The recent ‘bold’ move by the Prime Minister of India to demonetize INR 500 and INR 1000 currencies is being hailed as a masterstroke for tackling the major malaises hounding the economy – namely a parallel economy, counterfeit currency, and terror financing. Narendra Modi declared that in a span of less than four hours, INR 500 and INR 1,000 currencies would be demonetized, thereby withdrawing their status as legal tender. Since then, there has been no dearth of news all over the media regarding the aftermath of this sudden move. A lot of self-proclaimed prodigies were of the belief that this move is the ultimate weapon against black money and terror financing.
Why was this move made? And what followed?
The government links this move to an almost cashless economy for the future, apart from its goal of demolishing black money market, counterfeit currency and terror financing. India’s finance minister stated that he is aiming towards a cashless economy in order to curb black money. Narendra Modi declared this as the country’s biggest cleanliness drive.
I noticed a general fervour around many urban middle class homes, including my own. Family/friends WhatsApp groups were abuzz with moralistic lessons of patience, faith, patriotism, and honesty in these ‘momentarily inconvenient times’. But it didn’t take long for the aam junta to admit that this is far beyond a momentary disruption. So from ‘Modi is God’ to ‘Modi MAY have committed a mistake’ and ‘Modi MAY have rushed too fast into it’ – things escalated quickly.
And yet our PM’s emotional drama was unrelenting, filled with empty rhetoric, buying him some precious time. In a local addressing at Goa, he put on his acting mask and asked the junta to give him pachaas din (50 days), with 100% emotional quotient in his quivering but authoritative voice – because he had sacrificed his life and his family for the country.
Erm…sacrificed the family? Deserted, Sir. Deserted is the word you are looking for.
The Debacle Pushed Underneath all the Glory
One needs to understand that listening to the PM’s pomposity on TV is not the same as understanding the niceties and concerns that come with this decision. The stories put forth by people think-tanks like ArthaKranti report the benefits of an economy that is ‘almost cashless’ – which is far from true. India continues to be driven by the use of cash due to lack of access to banking for a large part of the population. Cash remains the only means available for the majority population – from farmers, daily wage workers, labourers, to feriwaalas who have to cash out haftaas – everyone at the bottom rungs are facing the starkest risks.
Further, capitalism sustains black money and the constant circulation of liquid cash, like white money, is what keeps the money black. The government is trying to tell us that the cash-less economy is actually meant for our benefit – people won’t have to worry about black money and the most importantly, the shadow economy people crib about so much.
The move to demonetize is specifically linked to the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana scheme, which was meant to ensure that every household has a bank account. Based on the false assumptions that the scheme was a success, one article claimed that the citizens’ access to bank accounts is nearly complete, which is why a move like demonetisation was made possible.
So the hypothesis is that, all low income households which were previously unbanked, are not so anymore. This also comes with another brazen grand theory that the need for people to stash cash under their mattresses therefore has diminished. This statement is an insult to those innumerable women who have been saving penny by penny day in and day out, without letting their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons find out.
The problem with Modiji’s mantra of patience is that when you stand on majestic dais and throw open an exhibition of your political agendas (desh ki liye), the people you address are not even the ones who are suffering the most. They in fact, cannot even afford to spend time assessing the risks you have thrown at them. The problem is, you do not even consider sparing a minute for those who do not fit the window of your narrow minded agendas. There is too much collateral damage already done by the Brahmin Empire for those excluded and now they are burdened with keeping faith in your stupid gimmicks. This is another decision that will further alienate them from their environment – push them into profound darkness, out of the mainstream processes of coping up and surviving.
When there are indictments against this move and the privileged retort with the need to apply ‘appropriate and strict’ measures, it’s important to remember that the privileged will survive, no matter what. Families like my own (urban upper caste/middle class) will survive. The same old ‘appropriate agenda’ for the ‘larger good’ is built on the backs of the most vulnerable – the ones who will crumble under the grand dreams of this nation. So next time you glorify your government’s efforts to ‘rebuild the economy’, or when you hear things like look at the larger picture, sacrifice for the nation, or when you silence the protestors with talks of institutional and industrial support systems – take a minute to remember this – demanding paanch or pachaas days of suffering from those you don’t even care to think for, is oppression. Your hope, dear PM sir, is too fragile to trickle down to those at the bottom of the rock.
