Left in the Lurch: How COVID Pushed Agra’s Shoemakers Into Poverty
The Quint met families of shoemakers in Agra who have lost their jobs because of the COVID crisis.
Reporter & Producer: Himanshi Dahiya
Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan/Sandeep Suman
Senior Editor: Shelly Wali
The second wave of COVID-19 has adversely affected Agra’s traditional leather shoe industry, which employs more than 3 lakh people in the Taj city. With small factories suspending work during the lockdown, many daily wage workers have ended up being unemployed.
The Quint travelled to the Naripura area in the district to meet families of these shoemakers and understand how they are coping with the virus and the lockdown.
‘No Savings to Count On This Time’
Ajit Kumar, 47, has been a shoemaker for more than 25 years, however, two back-to-back lockdowns have exhausted his savings.
“In 2020, we still had some savings. Even after the initial lockdown, work went on for a while. However, this time around we have nothing. How will the manufacturers pay the labours when they themselves have no money?” he says.
With Ajit’s job gone, his family of six has been struggling to make ends meet. His daughter Tanu had to drop out of school as they could not afford a smartphone with internet.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but now that there’s no school, how will I become one? Others are studying online, but we have no money to afford my education.”Tanu, Ajit Kumar’s daughter
Dilip Kumar, who worked in the same factory as Ajit, also told us that while the workers were hopeful that the situation will get better in 2021, the second lockdown has crushed all hopes they had.
“We were hopeful that once the lockdown is lifted, the industry will recover. Things started looking good again, but then another lockdown was put in place,” he said, adding that with no money left, it’s becoming difficult for him to feed his family.
‘COVID Doesn’t Scare Us’
Brijesh Kumar and his wife Durkesh had saved money to build a toilet in their house. However, with the second wave of COVID-19 leaving both of them without work, that money was spent on the family’s everyday needs. They now feel that “hunger will get them before COVID does.”
“We are not afraid of COVID-19. What will COVID do, when we don’t have enough to eat in the first place. Before COVID, we’ll die of hunger.”Brijesh Kumar, Shoemaker
Durkesh concurs, “yes, we agree COVID-19 is a problem, but when you don’t have money, hunger becomes a bigger problem.”
As Debts Pile Up, UP Government Looks Away
Brijesh, Ajit, and Dilip all told us that their families are now dependent on loans taken from local moneylenders or relatives as there is minimum help from the Uttar Pradesh government.
‘My family of seven gets 5 kg wheat and 3 kg rice from the Public Welfare Department in the state. Is that enough? We are mostly surviving by borrowing money from relatives or local moneylenders.”Dilip Kumar, Shoemaker
Ajit and Brijesh further added that the UP government has done nothing to help the community. “All UP politicians were busy campaigning for elections in West Bengal, nobody cared about the COVID situation here,” Ajit said.
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