Outside a UCO Bank branch in the Mumbai suburb of Vile Parle hung a banner with the words “Don’t wait for cash, go digital.” Sixty six-year-old Harbans Arora scoffed at the message. “That’s all nonsense,” said the traveling salesman, filling up a deposit slip to transfer money to his family in Uttarakhand. “Only if I have no other choice will I do that. If it’s a payment of Rs 10 or Rs 20, what’s the point?”
It has been more than a month since the government announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and, subsequently, the thrust on cashless transactions, online banking and app-driven exchanges. Among the segments of people left cold by the digital drive: senior citizens.
In Dhasai village in Maharashtra’s Thane district, where cashless is bandied about as a buzzword and more than 50 traders, large and small, have acquired point of sale machines, BG More was skeptical. The retired school teacher from a neighbouring village had come to Dhasai to shop and was dismayed at the emphasis on card-based purchases. “I am an old man,” said the 75-year-old. “What will I do with a card?” He dismissed the arguments of younger men at the shop that the future of the economy was cashless. “I don’t like all this,” he said. “I simply am not in the habit.”
Last week, a picture of a retired Armyman sobbing after losing his place in a bank queue became the face of the demonetisation crisis. Like him, thousands of elderly men and women continue to brave illness and weakness to get their hands on their own money. And they are not impressed by the government’s digital drive.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation announcement on November 8, Meera Kamath made a trip to the bank in her home town near Mangalore, carrying a bundle of Rs 1,000 notes. Though she managed to get her work done after a relatively short wait of two hours, the 71-year-old, who lives alone, is dreading the next trip. Her children have been helping her get a grasp of online banking methods, but she does not relish the prospect of seeking their assistance again and again. “How can I keep asking them every day?” she asked. “Where is the time to keep asking people? They will get irritated. And will the vegetable vendor take online payment?”
Kamath added, “All this is useless for senior citizens, we are used to our old ways.”
Delhi resident Gita Vijayan has both a computer and a smartphone, and a healthy dose of scepticism regarding the gadgets. “I am not from a generation that is happy with button-pressing machines,” said the 86-year-old. “That’s too much for me.” She hasn’t touched her computer in at least two years. Online shopping is anathema. “All these words like cashless are just big words and nothing else,” she added.
The demonetisation-induced cash crunch means that Vijayan’s twice-a-month trips to the bank have turned into twice-a-week visits, to withdraw cash to pay her five employees at home. “Going to the bank has become my main outing and it is an outing I would rather not undertake,” she said. She wondered how an app could help her pay her staff, who are not even in a position to accept cheques.
Rohitha Kamath, 71, has a debit card, but that’s as far as she will go. “I’m old fashioned, I only use cash or cheques,” she said. Every day, she has been visiting the bank – and sometimes three – withdrawing as much as the limit at the moment allows. “Modi hai hai,” she said, when asked about the government’s monetary policy. “This hasn’t been thought through.”
Another refrain among senior citizens is that their requirements are minor, so they are happy to work with just cash. “My needs are simple and small,” said V Giridhar. “I don’t go to hotels to pay big money. I only buy vegetables and have other small expenses.” He added that going digital may work for those who have large payments to make. Would it be difficult to rewire his lifestyle to be more digital? “Totally,” he said. “That would be difficult.”
Post-demonetisation, Pratap More, a doctor, has made payments via PayTM available to his patients, but most of them still prefer giving cash. “Online transactions aren’t very safe,” the 65-year-old said, adding that he too has been struggling to pick up digital fluency. “I can speak Hindi, English Gujarati and Marathi, but if you ask me to learn Kannada in a month, it will be difficult, won’t it?” he asked. “How can you make an entire population literate in a month? It is like learning a completely new language.”
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