In 2019, Scroll.in’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 Scroll.in 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.
One reason the Covid-19 crisis has proven to be extremely difficult for many businesses is that customers are worried about their safety – and so are fearful of stepping out. That may be a boon for companies that offer services at home, but for 27-year-old Yasmin Yadav, it has become an added source of worry.
Yadav, who lives in Gurugram, works as a beautician associated with Urban Company, an at-home services provider that was previously known as Urban Clap. Despite the pandemic and the widespread awareness of how the virus spreads, Yadav says that many of her customers simply refuse to follow the guidelines.
“Most of the clients that I have served since the lockdown was lifted refused to wear face masks. Their argument is that they are in their own houses, so they do not need to wear masks. I am always supposed to wear protective gear while serving the clients, but what good are precautions that are only followed at one end?” Yadav told Scroll.in. “You cannot argue with these clients. Many of them will spoil our ratings out of spite. For a business that runs on how we are rated by our clients, the situation is very tough.”
Yadav has been working with Urban Company in Gurugram, Haryana for two years now. Before that, she owned her own salon in the city, but shut it soon after she saw that her prospects were better with the internet-based services provider.
The pandemic-necessitated lockdown has exposed the vulnerability of relying on a gig platform like this for her livelihood. Any inconvenience to clients, however minor, can result in a number of implications: bad ratings, warnings from the company and compulsory retraining.
“It seems like taking precautions and keeping ourselves safe is entirely our responsibility,” she said. “No action is taken against the clients availing the services even if they mistreat us. One client wanted me to give her a facial without wearing gloves. She asked me to wash my hands two-three times and remove the gloves. I had to try very hard to convince her that I am not allowed to operate as per her wish. Am I expected to risk my life because one client asked me to bend a rule for her?”
‘No work at all’
Yadav used to earn around Rs 7,000-Rs 8,000 per day before the pandemic derailed the business, catering to around five or six requests daily. This has now come down to a couple per day.
Even after the lockdown has been lifted, there are some days when there is no work at all,” she said. According to her, Urban Company takes a fixed percentage of the earnings of its associates as its fee, which ranges from 5% to 30% of the total earnings from each client.
“To help us during the lockdown, Urban Company rolled out a policy to give us a loan of Rs 5,000 when the business was shut,” Yadav said. “For those who choose to take the loan, it is supposed to be repaid within six months of resuming business and will attract no interest. But, how much can you do in Rs 5,000 in a city like Gurugram?”
Her savings before the pandemic put her in a decent position to survive during the lockdown despite no regular earnings, taking care of her rent, the monthly installment for her flat in Gurugram and her LIC insurance. “I was comfortable because I had savings, but many people in my circle were not,” she said. “I am aware that this time is hard on them, especially for the single mothers I know.”
The Urban Company reportedly rolled out a policy to arrange for a doctor’s consultation and to give its associates Rs 250 for each day they remained home if unwell.
Even though the nationwide lockdown that lasted for over two months resulted in near-exhaustion of her savings, Yadav still thinks that it should have been extended for a couple of months more. Expressing her fear of working while the pandemic is raging, Yadav said, “What will we do with the money when there is no life?”
Read the other articles in this series here.