Big fat Indian wedding nightmares in the time of Modi's demonetisation

From Haryana to Uttar Pradesh, from Gujarat to West Bengal, brides and grooms-to-be and their families are facing the crunch.

 |   Long-form |   26-11-2016
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It's not called a big fat Indian wedding for nothing: opulent sets, the most exotic flowers, designer trousseau, flashy gold, diamond and platinum jewellery and mouth watering delicacies from around the globe. The wedding industry in India was pegged at more than 1,00,000 crores in 2015 - with an estimated growth projection of 25-30 percent annually. Studies show that, on an average, a person in India spends one fifth of his or her lifetime's savings on a wedding ceremony.

The wedding market was eyeing a boom this year - hoping to break last year's record breaking collections - when Modi struck. The NDA government claims that 93 per cent of the five lakh respondents on the Narendra Modi app gave the prime minister's demonetisation a big thumbs up in the first 24 hours of the survey. The government also feels it's gone out of its way to accommodate people who were planning to get married this winter by allowing families to withdraw 2.5 lakh rupees for weddings. But is that enough?

The onset of winter in North India marks the beginning of the auspicious wedding season. Every year, there are a few dates in November and December when traffic comes to a halt thanks to lakhs of wedding processions moving around simultaneously.

This year - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetisation announcement has dampened spirits - with many brides and grooms-to-be - feeling the pinch. Sitting on his terrace surrounded by his family singing wedding songs in one corner and local cooks preparing snacks in the other.

Sumit Gupta says he's trying to stay upbeat - despite the cash crunch. The groom-to-be says he had grand plans for his Mehendi and Sangeet ceremonies - but because of a shortage of cash - he had to settle for his rooftop as the venue. "Small small things have been affected. The Mehendi-waali for example will not take her payment through a cheque and I cant pay her using my debit card. We had to pay her between 21 and 51 thousand rupees in cash. I would have been able to arrange the money but I have no time," he says. Sumit lives with his parents, older brother and sister-in-law in Delhi's Rajouri Garden. The family had planned a lavish wedding, bookings had been made and cards had been sent out to a long list of guests.

With barely two days to go, Sumit is being forced to decide whether to cut down on expenses on the music band, drummers, mehendi, make-up or tent- because there is only so much cash to go around. "The band might take a cheque but there are a lot of people who need to be paid in cash- like your drummers" says Sumit. The story repeats itself in all households where weddings were being planned. Himanshu Tyagi, a chartered accountant in Indirapuram in the National Capital Region, was planning to throw a wedding reception his friends and colleagues would remember. He and his father had been saving up for years – setting aside money for a posh venue, exotic food and expensive clothes but today they’re having to cut corners over small expenses. With barely two days to go for the wedding- the family queued up outside the bank when the RBI announced its decision to allow families that had marriages lined-up to withdraw 2.5 lakh rupees. After a harrowing six hours - they were able to withdraw the amount but it's clearly not been enough.

"The bank says we should pay everyone by cheque. They’ve sent us 10 cheque leaves, but who all can we pay with cheques. When transvestites arrive to collect money - are we suppose to give them cheques too? Everyone has some money saved up at home - if we spend that on the wedding- we’re afraid the government is going to ask for bills and ask us how we could afford a normal wedding," says Satish Tyagi, the groom's father. The father-son duo claim they support the government’s efforts to crack down on black money but the timing couldn’t have been worse for them.

pti-demo_112616042144.jpg The onset of winter in North India marks the beginning of the auspicious wedding season. This year is different. Credit: PTI

Himanshu says, "There is a shortage of cash but being a CA I do understand that such a move was necessary. In the coming years we will be able to see the benefits of the note ban."  A cable operator in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, Rajeev Goel, has a flourishing business which allows him to earn a handsome amount every month. However, the note ban has rendered him penniless – forcing him to ask his relatives for help in making arrangements for his son’s wedding. Rajeev tried to withdraw the promised 2.5 lakh rupees from his account - but the withdrawal didn’t happen - thanks to procedural delays.

Rajeev says, "First when I went to the bank to withdraw the cash- I was told that the bank had not received the circular- allowing them to release 2.5 for families that had weddings." Bank authorities asked Rajeev to provide a list of documents - including wedding cards to facilitate the withdrawal. After he had finished all formalities he was told that the request would be forwarded to the bank’s headquarters – and the money would be made available only after three days. This meant that he’d have no money to spend on the day of the wedding.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has imposed stiff conditions for withdrawal of up to 2.5 lakh rupees from bank accounts for weddings. Only the person getting married or his or her parents are allowed to withdraw up to 2.5 lakh rupees from banks. Money can be withdrawn only from the credit balance that was available in the account on November 8 - which is the day when demonetisation was announced.

The withdrawal application should provide the names of the bride and groom, their identity proof, addresses and date of marriage. A copy of the wedding card should be attached along with the application. Withdrawn cash should only be used to make payments to persons who don’t have bank accounts. The list should indicate the purpose for which the proposed payments are being made. The amount can be withdrawn only if the date of marriage is on or before December 30.

