Wheels are turning again in New India

There are more ‘Vayuveers’ than ‘Agniveers', and the paths of their two-wheelers are littered with crushed dreams. Like sheep, they have been herded into this new avenue of employment

Wheels are turning again in New India

Umesh Sharma

India is on the move. After more than two years of near paralysis followed by some movement in fits and starts, one finally sees that the wheels are moving regularly and in greater than ever numbers. The wheels belong to young men (and rarely, women) on their two-wheelers of all kinds.

They move through traffic leaving all caution to the wind. They are all in a tearing hurry. They all carry large, or rather outsized cases on their bikes and scooters. They are The Delivery Boys.

We all witnessed the collapse of the unorganised sector, MSMEs and numerous other businesses during the Covid lockdowns. Many chose to return home from their places of employment. Many more were retrenched. Some businesses downsized to keep their heads above water.

A very large workforce of young men was suddenly without jobs. We do not have authentic unemployment figures but one thing is certain. Unemployment rate has greatly increased in the last two years.

Offline agencies ventured into online commerce. Groceries, clothes, cosmetics, fashion accessories, books, furniture et al were made available online. The citizens, locked up in their own homes, found a new way to shop. And they shopped with glee because there were no other means to arrange essentials of daily living, or to splurge.

All e-commerce agencies happily booked orders, billed the shoppers and collected payments electronically. There remained one essential detail- to deliver the orders. This is when all the unemployed/ retrenched/dismissed young men were invited to be the delivery boys.

One either possessed some form of personal transport such as a two-wheeler, or bought one on soft loan from the employer or a commercial bank. Suddenly, all these young men were zipping on the city arteries, streets and lanes. I call them Vayu Veers.

Suppliers, facing tough competition, are offering quicker deliveries, same day deliveries and even 20-minute deliveries to their clients. The young delivery boys are more than willing to ride all over the city and deliver the goods while risking their lives.

They jump red lights and overtake from any side they can, in order to beat the deadline. Well-educated, decent young men who were holding responsible jobs, have suddenly found a new vocation, a new means of earning sustenance. The job also ensures that the wheels of their bikes keep moving.

The new e-commerce in almost everything sold in the market has sounded the death knell of small groceries and other goods stores. The sheer convenience of shopping from home and getting everything delivered at one's doorstep has enabled online retailers to prosper, at least in large urban centres.

But the dumbing down of the educated, young workforce into a large mass of delivery boys has been a very unkind cut. There are no avenues of promotion for these young men. Only the wheels of their vehicles keep moving.

Must one feel sad for these Vayu Veers? The paths of their two-wheelers are littered with crushed dreams. Perhaps their final schooling/college years, spent in receiving a less than standard education online, did not qualify them for anything better, though it's not their fault.

I was dismayed to see a recruitment advertisement of a well-known bank mentioning in bold letters that graduates of class of 2021 and 2022 need not apply. Like sheep, they have been herded into this new avenue of employment. Logging long hours of work for meagre salaries and paltry commissions, they gamely ride their bikes in ever-increasing traffic on city roads. And deliver their packages with a smile.

In order to bring a transformative change into our Armed Forces, the government has promulgated a new policy of recruitment called Agnipath. Much has been written about the poorly thought-out policy that promises annual recruitment of mere 46,000 able-bodied youth in a country of 1.4 billion.

But there has been little mention in the media and little discussion in public forums of these Vayu Veers on their two-wheelers. A considerably greater number are employed by e-commerce firms as delivery agents. Some euphemistically call them ‘partners’ or ‘associates’. But by whatever name you call them, they remain Vayu Veers. Hail the ‘Delivery Boys’.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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