“As the lockdown is continuing, it’s a good opportunity for us to do as much ibadat as possible while staying at home,” Mufti Mohammad Ashfaq Kazi of Mumbai’s Jama Masjid told Salaam Gateway.
“We have appealed people not to assemble even on their building terraces or compounds to offer taraweeh prayers.”
The Mufti’s appeal to India’s Muslims is typical from community leaders and Islamic clerics as the country remains under COVID-19 lockdown. But as the faithful feed their souls through fasting and prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, businesses, particularly small traders and pop-up shop owners, are brutally hit by a loss of earnings.
For Muslims, the pandemic has delivered a double blow as the fasting month comes at a time when the country is under lockdown. India first announced its three-week lockdown on March 24 but this was further extended to May 17.
On the one hand, Muslims are restricted from observing Ramadan, that started on April 25 in India, in the usual way by having communal iftars and congregational prayers, including taraweeh, in mosques and venturing out at night for food and shopping.
On the other hand, it has severely impacted thousands from the community who mainly wait for Ramadan to earn extra money as businesses normally see growth of 30-40%. Famous food streets and shopping markets that would usually be bustling during the holy month are deserted.
Be it famous restaurants, street food sellers, clothing and ittar shops at Mumbai’s Mohammad Ali Road or bangle and jewellery shops in Hyderabad’s Laad Bazaar near the iconic Charminar, the lockdown has impacted everybody, severely hitting their businesses that generally see at least a 30% spike in sales during Ramadan.
Mohammad Ummar Quresh, who owns a fruit juice shop and wada-paw (snack) kart on the footpaths near Crawford market in south Mumbai, said all his businesses are completely shut for close to two months now.
“I have around 12-13 staff. I am taking care of them as long as I can but I am fast running out of resources,” he told Salaam Gateway.
Ummar is his family’s sole breadwinner and he has grown increasingly anxious as his catering business has also had to shut during the lockdown. “I have a small family of four people in Mumbai but I also have to send money to my parents and sisters who stay in my hometown of Moradabad,” he said.
During normal times, Ummar said he used to make around 10,000-15,000 rupees ($133-$200) every month after deducting all his expenses and staff salaries.
“I would generally see an increase of 30-40% in my businesses during Ramadan, but now it has come to zero,” he said.
Hotels and restaurants which would generally remain open for the whole night during Ramadan are among the hardest hit during this period of lockdown.
“We have partially opened take-away and home delivery services but our delivery boys are very scared to go out as they face a lot of trouble from police although they have passes,” said Abbas Suleman Kadiwal, owner of Gloria Restaurant at Byculla, in Mumbai.
From a business point of view, he said they are making almost nothing. “If you compare with last year’s Ramadan, we used to open at iftar and close after sehri. In that, we had home delivery, take away and dine-in. But now, dine-in is completely closed; and home delivery and takeaways are a bare minimum.”
Abbas owns three hotels and has 125 staff to look after. “They can’t do anything. They can’t even go back to their villages. So, they are just lying here and we have arranged for their shelter and food,” he said.
As most daily wagers and workers from outside the city want to return to their hometowns, Abbas said the first challenge hoteliers face once the lockdown end is to find staff. “The state government is trying to send these people to their villages. But once this lockdown ends, no one knows when these people will come back.”
While the impact of lockdown is being felt by everybody, it’s the poor and marginalized sections of society, including workers from outside the cities who flock to them for work in large numbers, who are the worst affected. Many of them are now desperate to return to their hometowns as surviving in a city without a job is not an option.
West Bengal native Mohammad Iqbal, who works for a small hotel near Mumbai’s Crawford market, said he and his 15 colleagues have been surviving on only rice and daal. “Our owner has told us to cook and eat whatever little grains are lying in stock but after which we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
He said workers like him who used to earn some 300 rupees ($4) daily on top of a salary of 5,000 rupees ($66) are the worst-hit. “That 300 rupees was helping us take care of our daily expenses. But, now forget about that 300 rupees, I am not even sure of the 5,000 rupees salary that I used to get at the end of the month,” said Iqbal, adding that if the hotel is not functioning, how will his owner pay.
“Now the situation is as such that whatever little savings I had at my native home I have to bring here to survive.”
JEWELLERY MARKETS LOSE THEIR SHINE
Beyond Mumbai, Hyderabad’s famous Laad Bazaar, known as a jewellery haunt, has also lost its shine as the lockdown keep shops closed.
Located on one of the lanes adjacent to the historic Charminar, Laad Bazaar shop owners generally see heavy footfalls during Ramadan, but not this year.
“The business used to be very good during Ramadan…..almost double but now the market is totally shut. From a business point of view, it’s a complete loss. It will take at least five years to recover from this,” said Syed Shakeel who owns a bangle shop.
He said businesses cling to Ramadan for good earnings. Anticipating an increase in sales, he bought a stock worth 500,000 rupees ($6,619) just before the lockdown. “I paid 150,000 rupees ($1,986) in cash and the remaining amount is still to be paid. It was a very good stock that I bought for Ramadan month. But I think by the time I will open the shop everything will be spoiled.” Parts of the mostly stone-studded bangles Syed Shakeel sells run the risk of damage or discolouration in hot weather if stored in boxes as they are generally manufactured using heat. Under lockdown, he can’t get to his shop to make sure they’re properly ventilated.
The owner of the family business said they generally bring in around 15,000-20,000 rupees on an average normal day. Ramadan normally sees sales increase to 30,000 rupees ($400) or 40,000 rupees, sometimes even crossing 50,000 rupees on the night before Eid.
“We used to open the shop at 10 am and would close at sehri time in the early morning. A lot of non-Muslims also come for shopping because they know shops would remain open for a long time.”
Even if shops open post-lockdown, he fears customers won’t come immediately because people now don’t have money.
“There is no way we can recover from this loss. It will take four to five years for the market to return to a normal condition.”
(Reporting by Syed Ameen Kader; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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