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Demonetization reminds me of the sheep, who cheered when their leader promised them a blanket each.
It was business as usual in the house, dinner was being prepped and there was usual banter over who had earned the right to own the remote for the evening, when Mr Prime Minister, in a surprise TV address, announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would be withdrawn from circulation with immediate effect. That hit like a bolt out of the blue. There was a sudden scramble, everyone dishing for their wallets and making sense of how much of their hard earned money had been rendered redundant in a matter of minutes and what to do with these currency notes that were now as good as raddi.
A lot has been said about the economics of it all. Some are talking about the long-term gains; others are trashing it as a gimmick. Small fish landing in the net while the big guns remain largely unaffected, the struggles of the poor and daily wagers, a sudden stop to the hawala money, poor execution and so on, a lot has been said about demonetization since. Almost a fortnight later, the madness is far from dying down. But there is one thing no one seems to be taking note of – how the move has impacted the lot of women in a country where financial independence remains a rarity, save for a few memes about how the quintessential homemaker has had to declare her stash of ‘black money’ – yes, the secret savings of the woman of house builds by cutting a few corners here and there from the household budget.
With large amount of money withdrawn for monthly expenses in denominations of 500 and 1,000, our biggest worry was to keep the groceries and everyday essentials coming. The reality of the situation sank in when the guy manning the milk booth refused to give us milk for the now defunct 500 bill. It meant having to go without the daily dose of coffee, and the kid in the house having to do without milk at least for a day.
The maid of the house was nearly moved to tears as she narrated how she had to plunder her seven-year-old’s piggy bank to buy ration and veggies to sustain them at least for a week, hoping for the situation to improve by then. An elderly woman who live across the hall from us was shattered after being accused of stealing her husband’s ‘hard-earned money’ when she dished out nearly 47 1,000 rupee note bills to be deposited in the bank. That she had accumulated the amount over a span of three years did not matter. Her entire commitment to running the household – something that she devoted her life to – was questioned just like that, in a jiffy. ‘I was saving it for a rainy day,’ she muttered between sobs, but hey, who’s listening.
A friend who endures a two-hour commute to work and back every day just so that she can be ‘home with her family’ at the end of the day has had to ditch public transport because loose change is suddenly precious. This means shelling out close to a grand on travel every day. More than 10 days and counting, she is going to spend almost a month’s hard-earned salary on travel alone. This can mean missed EMIs and skipping on little indulgences of life.
With only 100 rupees left in the wallet, a mother has to choose between buying cough syrup for her daughter and herself. The choice is an easy one to make. The mother will have to wait until she can get to the finish line at the ATM, coughing relentlessly. Considering what a challenge it can be for a single mother to stand in queue for hours with a toddler in tow, the wait is going to be a long one.
But we’ve got to be okay with it, for greater good maybel. If we aren’t, that’s fine because I don’t think anyone is taking note.
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