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Demonetisation — a few thoughts

Posted by on Nov 20, 2016

Rabi Nayak is a thin, dark-complexioned young man. He looks fragile but is not really weak. He lives in the vicinity and helps me with a few jobs for small payments. He lives with his father on the basement of a nearby apartment building where his father works as the janitor. I know their family for the last forty years. The Nayaks came from a remote village of Odisha’s Ganjam district and they have traditionally worked in a college here on the southern fringes of Calcutta as sweepers and gate-keepers. I believe their docile and obedient demeanour endeared them to their employers for decades. They appeared to be different from the brash and rowdy local young men and so had no difficulty in finding employment far away from their home.

line and wash sketch

When Rabi came to see me this morning, it suddenly occurred to me that I should ask him if he  was inconvenienced in any way by the recent demonetisation effort by the Indian central government whereby higher denomination notes of rupees 500 and 1000 were cancelled all over the country with a notice of only a few hours. I asked him if he faced problems because everywhere in the Indian print media I have been reading about how the ordinary citizens and especially the poor people of India have been suffering because of this decision to cancel notes. I was vexed by such reports because I considered myself an ordinary Indian and I had no problems whatsoever in my daily life as the few higher denomination currency notes I had were easily deposited and then withdrawn from my bank account. When I asked Rabi that question, he said:” What difficulty? We had four Rs. 500 notes which my father deposited to his bank account and then withdrawn. How many such notes do you think we have?” He also told me that he is in regular touch with his relatives in the villages and although there have been some inconveniences, they did not stall or stop their daily activities. “It was a good decision! You hear so much because the political leaders and the corrupt people have been inconvenienced the most!”

Two decades ago, I spent four years in the villages of West Bengal as a government official. I assume things have not gone worse for the villagers since then and most of them are at least somewhat better off than they have been. If my assumption is correct, I find no reason why, barring a short and temporary period when they may have to undergo some hardships because of lack of cash, I see no reason how things will fall apart as some political leaders here make us believe. Like Rabi I am prompted to ask,” How many Rs. 500 notes do you think a poor person has?” The decision of demonetisation can only be calamitous for those who are dishonest.

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