By Nandini Mazumder:
I had a conversation with an auto driver this morning. I asked him how he was spending his money. He replied, “Bas chal raha hai. Dukh aur sukh toh do bhai hai.” (It’s just going on. Happiness and sadness are two brothers.) I told him that demonetisation was meant to be for the ones who had black money but they are the ones having a good time. I said, Woh cash mein thori na rakhe thhe. Unka kala dhan toh gold mein, properties mein, Swiss banks mein, aur benami Panama karobaron mei. Aapko aur humko aur baaki janta ko kyu dukh dena? Humare paas kala dhan hota toh hum bank ke qatar mein poora din khare rehte? Ya aap auto chalate ya mai auto mein beithti? ( They don’t keep it in cash. Their black money is stored in gold, properties, Swiss banks, undisclosed businesses in Panama. Why should you, me and the rest of the honest crowd made to feel saddened? If we had black money, would we have stood in lines for the whole day? Would you have driven the auto and would I be sitting on it? He replied back, Haan baat toh sach hai. Waise, kab tak rahega yeh sarkar?” (Yes, it is true. Till when will this government remain?) I told him that it will remain till at least 2019. He expressed his despair and shock.
The conversation explains everything that is wrong with the decision to demonetise. Especially, since 86% of the currency in circulation was made redundant overnight.
Demonetisation is not hurting the interests of those who have hoarded the most amount of black money, as most of it is not in cash stashed away under the bed. The government does not want, or for whatever reasons is unable to, act against those who are named in the Panama papers. It includes ‘heartthrobs‘ Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Ajay Devgn. Government-owned banks have been giving loans to those who are wilful defaulters like Vijay Mallya. Wedding of former Karnataka Minister Janardhana Reddy’s daughter cost 500 crores. See, how they all are related to the BJP in one way or the other?
The hardest hit by this policy are the common people, the poorest of the poor, those in the remotest areas of the country, those who live in areas where sighting a bank is as elusive as sighting a Royal Bengal tiger in one of our reserved forests, those without bank accounts, those without ID proofs. Scores of daily wage labourers, farmers, millions of working women who save money in cash.
However, I have reasons to be happy. Amidst the darkness, a majority of Indians are rising up from a deep slumber as expressed in the conversation with the young auto driver this morning. The government’s decision clearly shows its target vote bank is the urban middle class. The ones with smartphones, internet connectivity, Paytm accounts. But the disillusioned government forgets in its greed of serving the rich, the hoarders of black money, that India is still, by and large, a poor country.
The government’s vote bank, the urban and upper caste Indians, have come out in support of the government’s decision. We are disconnected to how the majority of Indians live. Many send their maids, drivers or someone else to the ATM or bank, and don’t feel inconvenienced at all. Many refill food stocks using Grofers or order via Swiggy. So, they won’t empathise with complaints of hunger and hopelessness. Those who complain will be brazenly labelled as lazy, ‘anti-national’ and as someone who is whining all the time. They are expected to remain quiet and suffer for the larger good of the nation. Having such a mindset is the worst and is amplified during the demonetisation crisis.
As a privileged class, we have a lot of introspection to do. Lots of questions to answer. We have to explain why the 33 people who have died so far have failed to move us to anger, shame or sorrow. Why have the stories of people going hungry in the remote parts of the country, the farmer or the housewife committing suicide, not make us cringe at our own privilege? We have to take ownership of the privileged worldview and provide an answer to the millions who suffer much more than our swiggy-totting and smartphone obsessed existence can either imagine or even bear. We have to account for the blood money, whether or not we can account for the black money.
Personally, I will begin with trying as much as I can to help the small, local vendors. My husband is an ardent advocate against plastic money, especially credit cards. I am beginning to see why. The shameless, insolence that urban India has shown during this crisis towards our poorer fellow citizens, makes it even more important that we reject the plastic money and internet purchase syndrome and support the local vendors, as much as possible. Right now, I have no cash and only have a debit card. I have no choice but to refill my grocery from a large departmental store that accepts cards. But this shouldn’t become the norm as we now know who the government is trying to promote and who it’s trying to wipe out. We need to help the small traders because India is by and large, still about local traders, farmers, cash transactions, hardly any internet connectivity, grinding poverty, and of course, a vast majority without smartphones.
The vast majority of poor are currently suffering the most due to this decision to protect the real culprits by targeting the commoners. But people will show the government its place as 2019 is less than three years away.