By Qadder Farah:
I have been to the ATM four times in six days. I have been doing my duty as a sanskaari desh bhakt and standing in queues outside a bank to exchange notes. To pass time, I have been reading the numerous news articles written on the hardships faced by the poor. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always been a die-hard Modi fan. I have voted for him in every election and have received much flack for the same from the people of my community. You see, most Muslims find it hard to believe that one of their own would vote for Modi. But I have always believed in his developmental agenda, his strong leadership and his ability to take tough decisions.
I was overjoyed when the Prime Minister did what is being hailed by some as a ‘surgical strike’ on black money. In the following days, I dutifully joined the chorus that claimed that the initial hick-ups and teething troubles were just temporary and that we should patiently sacrifice a few luxuries for a better future. As a card carrying member from the privileged middle class, I ruthlessly exclaimed, “If they can’t use paper, let them use plastic!”
But that was before I stood in a serpentine queue to exchange my notes for the first time. After standing in a queue for nearly three hours that day, I was told that the bank had run out of cash. The second time, I waited for close to four hours before being told that the server was down. On my third attempt, just when I was about to reach the three-hour mark, the bank ran out of cash again!
Truth is that we understand problems only when they affect us. The same people who were praising the Prime Minister’s actions on social media are now condemning it in a colourful language while standing in queues. Many ATMs are still not functioning. I have run out of almost all the ₹100 notes I had. I’m an actress and need cash to go for auditions or else I won’t get work. Ola and Uber are expensive. Autos don’t accept Paytm. Buses don’t provide last mile connectivity. Many times I get paid in cash for small assignments. I deposit this cash and then write cheques or make electronic payments for everything. Perfectly legitimate payments are also made in cash.
I’m aware that all this sounds like first world problems compared to my domestic help’s inability to pay rent or somebody’s life’s savings becoming worthless overnight in rural India where banking hasn’t made necessary inroads. Fancy apps require smartphones. While many have a mobile phone, how many of them actually have smartphones? In urban India, the milkman, the newspaper boy, the vegetable vendor, the domestic help, everyone needs to be paid in cash. They all run perfectly legitimate businesses.
WhatsApp forwards about soldiers standing at the border for hours were supposed to inspire me. But they didn’t. Baba Ramdev made the statement, “During war, our soldiers fight sans eating for 7-8 days; so can’t we do the same for our nation?” It enraged me instead of providing comfort. I respect our soldiers, but there has to be a limit on playing that card to justify pretty much everything! Also, the death toll as a direct result of demonetisation appears to have exceeded that of the Uri attack.
I have been reading about women secretly keeping cash to protect themselves from abusive husbands. They use this cash to feed their children. If this money ends up with their husbands they would just blow it on alcohol or gambling. How many women have bank accounts in their own name? It is easy to say that you just need an Aadhar card to open an account. It’s not that easy for a woman in rural India who has been denied education to fulfill the formalities of getting an Aadhar card and opening a bank account. It could also be an inconvenience for many women who have grown up witnessing gender segregation, as many of the bank employees are men. Cash is their independence and now they have lost it!
We have all lost it. As the length of the queues increase, tempers start flying. Hardworking Indians are forced to waste time in queues instead of engaging in productive labour. It is beginning to pinch the middle class, the traders and transport operators, small businessmen and freelancers. Once, when I was standing in a queue, and a burly security guard was about to hurl swear words at a gun-wielding ‘chowkidar’, somebody yelled, “Jaane do uncle, Sonam Gupta bewafa hai!” (Let it go uncle, Sonam Gupta is unfaithful!) and the entire situation was magically diffused. People who seconds ago appeared to be baying for blood broke into peals of laughter, some even had tears in their eyes!
Some new rule is being thrown in our faces every day. The withdrawal and exchange limits are being arbitrarily changed. Special concessions are being given to farmers and those with weddings in the family. Whatever happened to the slogan of ‘One Country, One Rule’? I guess that is politics. Pandering to vote banks is what ultimately keeps one in power.
Mr Prime Minister, you were supposed to get it right where everyone failed! You were supposed to think this though! You were supposed to get this job done well! You were supposed to fix things! So fix this, or lose my vote!