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100 days of demonetisation: Stories of hardship

From people who lost jobs, to people who lost loved ones – seven stories that reveal the impact of demonetisation.

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Ludhiana, delhi and Noida – A few hours before midnight on November 8, 2016, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on state television to make an announcement. Two high-value  notes – the 500 rupee ($7.5) and 1,000 rupee ($14.9) – would no longer be legal tender, he said.

The move had been taken to combat “black money” or unaccounted income, which makes up nearly one fifth of India’s economy, he said.

But much of the country’s largely cash-based society screeched to a halt. Daily-wage labourers and other poor Indians were particularly hard hit.

Here, seven Indians share their stories of demonetisation.

Monika, 48-year-old housewife

‘Demonetisation brought us to the brink of begging’

One hundred days after demonetisation was introduced, Monika says life still hasn’t returned to normal and she cannot forget the hardships her family endured [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Monika cannot forget the hardships her family endured in the two months following Modi’s decision to ban 86 percent of the country’s currency.

Standing inside the cramped kitchen of her family’s one-bedroom home, she explains that her husband, who works as a security guard at a private school in Ludhiana city, went without pay for two months as the school ran out of cash.

The family of four, including the couple’s 21-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, relied on her husband’s 9,000 rupee ($135) monthly salary and, without it, they were sometimes forced to go without food.

“My family slept without food for days,” the housewife explains. “I will never forget … that demonetisation brought us to the brink of begging for food.”

OPINION: India’s demonetisation quagmire and its victims

With her eyes fixed on the kitchen window, she says: “We aren’t beggars that we will go on the streets asking people for money.”

And even if they had, she explains, none of their neighbours would have been able to help them.

“All of us are poor in this area and everyone was struggling like us,” she says.

The note ban – or notebandi as it is commonly referred to – hit poor people, like those in Monika’s neighbourhood, hardest.

Monika, who goes by just one name, says life still has not returned to normal. Her husband is now being paid again but in instalments.

In a country where about 90 percent of transactions are made in cash, demonetisation forced millions to stand in queues in front of banks as they tried to exchange the banned currency.

But, Monika says, she didn’t have to queue. “We don’t have a bank account as we are poor,” she says, before adding: “I don’t know how demonetisation will help my future, but it turned my present life into a nightmare.”

Hemlata, 29-year-old shawl cutter

‘Did those with black money sleep on an empty stomach?’

Hemlata, 29, has had to borrow money from moneylenders to pay for medication for her chronically ill daughter. But, she asks, ‘How am I going to repay that money?’ [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Monika’s story has many parallels in the government-built Economically Weaker Section housing society where she lives in Ludhiana’s Samrala Chowk area.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hemlata is her neighbour and has also fallen on hard times as her husband lost his job when the factory he worked in closed down due to the cash crunch.

Hemlata, who goes by just one name, is sitting in the housing society’s courtyard with some other women. It is the only open area in the otherwise cramped and squalid neighbourhood of approximately 30 small concrete homes.

To make up for her husband’s lost income, Hemlata has started working part time.

IN PICTURES: ‘How do I feed my family now?’

“My neighbour has given me this work where I process [cut] these shawls and get 0.50 paisa [half a rupee] for every piece. I process around 50 to 60 pieces in a day,” she explains, sitting amid piles of shawls with her three-year-old daughter.

But the 45 cents she makes daily is not enough to cover the family’s most basic expenses.

“This is a very small amount and it is not enough to get us one meal a day. And I have to also pay the rent, electricity and school fees,” she says, her voice breaking. “I will have to manage, till my husband is able to find a job.”

On top of those expenses, she must also buy medicine for her two-year-old daughter, who has suffered from a chronic disease since birth.

“My daughter needs her medicine every day and I have to resort to borrowing money from neighbours and moneylenders to buy it.”

“How am I going to repay that money?” she asks.

Although the 7,000 rupees ($105) that her husband used to earn in the factory was far below the country’s average monthly wage of about $250, it helped the family of four get by.

But for the past two months, her husband has been unable to find a new job.

Ludhiana is a large industrial city, known for its hosiery industry. But more than 70 percent of the city’s 12,000 hosiery factories, which employed more than 400,000 people, shut down because of the demonetisation.

Hemlata is angry that the government’s decision led to her husband’s redundancy.

“I think all the schemes of the government are for the rich, and the poor are never considered,” she says.

“Please tell me if you heard of those with black money sleeping on an empty stomach because of demonetisation.”

As she cuts a shawl, Hemlata says that the government should have made provisions for poor people like her.

“This is a disaster,” she concludes. “I don’t see my life becoming normal again.”

