note demonetisation

On demonetisation anniversary, a look back at how hard the note ban hit ordinary Indians

Highlights of Scroll.in’s coverage of the disruption caused by Narendra Modi’s decision and its effects on the common man.

As India marks the first anniversary of demonetisation on November 8, it has become difficult to examine exactly what effects the abrupt withdrawal of 86% of currency has had on the economy. Partly, this is due to how nebulous the move itself was, with the government selling it as a panacea for everything from corruption to stone-pelting to idle savings. But the hurried roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax in July this year, leading to even more disruption in the economy, has made it even harder to gauge the effects of the note ban.

While we grapple with six straight quarters of slowing Gross Domestic Product growth, the debate about demonetisation has increasingly turned to whether it achieved the outcomes the government had set out. That debate, however, is incomplete if it does not take into account the pain and disruption caused by the move and whether its supposed gains, if any, were commensurate with the huge costs.

Tremendous hardship

To get a sense of how deeply the policy hurt Indians, it is worthwhile to glance back at the reportage after the note ban was announced. On the evening on November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were no longer valid, and the government would introduce new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes – a process that ended up taking months to complete. Anyone holding old notes had to deposit them in banks, which were soon overburdened with long hours of work, massive queues and a shortage of new notes to give out.

The result: people often found it tremendously hard to make do without cash. In Maharashtra, for example, people were unable to buy medicines or pay for treatment because the exemption allowing old notes to be used at hospitals only applied to government facilities. Adivasi villagers outside Mumbai were forced to eat just rice, with no vegetables, because their money had become useless in the market. Women who were not in the banking system were hit hard. Wage workers were either stuck without pay or given older notes, and many of them working in other states had to return home because employers were simply unable to withdraw currency notes to pay them.

Food markets froze, with commodity prices staying stable because barely any actual buying or selling took place. Small and medium enterprises in Punjab registered an 80% drop in production, and saw hordes of labourers returning home without any work or pay.

Compensation rumour

As they waited in line to either deposit cash or get access to the few new notes in circulation, people in Allahabad discussed rumours that Modi would find a way to deposit money into each person’s personal bank account once the massive task was complete. Indeed, across the country there were people undergoing tremendous hardship yet not complaining, labouring under the belief that the government’s efforts would end corruption and eventually offer them some sort of compensation after having collected huge amounts of black money. No such proposal to deposit money into bank accounts has yet been put forward by the government.

Bank managers were stuck dealing with long hours, angry customers, angrier employers and did almost none of the regular work – of giving out loans – that kept local economies going. Traditional forms of trade, like women of the Waghri community exchanging utensils for old clothes, had to stop because middlemen could not pay.

Chennai was hit particularly hard as failing electricity and internet services in the wake of Cyclone Vardah made the “cashless economy” seem like a mirage. Unemployment in Bundelkhand became so severe people were pushed to the brink of starvation. Rural jobs schemes in parts of the country fell apart, with no money to pay workers. Amidst all this, conmen preyed on people who believed they were eligible for additional exemptions, stealing lakhs of rupees.

No respite

By the end of the three-month period during which people were allowed to deposit their cash, demonetisation started to bite. Food markets saw commodity prices crash since a good monsoon had led to a bumper crop. Tomato farmers were destroying their crops on a scale never seen before, just so they could clear the fields for the next season. Every link in the supply chain of the Maharashtra textile industry was hit. Adivasis in Maharashtra were still getting only IOUs instead of cash. Even multinational corporations that did not rely on cash saw their numbers drop precipitously.

By June 2017, after the Bharatiya Janata Party had pulled off a stunning election victory in Uttar Pradesh, the economic damage caused by the note ban started to become clearer. In August, the Reserve Bank of India confirmed that nearly all demonetised notes had returned to banks dashing the government’s hope that a huge amount would go unreturned.

Out in the real world, 10 months after demonetisation, Ludhiana’s garment hub was still facing losses, with the botched roll-out of the GST adding to the disruption. In Delhi’s largest industrial area, labourers continued to have a hard time finding work. In Chennai’s flower market – where flowers were first dumped and continued to see low volumes a month later – demonetisation is credited with making people aware of a politician they wouldn’t have otherwise known to blame: Modi. And a supposedly cashless village in Maharashtra had returned to using cash, not least because of connectivity problems and a lack of cards.

Today, a year later, Union ministers are arguing that demonetisation was simultaneously a massive success and that it is too soon to say what its effects on the economy has been. Politicians and economists of all stripes are arguing about what the move did to India’s economic activity, with the general agreement being that its benefits are unclear but the costs hang heavy. A conclusion, however, cannot be made without taking a closer look at how deeply disruptive this surprise policy was to the lives of people across the country and even beyond.

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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.