How does a typical day start in across tens of millions of households in India?
One gets out of bed, freshens up, goes to the front door, and picks up the newspaper. In this routine, one doesn’t usually think about how the newspaper reached the front door even before we wake up, but there it is.
At 4 a.m., while the city is still sleeping, there is commotion across the newspaper centres in thousands of cities. Groups of hardworking people are busy bundling their orders for the day and loading them on their cycles to deliver them to readers. These men do not get days off; there are no weekends or holidays for them, and no rain or hailstorm stops them. Without fail, they are out there delivering newspapers to our front doors every day.
Working under perilous conditions
Then came the pandemic, in which the entire nation came to a standstill. People were not only scared but also under a lockdown, and fake information seemed to be travelling faster than light itself. While the nation grappled with what to believe and what not to believe, a team of silent warriors was hard at work.
These silent warriors, the newspaper vendors for Amar Ujala, were essentially frontline workers who, despite restrictions in the country, were doing their duty by ensuring the newspapers reach the readers every day.
Ravindra Pal, one of our newspaper vendors said, “At that time, the roads used to be completely empty. Even if something happens, there was no one around to be called for help. It was so lonely and scary.”
COVID-19 caused serious disruptions across the country, with subsequent lockdowns and restrictions significantly impacting the movement. The pandemic crippled the entire supply chain due to restrictions. However, despite all the roadblocks, the efforts put in by the newspaper trade network during the initial period of coronavirus when the fear of COVID-19 was at its peak was commendable.
“Every day, family members used to say, ‘Why are you going; because of you we all are at risk,’” said Raj Kumar, another newspaper vendor. But despite such a negative atmosphere, vendors weren’t worried about their health and were working in the field every single day.
The trade network, which we refer to as Humrahi (meaning “Our Companion”), is the backbone of the newspaper industry. The entire supply chain is highly dependent on this network for the delivery of the product to households. Hence, the success of newspapers being delivered despite the restrictions has been solely because of the efforts put in by both the agents and hawkers.
When we talk about COVID-19 heroes, it mostly encapsulates the healthcare workers, doctors, reporters, police personnel, etc. There was no mention of the newspaper trade network without whom the industry would have been crippled.
Giving credit where it's due
Amar Ujala took the initiative to celebrate these faceless heroes with our readers and give them due credit for their contribution. Calling it the “COVID Warrior Coverage,” we brought forth these local heroes, the agents and hawkers, and published their photos for their respective editions, along with their name and area with a message appreciating their duties toward readers during this period of uncertainty.
One ecstatic newspaper agent said: “It makes us immensely happy that our efforts have been noticed by someone.” His friends from the same center added, “We could have never imagined that someday our photo will also appear in the newspaper.”
This activity created the right dialogue amongst both the trade community and readers. The sentiment was universal with readers who were amazed at the efforts of the trade network, and the trade network was elated with the recognition they received.
More than 18,000 vendor photos were published across 21 editions. Although this coverage will never be enough to truly repay them for their efforts, it brought forth the recognition due to them.