In 2019,’s Hard Times series sought to explain and illustrate how India’s slowest economic growth in a decade was affecting ordinary people. This followed reporting by in 2016 and 2017 on the effects that demonetisation had on the lives of Indians around the country.

As the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 crisis, Hard Times now takes a look at the impact of India’s draconian lockdown on individuals and firms from all corners of the economy. Read all of the pieces in the Lockdown Hard Times series here.

Temperature checks. Sanitisation. Full personal protective equipment including gloves, a mask, a face or eye shield, shoe cover and a suit. That’s what is now expected from staff at upscale salons or those belonging to a chain, around India, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

They also need to ensure that the customers don’t endanger them.

“Sometimes people insist on removing the mask inside the salon, so we need to convince them about the risks involved,” said Rachna Taneja, franchisee owner of beauty salon chain Naturals in Gurugram, Haryana. “I have refused service in case a customer is adamant... We don’t want to add to people’s worries, but we need to protect both staff and customers.”

Haryana’s guidelines mandate that customers without masks will not be allowed entry. The state issued standard operating procedures for barbers and salons in the last week of May. In neighbouring Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal allowed barber shops and salons to reopen on June 1, but spas continue to remain shut.

Resuming operations

“For most businesses, a shutdown for even a week incurs significant losses and we had closed operations completely for about two months,” said Sushil Chandra Joshi, finance and operations head of the North Region, Jawed Habib Hair and Beauty Limited. “When we finally planned to resume in June, we had to think about all the safety measures we needed to secure our salons first that set us back for nearly Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 per outlet.” The chain has over 900 salons in the country, and employs nearly 10,000 people.

Most chains have opted for an increase in the prices to cushion the blow from the losses and additional expenses due to Covid-19 safety measures. While some are charging an extra sanitisation fee, others have raised their rates. This comes with its own set of constraints as most salons have resumed operations with just haircuts and are avoiding services like facials, manicure and pedicure that involve close contact.

The increase in prices has met with complaints from patrons who are used to cheaper rates for the services. To combat accusations that the chains were over-charging customers, Naturals CEO CK Kumaravel took to Twitter on June 7 to explain the need for the “hygiene charges” of Rs 150 his company has introduced.

“Our basic services like haircut, shaving, waxing and threading are called ‘doorbusters’ and we lose money for them,” he said. “Our next set of services are facial, pedicure, hair spa...we make good money [for them].... Unfortunately, after the Covid scenario, the customers that are coming will only opt for basic services and our entire business model is in a fix.”

Credit: Sushil Chandra Joshi/Jawed Habib Hair and Beauty Limited.
Salon staff in PPE at a Jawed Habib outlet in Delhi.

Uncertainty and concerns

These chains are also struggling with depleted numbers among their staff after many of them returned to their home states or are unable to travel due to the lack of sufficient transport, like the metro rail services in Delhi or intermittent sealing of borders.

Some who went back home also worry about physical distancing or discrimination before they can plan to come back.

“One of my staff members is from Sikkim and does not want to come back because he fears discrimination,” said Taneja, who has begun operations with four people at the moment. “It is difficult because he’s one of my best employees. Then there are others who share rooms with multiple people so they are concerned about the spread of infections, which is understandable.”

The pandemic has sparked racial attacks against Asians around the world, with people blaming them for the Covid-19 outbreak that originated in China’s Wuhan city last year. In India, people from the northeastern states have borne the brunt of coronavirus-related racism and xenophobia.

Pay cuts for employees

During the lockdown, companies either did not pay their employees or had to impose significant paycuts. “The salary range of our staff is between Rs 12,000 [for cleaning staff] and Rs 45,000 [for a senior hairdresser], so a maximum 30% pay cut had to be imposed, depending on the salary scale but we did not lay off anyone,” said Shefali Manchanda, manager of Geetanjali Salon in Janakpuri in West Delhi.

Joshi said Jawed Habib’s staff was paid 50% of their salaries during the lockdown. Naturals franchisee owner Taneja said she was only able to pay for the time her staff worked and now pays on a day-to-day basis amid fears that another lockdown may be imposed or borders may be shut.

With a reduced staff and decreased footfall, salon chains across the country face absolute uncertainty on the recovery of their losses, leave alone generate profit. “People are still worried about stepping out for their usual grooming services,” said Taneja. “We can only wait till customers are comfortable to walk into our salons again and that may take a while.”

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