A “Minor” Inconvenience for Many

Social Media Disagreed

Most of these concerns were dismissed by people on social media as either forced criticism (due to my political leanings being openly in opposition to the ruling party) or minor, temporary inconveniences for the greater good — to end black money, fake currency, reduce inflation, reduce terrorism, save the economy and in turn help the poor (and much more).

The Numbers Tell a Grim Tale

I decided to objectively look into the below statistics to see if I was indeed overreacting and that everything would be fine as many on social media said it would.

  • Access to financial institutions — banking, post office etc
  • Jan Dhan Yojana Accounts

Pray for Those Who Can’t Access an Account

There is a mechanism for those who want to go and get the money exchanged without possessing an account. You can take the currency to the bank and get it exchanged. However, this move is possible just once (unless the RBI interim review offers the opportunity again) between now and the 31st of December and for not more than Rs. 4000 in currency. To do this exchange, they require an identity card and that isn’t something that everyone has either.

Take a look at this entire chain of tweets. It is an eye opener.

Having an Account isn’t Enough Either

If we temporarily set aside the millions who don’t have banking access, there is certainly clear that a reasonable majority of households do have a bank account. Furthermore, urban areas have a relatively reasonable banking infrastructure with a reasonable amount of bank branches and ATMs to support the population in these areas. Things should be straight forward, at least for urban citizens, to deposit money in their accounts and eventually convert it. That should mean that the problem is solved at least for them right?

Long lines, even late into the night. (Picture taken by a colleague)

The Average Citizen is Suffering

The stories about the struggles in getting monetarily acceptable cash are horrifying. People are having to go hungry because they don’t have enough legal cash to get meals. There are reports of people are actually dying either in shock at their money suddenly becoming worthless or while waiting in these lines. In some locations, fights have broken out between citizens and also with bankers (who are facing the fury caused by the government’s decision).

A Cashless World isn’t the Answer (Yet)

In the face of all this, it is easy for anyone to say, “Oh! this is the perfect incentive for the masses to go towards a cashless”, promote using online services and signing up for something like PayTM (coincidentally, a company that’s benefiting immensely and somehow had the foresight to post a full front page ad the next day to praise the supreme leader’s secret move). Yes, it is an ideal future and one we should strive for but we’re simply not ready for it. Not from the perspective of infrastructure, nor from the perspective of how people think about money.

A Policy of Politics

If you do look at social media though, you see frequent calls for praise and related hyperbole about this being a first, decisive move. This notion that the policy should be praised for its first of a kind, proactive nature without worrying about those affected by it seems to have come from a place of convenient amnesia. Demonetization has happened before, and for the same reasons. It happened in 1978, when denominations of 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 were all scrapped with a similar goal, of curbing the “black money” economy. Fortunately, back then we were still very much an under-developed economy and for the masses, these notes were inaccessible and their removal had little impact on them. Nearly 40 years on, it looks like it had little impact on black money too.

This Won’t Stop Black Money

When the move was first announced and the new currency details came out, there was a spectacular web of misinformation that emerged from influential, pro-ruling party sources whether on social media or television. Incredibly inventive dreams of embedded GPS chips in notes that evolved into “e-Ink printed notes which when stacked form a tracker” were all complete nonsense and figments of someone’s hyperactive imagination. The sad thing is, there are thousands of educated Indians (including the media and others who are faculty at our nation’s premier institutions) who believe this to be true and that is a worrying sign about the future of our nation.

Our Privilege Makes us Blind

At this point, I can safely assume that you’re reading this online, whether on your computer or possibly, on your phone. If you’re doing so, you should consider yourself to be a part of the elite of our nation — Where you can quickly jump into an online transaction world and avoid a lot of these minor inconveniences listed above.

  • WHAT? Does all my cash have zero value now?
  • I’ve been to 6 different banks, waited in line for 2 hours at each one and I still don’t have money. I haven’t eaten all day and I don’t have a debit card. What do I do?
  • My child is seriously ill, but the hospital won’t take my money. I can’t wait to go find money, they aren’t happy with a cheque payment. How can I get my child treated?
  • How do I feed my family tonight if I can’t get change for 500? How do I feed myself?
  • I have saved 50,000 to build a house for my parents in my village. I’ve collected this money over time and sent it to my parents to keep it safe. Their nearest branch is 20km away. Am I going to lose it all?
  • This contractor paid my brother and me for the day’s labour with 1000 note. We can’t use this anywhere; but this is all we have. What do we do?
  • I’ve been withdrawing money daily to pay for my sister’s wedding. All that money is worthless now. How do I make payments? Will her marriage stop?
  • I’ve saved up money for years, without telling my husband who is dominating, believes he controls everything and handles all the money. How do I get my money changed?

What can we do now?

These are grim times in the face of what seems more and more a senseless move. We need to find ways to help those without access to banking as much as we can until the situation improves and there’s a sufficient supply of currency (And currency size compatible ATM machines) rather than the current farce. (One example could be to use services like Big Basket to get provisions for anyone who is struggling with getting cash or getting old currency changed)

  • genuine concerns around the first time use of Hindi numerals the currency
  • the plight of tourists who can’t get money changed
  • the stories of the ruling party selectively leaking the “secrecy” of their plan to give their friends and allies a heads up to prepare
  • the exploitation by some people taking the demonetized notes at a much lower value and taking advantage of desperation
  • the theories of crony capitalism around providing a cash influx to banks with bad loans.

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Education Designer, Design Strategist, Feminist, Leftist, Traveler, Foodie, Polyglot, Arsenal

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Adi

Adi

Education Designer, Design Strategist, Feminist, Leftist, Traveler, Foodie, Polyglot, Arsenal