself doing 12 hour shifts every day. Between my work as faculty at the College of Medicine and my work at the Sagordutta Hospital, I have to travel nearly 40 kms each day. We cannot afford to slack off even now, though we can relax a bit.

Battling the pandemic isn’t the job of frontline healthcare workers alone. Community medicine is all about a community’s adherence to rules. Even though vaccines have been developed, we need to understand that new strains of the virus might still take over. So masks, sanitizing and social distancing are still our best bets against the virus! I got both my vaccine shots, but I still take all the precautions.

‘Teaching My Kid In Lockdown, I Rediscovered Many Subjects’

Col Vishal Ahlawat of Delhi Cantt says lockdown provided him ample time to be with family. Besides, he brushed up various subjects while teaching his eight-year-old daughter

The lockdown due to Coronavirus may be difficult in certain aspects, but in some it’s a blessing in disguise. Post-lockdown I have been able to spend a lot of time with my daughter Parnika (8), who is in Class 4. Before lockdown she used to attend tuition classes as well, but now they have been called off. We both enjoy our time together a lot, even if most of the times it is about her studies. I love seeing how confident, curious and yet open-minded my daughter is to learn new things and through newer mediums.

She has her online school classes four days a week. Most of the days her classes get over around 12.30 pm and after a break, she and I sit together to help her revise. It is actually more a revision for me and I am re-brushing my skills in various subjects.

ALSO READ: ‘My Children Turned Into Prospective Chefs’

I am mesmerised by how wonderful English grammar is. The generation that we belong to, our education system didn’t really encourage understanding a subject but rote learning. So back then we might have memorised a lot of grammar, but now I am truly beginning to see its beauty. I love it how my daughter doesn’t mind asking the smallest of questions until she understands a topic in its totality. She is teaching me rather to be able to ask questions without hesitating.

Col Ahlawat says his daughter Parnika is open to learning through new mediums.

I am also loving teaching her Maths and Life Sciences as well. When we were in school, our Maths teacher was quite old and would take a lot of time to reach the classroom from the staff room. She had given instructions to us to keep reciting the multiplication tables for as long as she took to reach the classroom.

Such memories keep coming back when my daughter talks about her school. On one hand she says she misses interacting physically with her friends, but on the other hand she loves sleeping till late now that she doesn’t have to go to school.

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However, it is while teaching her Life Sciences subject that I have gone a step ahead of rebrushing my skills and have learnt many new things. Sometimes I do a double take at how deeply they are being taught about topics like: How does the Universe work? And then I am like should children so young be taught such deep things at such a young age? But it is upon the schools to decide on this. I as a grown up am enjoying reading my daughter’s Life Sciences book for right now.

During the first few days of my daughter’s online classes, even the teachers took some time to get adjusted to technology for everyday use at such a large scale. As a parent I also got to upgrade my technological skills. There are pros and cons of both classroom as well as online learning, but for right now I am enjoying the wonderful time I am getting to spend with my daughter. We laugh a lot together and learning seems to be such a fun experience. It’s like I have gone back to school again, I feel such a sense of freshness.

Learning In Lockdown

‘Lockdown Has Turned My Children Into Prospective Chefs’

Anjali G Sharma, a South Delhi-based social activist, is happy that her young children have taken to cooking with much enthusiasm and even share recipes with their cousins

Coronavirus has brought about multiple changes in our lives, but one change that makes me really happy is how easily my children have taken to learning basic cooking skills. It all started when the maid stopped coming to work due to lockdown.

My children, Anisha (10) and Aryan (6), saw me spending longer hours in the kitchen for long time and they wanted to help. What started as helping, soon turned into inquisitiveness and curiosity, something I was too happy to attend to. Between my work and my children’s online classes, a lot of time would be spent discussing food. I slowly started teaching them flameless cooking and then moved on to preparing sandwiches, about ingredients and portioning.

Let me share a cute-yet-hilarious story with you. One of these days I thought of making samosas for the kids. It turned out to be super tasty and my six-year-old son shared this fact with his five-year-old cousin over the phone. The cousin then asked for the samosa’s recipe and duly noted down. Next, he showed it to his mother and asked for the same fare. The young cousin was moved enough to write a thank-you note to my son, which we have saved with us.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Changed My Routine Much’

Can you imagine five- and six-year old discussing food over the phone! I am glad that this has happened, for everyone should know basic cooking skills. The coronavirus induced lockdown has proved to be easier for people who were equipped with basic cooking skills.

