Meet the Men Standing Guard in Chennai’s T Nagar Amid Lockdown 

Security guards talk about guarding T Nagar during the lockdown, salaries and how they are at risk due to exposure.

Published
COVID-19
4 min read

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
Cameraperson:
Smitha TK

Known for being one of the busiest shopping hubs in Chennai, T Nagar is often teeming with people looking to buy a range of items – from pattu sarees, utensils to stationery and food. But in course of the successive lockdowns, the shopping district has worn a deserted look like never before.

Security guards are the only people who have been working day and night to safeguard the stores.

The Quint took a stroll down Usman Road, Pondy Bazaar and Ranganathan Street in T Nagar to understand their experience during this time when the residents stayed indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can’t take leave but we all work in shifts and are happy we are getting our salaries during this difficult time,” said Siva, a security guard in Usman road.
“We can’t take leave but we all work in shifts and are happy we are getting our salaries during this difficult time,” said Siva, a security guard in Usman road.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
This is probably the first time ever that Chennai’s shopping hub T Nagar has been shut down completely.
This is probably the first time ever that Chennai’s shopping hub T Nagar has been shut down completely.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

‘At This Age, Who Will Give Me a Job?’

As I walked towards Lalithaa Jewellery, I could hear 45-year-old Narayanamurthy laughing at his phone - “Hello Valli! Did you eat ? I will come home soon. Once they deposit the salary, I'll bring it home. Say my hi to the kids. What did you cook today ? I’ll send you money soon with which you make something nice.”

All the men standing outside these 500-odd shops wished they were back at home safe with their families during this difficult situation. However, they were glad that they were all being paid well and were therefore able to support their families.

Video calls, movies on TamilRockerz.com, star gazing, chatting, helping out pedestrians with routes, befriending the cops and fire men – all the while maintaining social distancing – has become their routine.
‘It was the same routine during the last 50 days because our job is to look out and we did just that,” said Mani, a security guard.
‘It was the same routine during the last 50 days because our job is to look out and we did just that,” said Mani, a security guard.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

But the older guards above 50 years of age are worried as the government advisory dictates that older people should avoid going outdoors as they are at a higher risk. “At this age we can’t get a job, so if we leave this one then where will we go ?” asked 63-year-old Ravikumar.

The store owners have conducted sessions on how to stay safe during this period. All of them wear masks through the day, wash their hands every few hours, sanitize their hands every time they come in contact with something and urge people on the road to follow social distancing.

“I earned Rs 2,000 in the year 2000 and today in 2020, I earn Rs 10,000. We are struggling to make ends meet and this coronavirus has made it more difficult,” said Sahadevan, a security guard.
“I earned Rs 2,000 in the year 2000 and today in 2020, I earn Rs 10,000. We are struggling to make ends meet and this coronavirus has made it more difficult,” said Sahadevan, a security guard.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“If we are at home, we won’t get paid. So we don’t fear for our lives. We are fearing for our families, so we are working. We will face it when it comes,” said 65-year-old Sahadevan who has been working as a security guard for 25 years in VBC Jewellery.
‘The radio has been our best friend,’ said the elderly guards.
‘The radio has been our best friend,’ said the elderly guards.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“The way we live has changed but people need not panic,” said one of the guards at T Nagar.
“The way we live has changed but people need not panic,” said one of the guards at T Nagar.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

The Tamil Nadu government announced that standalone shops selling jewellery, textiles, mobiles and accessories, household appliances, furniture, vehicles, automobile spare parts and others can operate from 11 May, as part of the relaxations from the COVID-19 lockdown.

However, very few stores have actually opened up as there are no customers, so the running costs would result in a huge loss.

Salary on Time, Mostly

Usually, stores like Pothys, Saravana Stores, RMKV, Rathna Stores, Nalli have 500 - 1,500 employees working every day. Now, all have gone back home except for the security guards.

The store owners are providing them with food and accommodation.

While most of them said they are being paid in full by the first week of every month, some others said they are being paid only partly.

“Last month, they deposited 75% of the salary. This month we got 60% of the salary. We don’t know about the coming months,” said Sethuraman, who works as a security guard in a parking lot in the area.

‘Telling people routes is the only activity we have done in the past 50 days,’ said a guard.
‘Telling people routes is the only activity we have done in the past 50 days,’ said a guard.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
The store owners are providing the security guards with food and accommodation.
The store owners are providing the security guards with food and accommodation.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Many spoke of working through the week, saving up their leaves to return to their hometowns once bus and train services resume.

Want Government Aid

These men work for more than 12 hours a day and are paid a mere Rs 6,000-Rs 15,000 which barely covers their household expenses.

“Shopkeepers only care about protecting their shop, but don’t care about us. The security agency is only keen to earn through us. So we have nobody to look out for us,” said Sahadevan.

Take a walk down the streets of T Nagar post 7pm and you can hear good old Tamil songs playing from every radio and cellphone.
Take a walk down the streets of T Nagar post 7pm and you can hear good old Tamil songs playing from every radio and cellphone.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

“I can’t even go home because there are a lot of coronavirus cases in Villupuram. We have to work. Earlier when shops were running, we could get a little money from customers. But now we don’t have even those means. Our life is just like a ship floating in the sea. Don’t know where it will head,” said Mani.

They urged the government to extend financial support to them during this crisis.

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