Poore Pachaas Din, Sarkar: How India Suffered Under Demonetisation

As PM Modi’s deadline ends, The Quint takes a look at how India has lived through (and endured) these fifty days.

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“Brothers and sisters, give me 50 days.”

Five days after he announced the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November 2016, Prime Minister Modi had asked the country for 50 days to ease the suffering caused by demonetisation. As his deadline ends on 30 December, The Quint takes a look at how India has lived through (and endured) these 50 days; farmers, factory workers, families in ATM queues, elderly people waiting for pensions, bankers waiting for cash and retired soldiers.

1. People Died in ATM Queues, And Lives Depended on Getting ‘Chhutta’

“My son is crying because he is hungry. I have asked for milk on credit for him,” says Munni, a mother of five children in Garhi village, 45 km from Delhi.

Munni works as a cleaning staff at a school and received her salary in five Rs 500 notes. After demonetisation, she couldn’t exchange the notes, which made her salary useless. Shopkeepers wouldn’t accept old notes and she was unable to find change. And she wasn’t alone.

Also Read: A Village Brought to a Standstill by the PM’s Currency Ban

A recurring image of the currency ban has been long, serpentine queues outside banks and ATMs across the country. After Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were scrapped, most ATMs in the country could only dispense Rs 100 notes, since they weren’t calibrated for new notes.

Also Read: The Quint’s ATM Reality Check: PM Modi, Our Lives Stay Disrupted

Furthermore, even for those who could manage to get their hands on the crisp, pink Rs 2,000 note, change was hard to come handy. How does one buy vegetables for Rs 200 and ask for Rs 1,800 change?

Getting chhutta was overshadowed by people dying. At least 100 deaths have been reported since the 8 November demonetisation move. Some are instances of elderly people dying of a heart attack in an ATM queue, while in some cases newborns requiring medical help were turned away from hospitals as the fee was being paid in old notes. Within 50 days, Indians slowly got used to a term called ‘demonetisation deaths’.

2. Workers Returned Home, Or Sacrificed Wages and Starved

Payday was usually a happy day for Vijay Kumar Jha. A worker in a shoe-making factory in Sector-58 in Noida, he was waiting for his salary on 1 December 2016, only to be given coupons in lieu of cash. Due to cash crunch, 25-year-old Pradeep Sarate was unable to send his parents money. A security guard by profession and living alone in Mumbai, he used to send them Rs 8,000 cash every month.

Also Read: Watch: Hit Hard By Note Ban, Migrant Workers Head Back to Villages

For workers in cities like Delhi and Mumbai who survived on their daily wages, demonetisation often meant less wages and sometimes a train back home. In some cases, workers were also paid wages in old notes by their employers; implying a day’s wages would have to be sacrificed to stand in a line at an ATM or a bank.

3. Banks Begged for Money, and Bankers Were Attacked

When PM Modi announced demonetisation on 8 November, a bank manager of a small semi-rural government bank branch in eastern Uttar Pradesh was taken aback. Out of a total of Rs 60 lakh, his bank’s cash holding had been reduced by half. For 81% of rural India, a ‘banking correspondent’ is the closest thing they have to a bank. And as India’s rural economy was hit by a severe cash crunch, banking correspondents and managers in rural banks were on the front lines.

Also Read: “May Need a New PM”: Note Ban’s Rural Supporters Are Losing Faith

When life depends on how close you are from withdrawing money waiting at an ATM queue, it is easy to direct anger and helplessness at the bank. In the 50 days of demonetisation, banks (and bank managers) often became villains. Public anger against banks led to an IDBI Bank in Sabzi Mandi in Delhi being attacked with stones and a lathicharge in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. But behind the counter, banks were as helpless as those waiting in front of it. As 30-year-old Dhruv Narain Yadav said,

They gave me a total of Rs 12,000. I distributed the money between 25 people. A woman came up to me and said, ‘My child has pneumonia. If you don’t give me money, he’ll die.’ The only person who got Rs 2,000, he said, was that mother
Dhruv Narayan Yadav, SBI business correspondent, Badya Buzurg village

4. Pensions Were Stuck and An Old Man Became an Icon

Humko apna paisa kyon nahi dete. Pehle tayyari kyon nahi ki?
Nand Lal to the Hindustan Times

Nand Lal, 78, a retired soldier, gets a pension of Rs 8,000. When he went to withdraw his pension at an SBI Branch in Gurugram, he had to stand in queue for three days. On the third day, he broke down in despair. A picture of him crying was published in Hindustan Times, and unknowingly, he became the face of the distress and anguish caused by demonetisation.

Also Read: Retired Soldier Who Broke Down Outside A Bank Describes His Plight

In far-off Chitoor in Andhra Pradesh, a nearly 70-year-old Padmamma was told to wait for ten days to get her pension of Rs 1,000, reports Scroll.in. It is no coincidence that for many, the face of demonetisation was an elderly citizen waiting for his pension. Standing at an ATM line, dealing with the paperwork of opening a bank account and adapting to digital payments is after all, a young person’s game.

5. Jawans Became an Argument and Kisans Dumped Their Crops

Poore Pachaas Din, Sarkar: How India Suffered Under Demonetisation

Also Read: Why Use Army’s Sacrifices to Snuff Anger Over Note Ban: Ex-Jawans

As social media used ‘soldiers at the border’ as the final argument against critiques of currency ban, farmers across India helplessly looked for ways to dispose of their crops. After facing years of drought, farmers had a rich crop in 2016. But ever since demonetisation was announced on 8 November, farmers in Uttar Pradesh have no choice but to dump sacks of potatoes along the roadside and abandoned outside cold storage facilities, reports The Economic Times.

Ajay Vir Jhakhar, Chairman of the Bharat Krishak Samaj has said that the agricultural situation in Punjab is dire.

Most small and marginal farmers take loans from cooperative banks. About 5 crore farmers, who have fulfilled KYC norms and received loans using Kisan Credit Cards, can’t even make repayments and continue to be charged interest. 

6. On the Fringes, Livelihoods Were Paused

For those living on the fringes of Indian economy, 50 days of demonetisation has made lives worse. India’s roads carry 65% of the country's freight and road transport contributes Rs 1,492 crore per day to the GDP. With Rs 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes being banned, truckers in India faced a severe cash crisis; while being on the road. They were unable to pay money for food, maintenance repairs and ironically enough, bribes for highway officials.

Also Read: Stranded Without Bank Accounts: The Rohingya Refugees are Hurting

For Rohingya Muslims in Kalindi Kunj, the only identification card they own is a UNHCR card. Without an Aadhar card or a bank account to ensure exchange of old notes, they are struggling to make everyday ends meet.

Illustrations: Susnata Paul
Video Editor:
Mohd Irshad Alam and Ashutosh Bhardwaj

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