My daughter has literally turned a ‘pro’ at baking. She can now do end-to-end baking on her own after nearly two months of lockdown and I only help her when it comes to putting the baked item in the cooker. She is one proud, smart and meticulous baker.

The children now also watch quite a lot of food videos. And sometimes they are open-eyed with wonder as to just how many amazing things can be prepared in the kitchen. I think more than teaching kids cooking, it’s about igniting the fire of enthusiasm inside them and letting them know that as parents we trust them with important tasks.

ALSO READ: ‘Iftar Without Friends Is Dull, But Safety Comes First’

One thing I admire about my kids is that don’t waste a single item even while learning. Even before the lockdown, we as a family took care to not waste anything on the plate, plus recycle anything that we can. But post-lockdown they understand that grocery items aren’t as easy to come by. Plus, they like letting their imagination run free about the various food combinations that can be had and aren’t as choosy about they eat anymore.

During my children’s online classes, their teachers keep sending them videos related to one subject or another. So one day my son received a video wherein there was an ad for Rajma Burger. And guess what the young man wants to make now? Yes, Rajma Burger!

Before lockdown, I wasn’t much into cooking. But I must admit now that I have begun to enjoy it and find it relaxing and therapeutic. There is a sense of pride and delight running through our house these days because we have all begun to enjoy one common activity and thus get a lot of time to bond with each other.

‘Kids Were Moving With Sacks On Head. I Couldn’t Sleep’

Ajit Menon, a corporate leader, was moved by the TV footage of migrant families moving on foot post-lockdown. Menon shored up his resources to help the vulnerable workers, who he feels have built the NCR with sweat and toil

After the lockdown was announced, there was little for many of us to do at home except watch news channel for new updates. Most TV channels were showing how families of migrant workers in the National Capital Region had begun a mass exodus on foot to reach their hometowns. Some of these families lived hundreds of kilometers away but they felt reaching home was better than being stranded jobless in NCR.

The visuals of people walking with their children and womenfolk carrying sack-loads on their head were distressing. I couldn’t sleep that night; those pictures haunted me. The faces of the children, particularly, pricked my conscience.

ALSO READ: ‘They Built Our Homes, We Can’t Let Them Starve’

There was no question of sitting home and watch TV from the comfort of a lockdown. First thing the next morning, I drew up a list of my contacts from various work areas.  Over the decades of working in the corporate world, I have made friends with NGOs, social workers, social responsibility professionals and many in the government machinery. So, I began calling up these resources to assess our capabilities and limitations.

As the lockdown had been imposed, we had to find out a way out to help the labourers on the move and do it within the boundaries set by the law. It took some time to work out various logistics which included: 1) areas where most migrants had been stranded; 2) their immediate requirements; 3) procurement of the essentials required for distribution and; 4) finally the distribution and revision of the process.

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So, we identified several areas with high density of stranded migrant workers in Delhi and Greater Noida with the help of various social organisations who were already on the ground.

We then created the survival ration kits. Thus, each of the ration pack would carry 3KG of rice and wheat flour, lentils, potatoes, oil and spices. This packet would be enough for a family of four to survive for a week. We marked all the recipients to ensure that we refill their ration supply right after a week.

We expected the lockdown continue for a long haul and we were proved right when it was extended for the third time from May 4 onward. But we are fully prepared to distribute more ration till the lockdown ends. I can only request people who have enough money to donate dry ration to the needy; it’s time for the privileged to help those who built our houses, roads and everything that we see around us.

ALSO READ: ‘It Is Humiliating But I Accept Food For Kids’

I can rewind that the first influx of migrant labourers came to Delhi-NCR when the city went for a makeover ahead of 1982 Asian Games. Many of these workers came from Eastern UP and Bihar. The flyovers, wide roads, bridges and glass-concrete buildings that we see as pride of NCR have been built by the blood and sweat of these migrant labourers. We owe them a lot more than a few packets of weekly ration. I feel bad that I woke up late to the situation and many families left on foot to their hometowns but I am duty-bound to stop as many as I can from leaving the city now by ensure food and essentials to those whom I can.

Before I finish, I must share that a few among our team of volunteers clicked a photographs of the family which had received the packet of dry ration. When I saw the picture and the look on the face of the family, it brought both tears and joy. That moment will remain engraved on my memory. I felt as if I achieved much bigger than what money and material success can give you.

‘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.

ALSO READ: The Invisible Indians In Pandemic

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.

ALSO READ: ‘I Don’t Know How I Will Pay EMIs, Fees’

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. 

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Made Me A Beggar’

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.

ALSO READ: How Coronavirus Will Change Our Lives

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.