New Delhi, Aug. 13 -- As the second week of August rolled in, 39-year-old Banarsi Shah began making plans to head back to his village near Begusarai in Bihar. An auto worker at the diesel engine unit of Maruti Suzuki's Gurugram plant, Shah had hit the jackpot: a nearly three-week-long leave. "I don't really know what is happening to car sales or the economy," he said over the phone from his village. "I hope to come back on 1 September."

When Shah became an auto worker in 2008, the automotive industry was going through a prolonged boom. Between 2000 and 2015, the share of jobs in automobile manufacturing doubled from about 3% to nearly 7%, providing employment to an estimated 800,000 people. But that ride now seems to have definitively hit ...