RBI rules for wedding withdrawal

- Only the bride/groom or their parents can withdrawn cash

- Withdrawal only from credit balance on November 8

- Application must have name of bride, groom, ID proof, address proof and wedding invitation

- Cash payments only for those who don’t have bank accounts

- Names of people and service rendered in exchange of cash mentioned

- Withdrawal possible only if wedding is on or before December 30

The decision to allow a withdrawal of 2.5 lakh rupees for families that were planning weddings may have come as a breather for many…but long queues outside banks and procedural delays have come as part of the package. A young bride in Pansemal village in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh was forced to go to the bank in her wedding attire to underline the urgency of her cash needs.

It was the day of her wedding and her brother - who was sponsoring the ceremony had been unable to withdraw any cash. Arti had already dressed up when she heard the news and decided to take matters in her own hands. The young bride marched into the bank and demanded that her brother be allowed to withdraw cash immediately. The bank staff was stunned.

Realising the urgency of the situation, they promptly handed over the money to Arti. Unlike Arti who was able to withdraw money hours before her wedding, this family in Ayodhya is still suffering. Ram Suresh Yadav, a poor farmer, sold his cattle to collect money for his daughter’s wedding. The money had been credited to his bank account and he thought he would make the withdrawal as and when needed. With barely two weeks to go for the wedding - Ram Suresh is in a fix. He’s been to the bank several times to make the withdrawal, but has been turned away by the branch manager.

In another city of Uttar Pradesh, the father of a bride was forced to mortgage jewellery he had gotten made for his daughter to fund a small pre-wedding ceremony. Raju, a resident of Unnao, tried desperately to withdraw money he had saved up for his daughter’s marriage but was repeatedly turned away by the bank. Raju, father of the bride says, "They kept asking me to come later. I didn’t know what to do. I had saved up enough money for my daughter’s wedding but it seems like a waste because I’ve not been able to withdraw anything. Finally I had to mortgage her jewellery for the Tilak ceremony."

The young bride too is extremely upset with the way her father is being made to run from pillar to post to withdraw his own hard earned money. Ranjita blames Prime Minister Narendra Modi for messing up her wedding plans. "My father has been around to withdraw money. He went to the DM’s office, he’s been to the bank, but nothing has worked out. If it hadn’t been for prime minister Modi, I would have gotten married by now," says the young girl. This father of a bride-to-be in Kanpur broke down while sharing his ordeal. A modest car mechanic by profession Rajesh Gupta and his family had taken great pains to collect enough money for his daughter’s wedding over the years. Today when they need the cash - they’re being forced to beg and borrow from friends and relatives. "I’ve been to the bank several times but have been turned away. Now they say I can only withdraw money from my account- not my father's."

Rajesh’s case is different from the others as his family’s savings are spread out in individual accounts. While the bank says he can withdraw money from his own account and his son’s, he can’t withdraw money from his father’s account as there is no provision in the new RBI guidelines that allow grandfathers to pay for their granddaughter’s or grandson’s wedding. Priya, the bride-to-be asks, "Will the bank now decide who can and cannot pay for a wedding in our family? What kind of rule is this?"

Heartbreaking stories of families struggling to meet wedding deadlines are being reported from across the country. What’s most unfortunate is that many people who have saved up money in their bank accounts are being unable to access it – at a time when they need it the most. The money in the bank is not black money - it's their hard-earned declared income - which has suddenly become inaccessible. Even as the common man scrambles with the 2.5 lakh rupee deadline - here’s a wedding that hit headlines because of its pure – unadulterated and almost vulgar opulence.

Dressed in a Kanjeevaram saree worth approximately Rs 17 crore and diamond jewellery reportedly worth Rs 90 crore, 21-year-old Brahmani got married in what is being touted as the biggest, grandest and most expensive wedding of 2016 - and that too after the PM’s demonetisation announcement. Mining baron Janardhan Reddy’s daughter’s wedding may finally have caught the attention of the taxman, but the event in itself makes one wonder if the rich and the powerful have been affected - even slightly - by this black money crackdown.

Now sample this: the father of a bride in Rajkot in Gujarat committed suicide out of sheer frustration because he didn’t think he would be able to manage his daughter’s wedding post demonetisation. A humble rickshaw-puller, Tribhuvan Solanki was counting on friends and relatives who had promised to contribute towards the marriage. Invitation cards were ready to be sent out when the note ban was announced. Within days friends pulled out saying they wouldn’t be able to contribute to the wedding as they themselves were facing a cash crunch.

This family in Ahmedabad has been running around from one bank branch to the other trying to withdraw cash for a wedding. Five days on, they’ve met with no success in spite of the fact that they have all relevant documents – including invitation cards, booking receipts and shopping bills. The reason- the bank claims its not received an official intimation – saying customers with weddings in the family can withdraw up to Rs 2.5 lakh. From Haryana to Uttar Pradesh, from Gujarat to West Bengal, brides and grooms-to-be and their families are facing the crunch. 23-year-old Garima Manot, a resident of Kolkata, was all geared up for her wedding on December 7.

A hotel had been booked, trousseau and jewellery had been finalised and the menu had been fixed, but now the family is calling up vendors to cancel all bookings. Sumant Manot, father of the bride, says, "We’ve postponed the wedding, but it's hard to say till when. Can’t conduct a wedding ceremony in 2.5 lakh rupees." The cancellation hasn’t just upset the Manot family, but also service providers who claim their business has taken a beating following the note ban.

Writer

Seemi Pasha Seemi Pasha @seemi_pasha

Associate Editor/Anchor at India Today Television.

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