Pune, India – Ravi Bansod lost almost everything when India imposed a national blockade to stop the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020. After investing five years and one million Indian rupees ($ 13,515) in his curry shop in Mumbai, the 29-year-old owner a small business was forced to close the store. After he left, he became so depressed and withdrawn that his friends referred him to a psychotherapist.
Two years later, Bansod is still trying to rebuild his life and lives in fear that the government will take away everything he worked for again amid the proliferation of the Omicron variant.
“I feel that the blockade should be imposed so that only vulnerable people like the elderly and those with co-morbidities are restricted from going outside,” Bansod told Al Jazeera. “Young people are at lower risk of serious illness and should have been allowed to continue working during the first two waves. But bad government policies have wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands of young people. “
The unemployment rate in India in December was 7.91 percent, compared to 6.3 percent in 2018-19 and 4.7 percent in 2017-18.
Young people in India – who make up more than a fifth of the country’s 1.4 billion people – have borne the brunt of job losses.
Nearly 30 million Indians between the ages of 20 and 29 were unemployed and looking for work in 2021, representing 85 percent of the unemployed, according to the Indian Economic Observatory (CMIE).
“There is no doubt that the younger generation is disproportionately affected by this situation,” Radhika Kapoor, an economist with the Indian Council for the Study of International Economic Relations (ICRIER), told Al Jazeera.
“During the first and second blockades, many young people who were in the first jobs of their careers lost their jobs. And they remained unemployed for a long time at the beginning of their careers. This will have an effect on their careers for a long time. However, youth unemployment was high even before the pandemic. The pandemic has only exacerbated job losses. “
India is currently battling a third wave of infections fueled by the highly portable version of the Omicron coronavirus, with nearly 1.75 million active cases as of 2 February. The world’s second most populous nation has reported nearly 500,000 deaths so far.
However, New Delhi has not imposed another national blockade, instead states imposing restrictions based on local cases.
High-profile countries such as Maharashtra have closed schools and universities, while Delhi has asked all employees to work from home. Many states have banned gatherings of more than five people overnight.
“India cannot afford a complete blockade or severe restrictions that could cause economic disruption,” Bhabesh Hazarika, an economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), told Al Jazeera.
“This happened during the first and second waves, when India imposed a strict blockade, halting all economic activity. Young people also suffered job losses and interruptions in education and training, although they were at lower risk. “
Manik Kadam, a labor rights activist in Maharashtra, told Al Jazeera that authorities were reluctant to impose severe restrictions again after facing fierce opposition from businesses.
“Many organizations either protested or threatened to protest when shops or industries were closed,” Kadam said.
For many who lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic, connecting the two ends means accepting work that is far less well paid or secure.
“Some days I stay for hours”
Prakash Chuhan, who worked as an electrician before the pandemic, is among hundreds of people who gather daily at a labor corner in Pune, 200km southeast of Mumbai, to take temporary jobs in construction, gardening or cleaning.
When he can get a job on a construction site, the 25-year-old daily wage worker makes about 600 Indian rupees ($ 8) per shift, compared to 12,000 Indian rupees ($ 162) in his old job.
“I don’t get a job every day like most workers here,” Chuhan told Al Jazeera. “Some days I stay for hours, but no one comes to rent and I return home, where my money for transportation is wasted. But I do not have the opportunity to sit at home or hope for a paid job, as before. I have to feed my parents, my wife and my two children, pay rent and keep them happy with everything I can earn.
Radhika, an ICRIER economist, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to find good jobs.
“Jobs in manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, considered quality jobs, are declining,” he said. “And jobs in construction, agriculture and retail that are not of good quality have risen. Unemployment is therefore a bigger problem than unemployment. “
Some young people have given up looking for work after long periods of unemployment, a trend reflected in the country’s declining labor force participation rates.
In 2020, the labor force participation rate in India was only 46 percent, compared to 67 percent in China, 66 percent in Indonesia and 64 percent in Malaysia, according to the World Bank.
Impact on women
In 2020-2021, there were nearly 4.5 million fewer men and 3 million fewer employed women than in the previous year, according to the Center for Economic Data and Analysis and the Indian Economic Observatory.
22-year-old Rajanja Ingole worked as an agricultural worker in Majalgoan, Maharashtra for 150 Indian rupees ($ 2) a day after she was fired from her job as a kindergarten teacher in April 2020.
“I thought I would save money on my salary of 5,000 rupees ($ 67.5) a month and move to a big city to find a job in a better kindergarten,” Ingole told Al Jazeera. “That way I could find a groom with a good salary and a home.”
Ingole said her parents, both farm workers, forced her to marry a garage mechanic to ensure her family’s safety.
“I couldn’t resist because I didn’t have a job,” said Ingole, who lives in the same room with her husband and shares a toilet and a toilet with her neighbors. “And my parents have to take care of my three younger sisters and brother.”
“My destiny is to work as a worker,” she added. “What’s the use of thinking about the future or your dreams now?”