Demonetisation: Do we even know how many lives were lost?

Damayanti Datta
Damayanti DattaSep 01, 2017 | 15:12

Demonetisation: Do we even know how many lives were lost?

The extraordinary demonetisation experiment has not raked in black money. And a war of words has broken out. To some, demonetisation has been an “epic failure”, crippling the economy and the RBI’s image. To others, it has been quite a success, leading to an unprecedented increase in tax compliance. To yet others, it has “failed to do what it was supposed to do”.


What about the things it was not supposed to do?

All the unintended consequences and collateral damage? To get a clear picture, now is the time to bring out a report on the human impact of demonetisation. All the disruption and hardship the nation endured: ranging from deaths, accidents, life-threatening medical conditions, depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue, exhaustion and lost productivity.Within a week of its implementation at midnight — following its announcement on November 8 — demonetisation snuffed out 47 lives, directly or indirectly. Or around five deaths a day. Some died of heart failure, from anxiety, shock and exhaustion, some were deprived of timely medical attention, some committed suicide, some killed and some met with accidents.

Stories of how millions of daily wage-earners remained unpaid for months, labourers lost their jobs, pensioners struggled to make ends meet, street vendors and petty traders were left without customers and farmers were pushed to the wall did the rounds.

Even RTIs on lives lost got no response

By December 2016, the death toll was 105. We know all that because one or two publications tried to track the incidents. RTI applications on the loss of lives never received any response.


No inquiry was ever launched to verify the situation, to help the mourning families, to compensate the victims or even to provide financial counselling.

Sathi Bai, who retired 20 years ago from Kerala veterinary department, woke up to find all her hard-earned money lost to demonetisation. [Photo: TheNewsMinute]

By the end of 2016, the counting had somehow petered out. Oh, well, what’s the point? Every year, 3,500 commuters die on railway tracks, five lakh people get killed in road accidents while many more die in terror attacks and other incidents, pointed out a public personality. And if nobody thinks of them, why should anyone think of those who can’t even stay well for the nation’s welfare?

What else remains unmeasured

Do we even know what sort of psychological toll demonetisation has taken on ordinary citizens? Psychologists say the personal consequences of economic distress take time to manifest, affecting psychological well-being years later. According to a host of new scientific studies, money trouble can lead to overwhelming stress, bringing about a range of emotions — from anxiety, depression, fear, panic and anger to a sense of insecurity and failure.

What makes me worried is what recent research has shown about the social side of economic anger: how people who lose jobs and run out of money become sufferers of chronic rage and frustration. There’s anyway so much anger all around us, be it at home or in public places. Demonetisation used the class anger of the poor against the rich for political purposes.


One just hopes the anger evaporates along with the missing black money.

Last updated: September 02, 2017 | 13:29
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