Even as the government adopts poverty-fighting measures, a small, but significant portion of population has found itself in the difficult position of having slipped through the cracks when it comes to obtaining benefits and government aid.
These are the small shopkeepers, tea vendors and grocery shop owners who form the lower rung of the middle-class and who struggle to make ends meet. Their day begins as early as 6 in the morning and often ends at 10 at night. Many remain overwhelmingly dependent on daily earnings, with the loss of a day’s work often spelling disaster. A typical case is Pushpavathi, 40, a tea vendor and bakery owner in the Srinagar area of South Bangalore, who told Deccan Herald that she barely makes about Rs 200-300 every day.
She claimed that things were manageable till the death of her husband due to a heart attack last year. “I have no children. Even when my husband was alive, we had to spend a good amount of money on his health. When he passed away, I was neck-deep in debt.
I sold whatever property I owned and I am still not debt-free,” she said. “How much can you make any way by selling tea and biscuits? I have to shell out more money to pay my rent as well.”
In several cases, the social fabric of family life has eroded under the demands of work. Leela, who runs a metal shop with her husband, explained that every member of their family was involved in running the shop, and work in shifts.
“We, as a family, are never together since someone has to be there at the shop at all times,” she said.
Sources said the biggest hurdle faced by this economic class is lack of education and a general ignorance of the various government policies they could possibly avail of.
Rajagopal, a chemist by profession, however, has been attempting to bring about a change. Having developed a project called ‘Jyotirmayee — Enlightening the lives of the deprived,’ Rajagopal, aims to make people from this class financially stable.
“I understand the struggle of these people since I went through the same problems at one point of time,” he said.
“Things started looking up for me four to five years ago and now I am in a position to manage things better as I can afford to hire staff at my pharmacy. People like Leela and Pushpavathi cannot afford to think of any savings, plan for a holiday, attend any social gathering or even spend on entertainment.”
He said Jyotirmayee, which was launched two months ago, emphasises on educating small-shop owners and making them aware of the external world.
“It intends to bring about a good change within this community by gathering the people affected as a group, identifying their problems and making them a financially stable and socially responsible community,” Rajagopal said and revealed that his organisation had sought the assistance of several NGOs.
“We plan to conduct workshops and seminars as well as socio-cultural programmes which would help petty-shop owners improve their lifestyle,” Rajagopal said.