Rajwinder Singh, 34-year-old union president

‘It left people jobless, starving and desperate’

Rajwinder Singh is the president of the factory workers’ union and describes demonetisation as ‘a disaster for the unskilled labour sector’ [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

“I don’t know how demonetisation helped, but it was a disaster for the unskilled labour sector,” says Rajwinder Singh.

Rajwinder is the president of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union, or factory workers’ union, in Ludhiana and is sitting in the small community library of the Economically Weaker Section housing society.

“It left people jobless, starving and desperate,” he says.

Immediately after demonetisation was announced, the wholesale market was closed for 20 days, Rajwinder says.

“When the market was closed, there was no sale and the factories had to stop production and as a result many factories cut down the number of employees by 50 percent, while many just shut the shop,” he says.

“I have seen factories that used to have 250 workers and post-demonetisation were reduced to five workers.”

The softly-spoken, bespectacled union leader said that migrant labourers from the states of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, who had come to Ludhiana for work, had no choice but to return to their home regions.

READ MORE: Demonetisation takes its toll on the poor

“I met so many labourers who had no food in their house for the past so many days. They had children who were starving.”

Some factory owners, he says, paid the workers in old notes that were no longer valid.

“The poor man had no choice but to take it and then stand for hours in the queue of a bank to get it exchanged.”

“And since these are daily-wage labourers, they would lose out on that day’s pay,” he says, removing his glasses and wiping his eyes.

The flight of labour from the city has affected him as well.

“I get my salary from the funds we collect from the labourers. When the worker has no money, then how will he contribute money to the union fund?” he asks.

Nand Kishore, 22-year-old unemployed former factory worker

‘Is this the way the government makes policies?’

Nand Kishore says factory owners are taking advantage of the situation by offering salaries that are half what they used to be [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Nand Kishore moved to Ludhiana from his hometown of Gaya, in the eastern state of Bihar, four years ago, looking for work.

He found it in a wool factory, where he earned 7,500 rupees ($112) a month. But in December, he was laid off.

Now he spends his days sitting on a bench in the overcrowded working-class neighbourhood of Sundar Nagar.

He has been looking for work but hasn’t found any. And with each passing day, he grows more concerned.

“I don’t want to go back home as I have very old parents to take care of and they will get really worried to see me sitting jobless at home,” he says.

So, for now, he’ll stay living in the room he shares with four other men from his village.

Nand used to send money to his parents regularly. But for the past two months, he hasn’t been able to send anything.

“As their only son, this pains me a lot,” he says.

He accuses factory owners of exploiting their workers.

“They are offering jobs at half the wage that I used to earn. Many have in desperation taken up the jobs at half the pay or have just left for their village,” he says.

But, ultimately, it is the government he blames.

“If standing in the ATM or bank queue was the only suffering I had to go through I would have managed, but my job was taken away,” he says looking towards the sky.

“Is this the way a government makes policies? I have no idea about how government functions, but I know that they have made my life miserable.”

Parminder Singh, 30-year-old factory supervisor

‘My mother died because of demonetisation’

Parminder Singh holds a picture of his 50-year-old mother who died while waiting in a queue at an ATM. His sister, right, blames herself as their mother was trying to withdraw money to pay for her wedding [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Parminder Singh’s eyes fill with tears when he speaks about his mother.

She died on December 8 as she was standing in an ATM queue, waiting to withdraw money to pay for her daughter’s wedding. She was 50.

Approximately 80 people are thought to have died as a result of demonetisation – either while waiting in queues or because they were refused medical treatment as they didn’t have the necessary cash to pay for it.

“My mother died because of demonetisation,” he says. “Not even millions of rupees can get her back.”

A supervisor in a hosiery factory earning 13,000 ($195) a month, Parminder lives with his wife, their one-year-old daughter and his sister in a middle-class neighbourhood.

He says his 25-year-old sister blames herself for their mother’s death.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see her like this. I try to stay strong in front of her but I weep every day in my room when I am alone,” he says.

He is angry at the government.

“It was my mother’s money. She did not have to die to take it out,” he says. “She had every right to access it without any trouble.”

Yamuna Prasad, 29-year-old factory worker

‘A rich man would have used his card to get his mother admitted to a hospital, but what about people like me?’

Yamuna Prasad believes his mother would still be alive if he had been able to withdraw money to pay for private medical care for her [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Yamuna Prasad is a broken man. He has been ever since his 70-year-old mother died two months ago.

“I couldn’t cremate my mother for two days after her death because I did not have cash in hand,” he says.

On December 25, he took his mother to a government hospital after she complained of stomach pain.

“Everybody knows about the pathetic state of government-run hospitals here,” he says, angrily.

