Beholi Village of Kurukshetra in Haryana is a small village of about 2000 people, dominated largely by scheduled castes. Schools here, like elsewhere, remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic - but several students of a government school in Beholi say they now balance school with work, as they have had no choice but to pick up jobs to help their families, who are struggling in the midst of an economic slowdown.

Ravinder Kumar (18) who studies in class 12 has started working in a pipe factory in Kurukshetra which is 10 kms from Beholi village as a loader, because his father who is a vegetable seller lost his earning in the initial days of the lockdown and has not been able to recover it yet. Kumar, who comes from a family where his father was the only breadwinner, had to step up to the task and got a job to meet the expenses of the family. When asked about how he manages online classes and work, Ravinder says “frankly speaking, I am unable to give full attention to school work, though sometimes, I get time in the night to check my school work which is given on WhatsApp by school teachers.”

Though Kumar now earns Rs 200 per day and gets no paid leave, the small earnings are not enough for a family of four which includes him, his parents and a younger brother. He does not know how he will manage work and regular school as schools are about to open according to the latest unlock policy of Haryana.

The story of Sahil Kumar (17) and Kamal (18) are very similar to that of Ravinder Kumar. Kamal is also in his final year of school, and his father, who used to work as labourer, lost his earnings in the lockdown. But Kamal’s story has a little twist. Kamal quickly picked up a job as a machine operator in a pipe factory, he lost his job in a very short span of time due to slowdown in business. Kamal is very optimistic that he will get a new job very soon as normalcy returns and economic activity sees an upswing. At the same time however, he is wondering how he will manage both work and his education once schools reopen.

Sahil Kumar of class 11 lives with his mother and only brother in Beholi village. Kumar’s brother who is the sole earner in the family and drives an auto-rickshaw, lost his earnings during the lockdown as he earns on a daily basis. Though things have improved for Sahil’s brother since the lifting of the lockdown, earnings remain lower than pre-covid levels. Sahil had to step in, taking on a job. He has started working in a car garage where he paints cars. He loves painting cars and enjoys his job a lot which earns him Rs 5000 per month. Kumar is totally out of touch with his studies as he has lost his phone a few months back at his job and he does not have enough savings to buy a new one. When asked about how he will manage school and his job once schools get fully open, he says in a low voice, “nahi pata” (don’t know).

According to a class teacher in Beholi school, about 80 % of her students have started doing various odd jobs. Ravinder Kumar, Kamal and Sahil Kumar are just a few examples in the ocean of students in rural Haryana. The coronavirus crisis and its impact on the economy and society has compelled many young adults to take on jobs, creating the challenge of balancing school work with employment. How will Ravinder, Kamal and Sahil manage once schools reopen? We will soon know.