Wrong to call Modi's demonetisation an inconvenience, it's a disaster

By undermining people's livelihoods, the Modi regime has pushed humanity into a crisis.

 |  7-minute read |   26-11-2016
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Although I belong to the privileged middle class, I keep counting and recounting the currency notes in my pocket and making drastic choices. A large tin of shaving foam costs Rs 200. As I need to hold on to whatever Rs 100 notes I have for more essential purposes, I decide to shave twice a day without the foam instead. The arrangement is working somewhat smoothly. (There are always those overlooked patches even while shaving with foam, especially when you run the blade absentmindedly, so what the heck.)

My decision causes a microscopic dent in a shopkeeper's earnings and an even tinier one in a manufacturer's. I prefer shopping at the neighbourhood Mom 'n' Pop stores and green grocers on the street with cash and not at the supermarket chains beholden, to the financiers of BJP and Congress, with plastic.

dd_112616071653.jpg An assault on the right to livelihood and, in fact, on the right to life. Credit: PTI

It occurred to me that if I could make do with the current arrangement, I might not resume foam purchases at all. And another that I could wait until the hair on my head got too unruly before visiting a barber shop - I usually prefer those in lower-income Dalit-Bahujan localities such as in Kodandaramapuram, near where I live in Bangalore.

Most barbers in Bangalore and elsewhere in Karnataka are Telugu-speaking Dalits and delaying a visit would not be fair to them. I shall go to my barber in a couple of days unless the Modi regime zaps us with more shocking reversals of previous declarations - such as banning over-the-counter exchange of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from the night of November 24, instead of - as had been promised - increasing the amount that could be exchanged as had been promised on November 8.

Yesterday, my reading glasses broke. I went to a shop where I was offered a pair for Rs 400 plus.

"Will you give me change for the new Rs 2,000 note?"

"Sorry ..."

Try another shop. Am shown a groovy-looking pair costing Rs 400 plus and with spring action to boot, meaning they would be more durable as they would withstand sudden or abrupt removals.

"Will you give me change...?"

No way, José!

"Got a cheaper pair?"

Am shown a pair costing Rs 130. I buy.

If many others are taking or considering similar decisions regarding other goods and services - and there's much evidence of hundreds of millions far less endowed being forced to do so - imagine the effect on the economy as a whole.

Last evening, I was at Yeshwantpur market in North Bangalore and found green grocers behind pushcarts shouting in Kannada: "Tomato hatthh rupaayi yerd KG" meaning Rs 10 for TWO kilogrammes. A large cauliflower was going at Rs 10. Mounds of brinjals (aubergines), carrots, radish, capsicums et al - each mound containing perhaps between half-a-kilogramme and one aligned in front of women sitting on the ground - offered at Rs 10 each.

What kind of profits can these indigent street vendors be making at such low rates?

Decisions made by banks: most ATMs not adjacent to their own respective bank branches have been shut until further notice since November

As of today, ATMs across India need to have a 24/7 security guard cover and these are not bank employees, but hired on contract from security agencies. What it means is that a large number of indigent - meaning Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-Muslim - migrant workers have been laid off. Even the ATMs inside or adjacent to bank branches are shut for most part of the day and at night - this in urban agglomerations. Imagine the chaos in rural areas with mostly poorly-staffed bank branches serving large numbers of villages spread over several tens of square kilometres.

Writing in Kafila, Gautam Bhan who teaches at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (http://iihs.co.in/about/people/gautam-bhan/), says most insightfully:

"Do the math: daily wage workers weigh the opportunity cost of lost wages and risk to continued work (skipping even a day risks not being called back to work with the same contractor) against access to usable cash.

This happens for two or three days. Then you need to spend. You borrow, and a new cycle of small debt begins. If in the middle of this, one small other thing happens - just one, say an illness, a puncture in your rickshaw, a sudden off-cycle bribe to the cops for your thela - and you can't use your savings, then the debt cycle worsens, or you forgo other expenditures like food or school fees. This is not "inconvenience." The risk here is that demonetisation will do exactly what illness, accident, eviction, funeral and drought do to poor families. If you think just faulty implementation can't do that, you are ignoring how thin the line between stability and crisis is for too many working people in this country."

Perhaps Bhan, writing as he was just a week after the Modi regime's demonetisation announcement, deliberately stopped short of declaring that this was an assault on the right to livelihood and, in fact, on the right to life.

A little more than three decades ago, the then Chief Justice YV Chandrachud, writing on behalf of a highly distinguished five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in the celebrated 1985 verdict in Olga Tellis & Ors vs Bombay Municipal Corporation &Ors,a verdict that has been celebrated and has been reverberating around court rooms as well as law schools throughout the world, said:

"The sweep of the right to life conferred by Article 21 (of the Constitution of India guaranteeing the Right to Life) is wide and far reaching. It does not mean merely that life cannot be extinguished or taken away as, for example, by the imposition and execution of the death sentence, except according to procedure established by law. That is but one aspect of the right to life.

An equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to live, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation.

Such deprivation would not only denude the life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make life impossible to live.

And yet, such deprivation would not have to be in accordance with the procedure established by law, if the right to livelihood is not regarded as a part of the right to life. That, which alone makes it possible to live, leave aside what makes life liveable, must be deemed to be an integral component of the right to life."

Incidentally, the son of the late Chief Justice Chandrachud is now on the Supreme Court bench hearing petitions against the horrific and cynically calculated demonetisation the Modi regime which, having secured its own and its financiers' resources, has mounted a blitz not only on its equally corrupt Congress counterpart but on the moneys held by coalitions of Dalit-Bahujan and minorities - the mostly indigent folk who were waiting in the wings to usher in a modicum of justice in the land that boasts a constitution mainly authored by Dr BR Ambedkar.

Justice DY Chandrachud is most likely a human-rights-friendly jurist. But he's faced with a tough choice. Might he and Chief Justice TS Thakur dare rule in favour of the people and against the current cynical regime on December 2? 

Might he dare rule against a regime that manipulates public opinion as brazenly as through disallowing people to express their real opinions in an obviously pre-fixed opinion poll? Bravo, Fuehrer, Bravo!

This is indeed a "master stroke" by the Narendra Modi regime. Thanks to the paucity of real news of hardships facing nearly one billion people reaching them (excluding the couple of hundred million middle and upper class ones with their plastic cash and their plastic lives), as large parts of electronic and print media - mostly bought over by Modi/BJP financiers such as Adani, Ambani et al - is underreporting the extent of hardship caused, it is the Fuehrer's narrative that is prevailing.

For now. We shall overcome some day!

Writer

N Jayaram N Jayaram @n_jayaram

The writer is a journalist now based in Bangalore. He has worked for the Press Trust of India and Agence France-Presse.

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