He would have preferred to have taken her to a private hospital where he believes she would have received better care. But he didn’t have time to stand in a long queue at a bank or ATM to withdraw the money he would have needed to pay for private medical treatment.

Without access to this money, he also had to delay his mother’s cremation.

“Things look normal now, but how do I forget that I couldn’t give my mother a dignified cremation?” he asks

Yamuna says a local politician helped him to pay for the cremation, contributing 10,000 rupees ($150).

He earns 8,000 ($120) a month working 12-hour shifts in a factory to support his wife, two-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. But he worries that with barely any savings, his children will grow up to become labourers.

He believes the government pushes policies that support the rich but neglect the poor.

“Why are rules made without thinking about the consequences on the poor?” he asks. “A rich man would have used his card to get his mother admitted to a hospital, but what about people like me?”

Anisa Khatoon, 48-year-old housewife

‘It took me years to save that money’

Anisa Khatoon says she feels cheated by the government after she lost some of her savings as a result of demonetisation [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Anisa Khatoon says it took her years to save 10,000 rupees [$150] in a tin box. She kept the money there without her husband’s knowledge so that she might one day be able to pay for her daughter’s wedding.

But after the government banned the notes she had saved, the mother of six had no choice but to tell her husband, a cycle-rickshaw puller in the New Delhi suburb of Noida.

Her husband responded angrily and refused to stand in a queue to exchange the notes, she says.

“I had to take the help of a boy from my locality who took a commission of 2,000 rupees ($29),” Anisa explains as she stands in front of her shack in the impoverished Sector 16 neighbourhood.

“It might not be a lot of money for many, but it is the only savings I have and the 2,000 rupees I lost as commission was a lot of money for me.”

The 48-year-old runs her household on the 9,000 rupees ($135) that her husband earns each month.

She says she feels cheated by the government’s decision.

“The government said the poor will benefit from demonetisation but I don’t know when and how. It took me years to save that money, and losing even a part of it is heartbreaking.”

Analysis

Saab is interested in Indian fighter jet deal: Swedish official

The Saab Gripen will be contesting with the likes of the Russian MiG 35, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A 18 and Lockheed Martin F-16 for the upcoming deal.

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Rafale deal scam

Amid the raging controversy over the Defence Ministry’s procurement of the Rafale fighter aircraft from French firm Dassault Aviation, a senior Swedish official has said that his country’s firm Saab, in its Gripen aircraft, has the requisite experience to contest for the upcoming Indian deal for manufacturing 110 new fighter jets under the Make in India programme.

“I know that Saab is interested, they want to be a part of this procurement,” Teppo Tauriainen, Director General for Trade in the Swedish Foreign Ministry, told IANS in an interview here.

“They think they have something good to offer that will be of interest to India,” Tauriainen said.

“They, of course, know what the expectations of the government is in terms of local production and cooperation with a local partner.”

India is expected to select by the end of this year one fighter aircraft that will be manufactured by the private sector under the Make in India programme for supply to the Indian Air Force.

The Saab Gripen will be contesting with the likes of the Russian MiG 35, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A 18 and Lockheed Martin F-16 for the upcoming deal.

While MiG has already said that it will have state-owned Hindustan Aeronautic Limited (HAL) as its local partner, Indian companies like Tata, Reliance Defence, Mahindra and Adani are in the fray for local partners in the project that is expected to be worth over $20 billion (Rs 1.44 lakh crore).

Tauriainen said that for Saab, contesting for the deal will be nothing new as it has signed a similar deal for Gripen with the Brazilian government with Embraer as its local partner.

“I have myself visited the Brazilian partner, Embraer, and seen there are a lot of spin-offs locally in the Brazilian economy from this fighter jet deal,” he said.

“So, I think for Saab, as a company, it won’t be unusual to do it the way the Indian government wants it to happen.”

During his visit to Sweden in April this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that defence and security have emerged as an important pillar of the India-Sweden bilateral partnership.

“Sweden has been a partner of India in the defence sector for a long time. I am confident new opportunities for cooperation in this sector will arise in the future, especially in defence production,” Modi said.

During that visit, an India-Sweden Partnership was also announced with a fund of 50 million Swedish kronor (around $5.6 million) for innovation cooperation in the fields of smart cities and sustainability.

Asked what steps have been taken in this connection, Tauriainen said that the dialogue for these projects has started though none of these projects have started operating.

“But we have come quite far to identify areas where we think there is a potential to do cooperation,” he said.

He said that sustainable technology is a broad area and is very much related to how cities are built in terms of transport, energy, waste and waste water.

“There we have some interesting experiences and I hope that is of relevance to India,” Tauriainen said.

