First the lockdown ate into his livelihood; now rats have nibbled on the chances of turning around.
Haider Ali, a migrant worker from Birbhum who had to sell his wife’s gold earrings and borrow money to bring back unsold stocks of mosquito nets from Bihar’s Lakhisarai, has now realised that rats have feasted on hundreds of them.
With the local mahajan — factory owners who produce mosquito nets — now refusing to take back even those nets that are in good condition and the pandemic making it impossible for him to return to Lakhisarai to resume hawking, Haider, 35, does not know how he will clear the consignment bill.
Haider, a resident of Kashimnagar village in Birbhum’s Paikar, had taken on credit nets worth Rs 4.5 lakh from the mahajan and would have to return that amount now. There are over 8,000 people in Paikar, a mosquito net and lungi manufacturing hub, who buy products on credit from local mahajans and fan out across the country to sell them. They pay the mahajans only after returning, keeping aside their profit.
One of the mosquito nets damaged by rats Telegraph picture
Haider had sold his wife’s earrings to raise Rs 15,500 to hire a mini truck to bring back an unsold consignment of 5,000 mosquito nets that he had kept in a room of the house where he stayed in Lakhisarai before being forced to return in April because of the lockdown.
After returning to Kashimnagar late on July 9, he realised that rats had cut at least 300 of the nets.
“The mahajan had been pressuring me to pay him Rs 4.5 lakh. Besides selling my wife’s earrings, I had to get my relatives here to borrow money and deposit it in my bank account so that I could withdraw using my ATM card in Lakhisarai and pay rent dues of Rs 12,000 to my landlord there,” Haider said.
“I now find that at least 300 mosquito nets have been damaged by rats and there will be more in the bundles. The total price of the damaged nets would be around Rs 90,000,” he added.
Haidar, who has his wife and three children to feed, had been hawking mosquito nets in Lakhisarai for the past few years, earning around Rs 18,000 a month. Since returning along with his eight colleagues during the lockdown — they walked for a day and then hitched a ride — Haider had been managing with his savings of Rs 25,000.
“I had no money, so I had to sell my wife’s gold ornament to pay for the mini truck. Now, I don’t know what to do. The mahajan has refused to take back the mosquito nets that are in good condition,” he said.
“I owed Rs 10,000 to a grocer in Lakhisarai. Thankfully, he accepted 10 mosquito nets and waived the amount. I can’t resume my trade as there are no trains to go to Lakhisarai now and residents of many states are not allowing hawkers from outside during the pandemic,” Haider said.
Haidar’s wife Majkura Biwi said: “We have nothing more that we can sell off to run the family.”
Sahidul Islam, the mahajan from whom Haider had taken the consignment, said his hands were tied as he owed Rs 30 lakh to his suppliers. He denied having put pressure on Haider. “I did not force him at all as I know the situation. But my situation is also bad and I am under pressure too,” Sahidul said.
Ataur Rahaman, another mahajan, said: “We don’t know how and when our business will stabilise.”
Mofijul Sekh, a Trinamul panchayat member in Kashimnagar, said: “Here, thousands of people are involved in hawking. After Haidar’s experience, many of them are fearing about the goods they left behind in states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. We are trying to give them work under the MGNREGA, but it is not sufficient.”