But when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, every work slammed to a halt., and with the backbone of the Indian garment supply chain quickly crumbling as millions of migrant laborers scattered across the country.

More than a year later - as India races to contain a second wave of the coronavirus, centered in Mumbai, with further lockdowns, - many of those employed by the Indian fashion industry are struggling to adjust to a harsh new reality.

''The factory is currently shut because there is no work - it's a big zero now,'' Mr. Sekh said, adding that some of the artisans working instead as day laborers for 200 to 300 rupees, or $2.50 to $4 per day.

One ended up in a biscuit factory, another in plastics and another in farming. Some were calling from their villages, pleading for loans, but the managers and supervisor themselves are in dire financial straits. For now, the factory gates remain locked.

''The fortunes of manufacturers and exporters took a massive nosedive. Many were forced to shutdown or slash their workforces. At the bottom of all that are laborers like the karigars.''

Now many karigars don't have jobs at all. [An estimated 140 million people have lost their jobs since March last year, the Mumbai-based Center for monitoring Indian economy said]. With little work and no place to live or a guarantee of a regular income, many karigars have remained in their home villages, rather than return to the city.

But pandemic related fears are widespread in a densely populated country with one of the worst death tolls, as is public skepticism - especially among laborers like karigars - abut the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 shots offered by the government.

Most karigers are Muslim men, an increasingly socially marginalized position as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to pull the country away from its foundation as a secular, multicultural nation and turn it into a more overtly Hindi state.

Now, as each day brings a grim new Covid-19 milestone for India, many artisans are increasingly pessimistic about whether they can earn a basic livelihood, let alone focus on achieving fair working conditions, wages and contracts from other suppliers.

''Before, there was growing talk about bettering worker rights,'' lamented one worker. ''Now, for many, it is going to be more about survival.''

The World Students Society thanks author Elizabeth Paton and Kritika Sony.


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