“Some technologies we have already tested in Sweden. Other technologies will have to be adapted to Indian conditions,” he added.

In Sweden, waste is actually used to generate power and only one per cent of the waste goes to the landfill.

Asked about the presence of around 180 Swedish companies in India and their role in the Indian economy, Tauriainen said these are doing good business despite “some limitations”.

“They wouldn’t mind if those limitations are taken away. But they are interested in the Indian market and most of them are interested in expanding,” he said.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Now Congress calls Arun Jaitley ‘court jester’

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Randdeep Surjewala

New Delhi, Sep 20: Hitting back at Arun Jaitley, the Congress on Thursday dubbed the Finance Minister a “court jester” who is “desperate to stay relevant”.

Amid the relentless trading of charges between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the Rafale deal, Jaitley on the day took to social media to accuse Gandhi of “concocting lies” on the deal for the France made fighter jets and the bad loans of banks.

He said the Congress leader was “polluting” public discourse.

Hitting back, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, in a tweet, called the BJP leader a “court jester” and demanded answers on the Rs 41,000 crore Rafale “scam”.

“And yes ‘Jait-LIE’ ji (sic), the desperate quest to stay relevant of a ‘court jester’ by wasteful blogs continues.

“Please reply: Why hide behind abuse when trapped in Rafale maze? Why supersede HAL for Rs 30,000 crore contract? Why no answer on Rs 41,000 crore loss in Rafale Scam,” said Surjewala in his response to Jaitley’s tweets.

The Congress has been gunning for the Narendra Modi-led government over the Rafale deal. Besides approaching Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) Rajiv Mehrishi for a special and forensic audit and demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal, the party has also sought the resignation of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman over the issue.

The Modi-led government and the BJP have been dismissive of all the charges by the Congress.

IANS

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Rahul Gandhi concocting lies on Rafale, NPAs: Arun Jaitley

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Arun Jaitley

New Delhi, Sep 20: Calling him a “clown prince”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday accused Congress President Rahul Gandhi of “concocting lies” on the Rafale fighter jets deal and the bad loans of banks. The Congress leader was “polluting” public discourse, Jaitley said.

In a Facebook post, he said Gandhi first “lied” on the Rafale deal and was now lying on the non-performing assets (NPAs) claiming that the BJP government had waived loans of 15 industrialists amounting to Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Not a single rupee of any debtor had been waived, he said.

“His (Gandhi’s) strategy is simple, concoct a lie and repeat it as many times” as possible, Jaitley said and wondered whether a person with a “temperament to concoct facts” deserved to be a part of the public discourse.

“The world’s largest democracy must seriously introspect whether public discourse should be allowed to be polluted by the falsehood of a ‘clown prince’,” he added.

Referring to Gandhi winking at his party men after hugging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the parliament, the BJP leader said the public discourse was a serious activity, not a laughter challenge, and that it could not be reduced to a “hug, a wink or repetition of falsehood”.

“In mature democracies those who rely on falsehood are considered unfit for public life. Many have been banished from political activity because they were caught lying. But this rule obviously can’t apply to a dynastic organisation like Congress party,” he said.

“If the Rafale concoctions were the first big lie, the second one stated repeatedly is that Modi waived of Rs 2.5 lakh crore of 15 industrialists. Every word of that sentence repeatedly uttered by Rahul Gandhi is false,” he added.

Jaitley said the amount being referred to by Gandhi were lent by the banks prior to 2014 when the UPA government was in power, which then “kept rolling over the loans to conceal them (as) loans despite the default”.

“The truth, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, is that your government allowed the banks to be looted. The loans were inadequately securitized. Your government was in complicity… By repeating a lie on several occasions, you can’t change that reality,” he said.

The Finance Minister said while the UPA leaders claimed that when they went out of power, the NPAs were only Rs 2.5 lakh crore. The truth was that NPAs were actually Rs 8.96 lakh crore and were hidden under the carpet as revealed by an asset quality review conducted by the Reserve Bank of India.

He said no effective steps were taken by the UPA to recover or reduce the NPAs and post 2014-15, they increased not because more money was lent but because interest was mounting on the overdue amounts.

“The only effective move which has taken place in this regard is the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). It has changed the debtor-creditor relationship in India.”

He said the Reserve Bank of India had identified the twelve major defaulters who jointly owed about Rs 3 lakh crore to various banks.

“The banks under UPA took no steps to recover these loans. They did not prosecute a single major debtor who had siphoned off money. It is the NDA government which through IBC, changed the debtor-creditor relationship and enabled the banks to effectively pursue the recovery,” Jaitley said.

IANS

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