This move is clearly against those who have always been pushed behind, left out, forced to slow down while trying to catch up to the dreams of our dear nation. A Facebook post I recently read appropriately points out,
“Most bahujans conduct their lives as part of the shadow economy (non-formal/para-legal/ outside the pale of the so-called banking systems/as part of the so-called political society). Most savarnas conduct their lives as part of the formal economy (legal/statist/part of the so-called civil society/enabled with laundromats that turn white to black and vice versa). Although the current attack seems to be pitched against the black economy, in effect it has turned into an orchestrated assault against the shadow economy. That seems to have been the plan from the beginning. Disciplining the “non-citizens”.
The move is also the epitome of institutional decisions that are precariously and blatantly anti-women. A grandmother with her 3000 rupees (hidden from family) has no idea that her only support, her only means to remain secure has overnight become trash. One wonders what might happen to so many others who are in similar, or much worse places. What about people who have no IDs, what about those who do not have bank accounts? What about those whose daily survival is dependent upon the liquid cash they earn? What about women who have eloped from their families due to fear of getting killed/harassed with cash as the only means of support? Amba Azaad talks about this and a lot more on Twitter in a brilliant way.
People wandering into my mentions who do not know people who have no form of ID with which to ‘walk into a post office’ – you terrify me.
— Amba Azaad (@AmbaAzaad) November 8, 2016
The sudden upsurge with money flowing into all the nil bank accounts is also telling of the fact that the people in the upper caste ‘cash-less’ category have actually been successful in arranging deposits for their cash into the accounts of their maids, servants, and employees. Another example of how the marginalized crumble to become ‘alternatives’ for the problems of the dominant.
Another excellent statement by Heba Ahmed summed it up for me,
“It is the hallmark of fascism to glorify the hardships it imposes on people, and then to exhort the people to bear with those hardships for the sake of the nation. No nation is worth penury and death.”
Truer words have not been spoken.
Even with all the ‘recovery’ we make, a grave question lies ahead – Does this recovery offset the severe, dangerous, life-threatening inconvenience caused? The privileged may retort with their minor sufferings as the benchmark for not complaining and supporting the important step, but they are doing it for a system that will eventually result in protecting their vested interests alone.
Which brings me to a whole scale of inconveniences caused, from one end of complaints like I had to cancel my wedding photoshoot to the other end of facing death. Actually murder. A general conversation with people belonging to the same class and caste that I do, indicated to me that all their concerns can be put into a lifestyle category – some had to cancel their family trips, some had no change (but lots of money) to buy vegetables so they had to order online food, some had to cancel some cash based wedding expenses, and such. This isn’t an exhaustive list and I agree that there sure are severer concerns for the people belonging to my caste and class. But these are the very people, who with their privileges, ask the poor and the vulnerable to keep faith in Modi and support the country by ‘suffering a little’.
Ironically, these are also the same people who on losing their patience, show utmost disregard for the lower castes and their lived realities. Almost every argument I had with the urban middle class/upper caste people ended with all blame being thrown at the marginalized for their loose, unorganised lifestyles – “Why don’t they have bank accounts? Did they not listen to the PM? What does it take to ensure you have an ID? Why are they so lazy? Why do they keep money under the mattresses? Why don’t they learn? Why don’t they work hard?” The intensity of this arrogance hits so hard that sometimes all one can do in response is stare blankly at their hate frothing mouths – reeking of superiority and egotism.
This is where our privileges are hidden. This is what makes us think it is okay to ask ‘them’ to ‘suffer a little more’ for the country – because they brought it on themselves and because some weird idea of nation is more important than most of its people.
The Abysmal Drama that Justifies Killing
The ghastly emotional spectacle by our chest thumping Prime Minister in Goa was nothing less of a cruel joke. Modiji, in his attempts to ‘clean the country’ off corruption and terror, said he won’t stop even if people burn him alive.
Right, because that’s like, totally and so easily possible. No?
But here’s something that is actually possible – because it has happened. 16 people have already died – as a direct consequence of this ‘bold’ move. Quite a bold figure too. 16. And I am pretty sure, it’s counting. So in case someone reading this is still unwilling to reflect upon the sheer double standards of our bigger picture, our proud sacrifices for the nation, and our glorious surgical strikes, let me remind you that the damage is not worth it. Not one bit.
It is revolting and nothing less that after being slipshod and an utter failure, they have the audacity to ask the marginalized to be tolerant. The real malaise that is plaguing us is our leaders asking the most vulnerable to keep suffering for a cause that is apparently much more important and urgent than their already distraught lives.