Contrary to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes, the "poor" in India are not "enjoying a sound sleep" after his government sprang demonetisation on the country six days ago, and it isn't only the "rich" who are in a bind. While addressing a public gathering in Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh on Monday, Modi said, "the poor are enjoying a sound sleep while rich are running from pillar to post to buy sleeping pills."
Whereas in reality, it is the underprivileged, from the tea pickers in Assam to the fishermen in Chennai, from domestic workers to agricultural labourers, from grocers to washerwomen, from fish mongers to fruit and vegetable sellers, who have been caught in a nightmare that refuses to end.
In the two speeches that the prime minister delivered post-demonetisation, he has invoked his own humble origins as a tea seller, while asking people to bear this temporary hardship so that the country is cleansed of black money. For the prime minister to ask for sacrifices from its citizens is one thing, but to create disruptions that are claiming lives and livelihoods, is quite another. To say that the "poor are enjoying a sound sleep" borders on delusional.
Modi needs to acknowledge the full extent of the suffering unleashed by his government's failure to anticipate and plan properly. The prime minister says that worry doesn't let him sleep, but that is little comfort to those who have lost their loved ones in the process of making India clean. The question that the prime minister needs to ask himself when he lies awake at night is whether India could have been cleansed of black money without the death 25 individuals, and how he can ensure that this number does not go up.
Unless Modi seriously takes into account the colossal levels of distress caused to citizens, the next 50 days of this scheme could continue to be hellish. In fact, it could take as much as another four months for the crippling cash crunch to ease up.
In the wake of 25 deaths, the inability of daily wage labourers to feed their children, and continuing hardships, it is wholly inappropriate for Modi to make light of the situation by saying that the poor like his brand of "kadak chai." Here are nine instances which prove that the "poor" are not "enjoying a sound sleep."
Daily wage labourers have been among the worst-hit by demonetisation, with many of them sleeping hungry along with their families. After failing to get money from the bank or an ATM, Gopal, a carpenter in Delhi, had to break his daughter's piggy bank to take out ₹150 in coins. He has a ₹500 note in his pocket, two hungry daughters at home, and a question for the prime minister: "I have money in my pocket, yet my family is hungry. Ask Modiji, what wrong have I done?"
A Washerwoman Dies
In the Kushinagar district in Uttar Pradesh, a washerwoman died of shock after learning that the ₹1,000 note which she had saved was no longer legal tender.
Losing Their Children
A watchman, a carpenter and a farmer have lost a child each, just because they could not arrange for legal tender to pay for the necessary treatment at hospitals, which had stopped accepting ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes.
Cheated in the market, turned away by the bank
Maninder Tripathi, a visually impaired seller of incense sticks in Delhi, who earns ₹150-180 a day, was cheated when someone handed him a ₹500 note after it had ceased to become legal tender. Then, Tripathi failed to get the ₹500 note changed because he did not have an identity card to show at the bank. His business has been badly hit as there are fewer people with cash to spare for incense sticks.
Domestic workers in crisis
Usha Devi told The Wire that she doesn't "know how to use a bank or use an ATM." There are countless tales of domestic workers such as Usha who are having to borrow money until their employers can pay them in legal tender. Since most domestic workers do not have bank accounts, some employees are offering to get their legal tender exchanged for them but this too could take a while since queues at ATM kiosks and banks are only getting longer.
Farmers without fertilisers, labourers without work
Agricultural labourers in Rajasthan are among the worst-hit, with demonetisation throwing the season for sowing Rabi crops into disarray. Many farmers in the hinterland have no access to banks, and they have run out of the cash which they normally use to buy fertilizers, pesticides and seeds. Chiranjilal Maharia, a labourer in Rajasthan, toldThe Hindu, that he can't find any work.
No payment for tea workers in the Northeast
Lakhs of tea workers in Bengal, Assam and the rest of the Northeast have not received payment following demonetisation, which is only adding to the prevailing problem of malnutrition. It could be days before currency notes arrive in remote areas where tea estates are located, and where ill equipped banks take time to stock up. Jute workers are facing a similar predicament over non-payment of wages.
After floods, comes demonetisation
Last year, it was a flood. This year, it is demonetisation. It would appear that fishermen in Chennai can't catch a break. K Raji, a fisherman at Saidapet, has gone from selling 15 kg of fish to just four kg. "People are ready to buy in exchange for old notes of ₹500 but I am not accepting those. I have taken a hit on my earning," he said. In fact, fishermen in Tamil Nadu have vowed not to go to sea until the situation stabilizes.
No work for autowallahs
Even before demonetisation, auto-rickshaw drivers in the National Capital Region were facing hardships because customers have been migrating to app-based cab services such as Uber and Ola. Now, with demonetisation, their dwindling pool of customers is all but vanishing. Even regular auto-users such as Aniket Tiwari are now turning to app-based cab services, which allow customers to pay online.
Ruby Singhal, Noida and Ghaziabad's only woman auto-rickshaw driver, did not earn any money on Saturday. "The government should have infused a large quantity of lower denomination notes before banning the higher currency notes," she told the Hindustan Times.
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