Covid 19 and The Desperate Lives of India’s Sugarcane Workers

Devabai Valvi used to sharpen her sickle every month.  That changed when the pandemic swept through India. For the first time, she had to abandon her sickle and watch with dismay as agricultural workers like herself were forced to to be idle. On March 23rd, 2020, when India reported 618 COVID cases, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi hastily declared a lockdown – curbing the movement of 1.3 billion people. Sixty eight days later, when the lockdown was lifted, India had already registered 189,273 COVID cases, and today, nine months later, it has surpassed 10 million cases and reported over 155,000 deaths. India now has the highest number of COVID cases after the United States.

How Covid-19 is wiping out India’s traditional craft-making…and millions of jobs

Narayan Desai, a traditional toymaker in India, has 1000 sheets of colorful paper – each a meter long—to make 12,000 pinwheels. It takes him roughly 200 hours of work over 24 days in order to convert the paper into that many pinwheels. In normal times, the 62-year-old toymaker would then travel to over 100 villages – covering 1000 miles to sell each pinwheel for Rs 10 (14 cents). This was Narayan’s routine for over four decades. However, in this year of the coronavirus pandemic, he managed to cover only 20 miles in eleven months. February 24 was the last he could sell pinwheels and other toys he handcrafts – earning only the equivalent of $27.00 in two days. Narayan didn’t know he would have to survive on this paltry sum for the next eight months.