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Demonetisation and Me

Demonetisation touched the lives of millions of Indians  recently
Imagine if you suddenly learned that the money in your purse had lost its value?

I couldn’t believe it when the autowala (taxi driver) told me that 500 rupee and 1000 rupee notes were banned. With immediate effect! I had one of each in my purse and apart from a few tenners and a fifty, they were all I had. Okay, I exaggerate, but for the monthly salaried, payday was too far into the future. It was only the 8th of November, for heaven’s sake! I wondered for a moment if it was, in fact, April the first. Then I dismissed the autowala’s news as mere speculation.

I’d grabbed a three-wheeler taxi (which some quaintly call the ‘tuc tuc’) to collect my son from his friend’s house. But as our family sat down to dinner that evening, with one eye on the 24-hour news channel, the autowala’s information was confirmed. The Indian government had banned the 500 and 1000 rupee notes.

How did it affect me?

I didn't have enough cash in smaller denominations, like fifties and hundreds. So everyday tasks like buying vegetables and paying the dhobin (the lady who does my ironing) were difficult. We have an account in the local corner shop, so we got our bread and milk on credit. But jumping into a three-wheeler to get out and about wasn’t possible now. Going a reasonable distance meant shelling out between fifty and eighty rupees and well, who had change? It’s amazing how life slowed down. Hundreds, fifties and tenners, where were they? My daughter, a university student in Delhi, felt the crisis keenly. Living in a rented room, far from home, she had a store of useless banknotes and no cash to buy a samosa or a tube of toothpaste.

How did it affect others?

One morning, my cleaning lady didn’t turn up. I called her on her mobile to find out why. Where was she? Standing in a bank queue with her husband. The couple had taken their life savings (in demonetised 500 and 1000 notes) to the bank in the hope of redeeming their treasure, on which their future possibly depended.  The poor had to queue for days and some unfortunate people even died in the queue. Some people broke down crying. We read in the newspaper of a pregnant woman going into labour and producing a baby in the bank queue. The lines in front of ATM machines stretched down the street.

There's a reason behind this

The Government of India took this extreme measure which is harsh in the short term but which will hopefully, reap dividends in the future. Lots of people had been keeping undeclared income at home, to avoid paying their taxes. This was the way of calling them in. The long bank queues were full of people trying to redeem the value of their precious notes. Meanwhile, the cash shortage caused terrible problems.

Back to normal, but wary now

Gradually, the cash has returned and life seems normal again. But some things have changed. When I recently banked some new cash which my husband had kept in the house, he was extremely annoyed. I couldn’t understand why. Eventually, I understood that cash is still not easily available. As a stay at home wife,  I haven’t experienced the despair of waiting for hours in the queue to discover the ATM machine is empty, nor have I had to go out looking for cash to feed my family.

At least not yet. I'm luckier than many.

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