note demonetisation

Counter view: For bank employees, it's been 12-hour days filled with frustrated customers

Arguments are breaking out as some customers want only small denominations, and the well-off are demanding priority over the poor.

“It is a banking apocalypse out there,” joked my mother as she returned home on Friday. Lines of exhaustion were visible on her 55-year-old face, after putting in 12 hours of work at the South Mumbai branch of the nationalised bank in which she works. Her voice had cracked with the strain of placating frustrated customers bawling at bank employees.

“When people standing in a queue for over four hours are told that they cannot withdraw more than a certain amount due to the shortage of cash, tempers flare and voices are raised,” she said. “Everyone takes out their frustration at us even though we are doing our best to help them out.”

The crisis had been looming since Tuesday evening, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement on television that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would cease to be legal tender from midnight. Banks and Automated Teller Machines were shut on Wednesday to allow them to be restocked with new notes – especially the Rs 2,000 note that was introduced last week.

When the shutters were pulled up on Thursday, millions of Indians, cutting across class lines, rushed to banks to deposit or exchange their newly worthless currency, and to withdraw valid banknotes to buy household supplies, pay their creditors, and purchase stock for their businesses.

No one imagined it was going to be easy, but, as my mother reported, some tempers were running high. The supply of new notes by the government simply hasn’t kept up with demand, she said, and bank employees are bearing the brunt of dashed expectations.

Her colleague, who works in a bank in suburban Mumbai, and who does not wish to be identified, said that angry customers have displayed a frightening aggression towards bank employees.

“For better management of queues, we let people in [to the bank] in groups of 10,” she said. “The moment we open the door, people rush in like a herd of bulls. They push each other to move ahead and shout at us for not letting them in immediately. If we don’t follow an organised system, the entire branch will fall into chaos. But not everybody is willing to listen.”

Rs 100 notes in demand

Given the surprise demonetisation of two high-value denominations, bankers report a loss of faith in the new Rs 2,000 banknote by some customers, who demand only Rs 100 notes.

Though bank employees empathise with this demand as they realise that change is difficult to get these days, they say they cannot give everyone only small denominations.

“I see a barrage of customers demanding Rs 100 notes for daily use,” said my mother. “Some of them beg us to help them and many of them yell. But we have been instructed to deploy Rs 100 notes judiciously as they could easily fall into shortage. We all want to ease their worry, but we’re just as helpless.”

The anger and panic among customers has also led to instances of classist behaviour, say bank employees.

“A few customers from high-income groups were being unruly and classist towards those from low-income groups by dismissing the latter’s urgency,” said an employee of a nationalised bank in Mumbai, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The employee added that customers holding a large amount of expired cash to deposit said that since potential deposits by low-income groups were comparatively low, it was less important. “A couple of brawls broke out amongst customers because of this attitude,” said the employee.

Police intervention

Sometimes the situation can escalate rapidly, leading to the police being summoned. On Saturday, the Delhi police had been called in to deal with 4,500 incidents at banks.

The day before, at a branch of a nationalised bank in Thane, adjacent to Mumbai, a frustrated customer threatened bank employees with violence.

“He wanted to exchange his cash only for Rs 100 notes,” said the bank manager, who did not want to be identified. “When we refused, he yelled profanities at the top of his voice at female employees at my branch. He is not the first customer to have had a screaming match, but I called for police protection as a precautionary measure.”

In Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, employees of a nationalised bank at a branch panicked on Saturday when some customers broke open the main door after the branch had closed for the day.

“We have extended our customer service hours from 4 pm to 6 pm,” said an employee of the bank. “But a few of them, mistaking the extension to be up to 8 pm, broke the door open and barged in after they were denied entry. Fearing an outbreak of violence, we had to call in the police to control the situation. It was scary.”

The anger of customers adds to the stress of bank employees who are already working long hours, and on weekends, to ensure people can access their money.

“Many of our employees are women and by the time we finish tallying the cash and go back home, it is 12.30 am,” said the employee. “This kind of behaviour makes our already tough job tougher and raises concerns for safety.”

When she returned late on Sunday night, having worked through the weekend, my mother collapsed into bed without a word. Luckily for her, the banks will be shut on Monday for the Gurpurab holiday. She will leave again at 8 on Tuesday morning, hoping to find that her bank has become a calmer place – though she knows that is unlikely.

“We are all prepared to handle more flaring tempers because we understand that times are difficult for the common man right now,” she said. “I don’t know how far demonetisation will go in eliminating black money, but it’s an effective move to take out fake notes from the market. However, the collateral damage this move has caused on people’s psyche cannot be measured monetarily.”

She does not expect to return home before 11 pm anytime soon.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.