Barely able to make a living: Lockdown has hurt many in Hyderabad's old city

TNM travelled to parts of Hyderabad’s old city and interacted with vendors and small businesses to find out how the extended lockdown has impacted their lives.
A collage of Charminar in the background and poor people
A collage of Charminar in the background and poor people
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This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

In Hyderabad’s Pathergatti market, several roadside stalls and pushcarts are seen selling clothes, plastic materials and kitchen utensils. One of these stalls, Yousufain handlooms and hosiery, belongs to Abdul Khadeeb. “It has been two hours since I opened the shop at 8 am, and not even a single customer has come so far. There used to be a time that I would sell products to make a profit, but today I sell to take home some money to survive,” Abdul shares, as he cleans the dust off his products at the shop. Paying the house rent has also become a herculean task for Abdul. “I stay at Fateh Darwaza. I have seven people at home. We stay in a small house and we pay a rent of Rs 6,000 per month. I have not been able to pay the rent for two months now. I have asked for time from the owner and told him business has not been happening due to the lockdown.”

Abdul Khadeeb standing inside his shop located at Pathergatti

All the shops at the market are temporary, and can be set up effortlessly and cleared within no time, in case the police visit for a crackdown on illegal roadside vendors. The Telangana government recently extended the relaxation hours of its lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. On May 30, when the state cabinet met, they decided to extend the lockdown for another 10 days. However, it was announced that the relaxation hours would be extended until 2 pm, from the earlier 6 am to 10 am. According to the new rules, shops and businesses have to shut by 1 pm so that everyone can be home by 2 pm. 

While several small-scale businessmen and roadside vendors have welcomed the extension, many say that they are still struggling to make ends meet. 

The effect on the poor

Hyderabad Member of Parliament (MP), Asaduddin Owaisi had earlier urged Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao not to extend the lockdown. Taking to Twitter, Owaisi reiterated how a lockdown is not the strategy to combat COVID-19. Owaisi also mentioned how a lockdown makes a public health crisis a law-and-order problem. Through his tweets, Owaisi strongly urged KCR to not extend the lockdown. Instead, Owaisi suggested evening curfews or a mini-lockdown for COVID-19 clusters. “Expecting 3.5 crore people to live for weeks with just a 4-hour lockdown relaxation is not fair at all,” Owaisi said in one of his tweets.

However, despite the MP’s strong objection, the Telangana cabinet decided to extend the lockdown for another 10 days while increasing the relaxation hours.

55-year-old Zaheer Jameel stands with five cotton shorts in his hand at the Pathergatti market. He has a bag below him filled with more shorts. Even while speaking to TNM, his eyes look around for prospective buyers. He clearly has no time to waste, because in another two hours, he has to pack up and leave. When asked how business has been, Jameel said, “I am making around Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day now. After the costs are cut, hardly anything remains. Earlier, after a day’s business, I would have around Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 with me. Speak to any vendor, their story is as bad as the other.”

Ibrahim Shareef sits at the cash counter at Sagar Hotel, a small restaurant at the corner of one of the busy bylanes. According to Shareef, the restaurant has been around in Pathergatti for around 60 years. “The rent for a small restaurant space like mine is around Rs 2 lakh a month. The electricity bill comes to around Rs 15,000. Thankfully, this is my own property and I don’t have to pay rent. The shops that have to pay rent and salaries of workers are the ones who have been drastically impacted,” Shareef said.

The entrance to Sagar Hotel

A little distance away, in one of Moghalpura’s narrow bylanes, Sayyad Sayeed can be seen carrying two sacks of subsidised rice on his moped, just collected from the ration shop. He uses the vehicle to push the heavy sacks, not having enough money to afford fuel. Though having to push the moped, it’s still easier than carrying the weight on his head. Sharing his grief about being out of work, Sayeed said, “I worked as a cook at weddings. I have been out of a job for a year now. I then began to work at a tent house for Rs 200 a day. Since they have also been out of work, they haven’t been paying me.” When asked about how he is managing the house, he said, “I have two children. My wife passed away earlier. We have been only eating rice and tomato chutney.” The tomatoes that Sayeed can afford costs around Rs 7 to Rs 10 a kilo, he said.

Sayyad Sayeed returning after collecting subsidised rice from the ration shop

The lockdown has also adversely affected women, especially single mothers who have been the breadwinners for their homes. Waseem Fathima, 36, who was married off to a sheikh at a very young age and later disowned, has been doing zardosi work on blouses and selling them for a living. Speaking to TNM, Fathima said, “Since the pandemic, in the last two years, I have hardly had any business. The lockdown has made no major difference to me because I have anyway not been receiving any orders. The shopkeepers take orders from customers and would sublet the work to me. Now, I don’t get any orders. I stay with my child at my sister’s house. We’ve been struggling to even pay the rent.”

Sabah Begum’s family had recently bought gold worth Rs 25,000 for her brother’s fiancé, for their wedding. However, when it became difficult to even afford food, the family took the difficult decision to sell it back to the same jewellery shop. “Though it had just been a few weeks, they took back the gold and reduced Rs 1000 and gave us Rs 24,000 for the same jewellery. We had no other option in front of us,” recounted Sabah.

There are innumerable people like Sayeed, Shareef, Abdul, Jameel, Fathima and Sabah. Their stories of how the lockdown has impacted their lives and made living each day, a battle in itself, is sure to move one to tears. The hardship that the lockdown has caused has made life miserable. As the Hyderabad MP said in one of his tweets, “During the lockdown, the poor will either die of coronavirus or will die of starvation due to poverty…” 

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

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