For 75-year-old Sathi Bia of Ernakulam, Kerala, the problems that the Indian public faced since November 8, when Narendra Modi announced his demonetisation drive, has become a late but all-too-real nightmare. The recluse, who went to buy groceries, came to know about the prime minister’s move, after a shopkeeper informed her that old currency notes of 500 and 1000 denominations are no longer legal tender.
Sathi, who retired 20 years ago from the state veterinary department, lives alone in a small house, without a television or a phone. She doesn’t subscribe to any newspapers and leaves her house only to stock up on her rations. And even though, in the past two months, she has withdrawn the new Rs 2,000 note from her pension account, she failed to realise that her old currency notes have become invalid. Cut off from her neighbours and relatives, she was never aware of this move.
Her neighbours don’t interact with her and she lives a rather guarded life. She lives in constant paranoia of other trying to trick her and rob her of money. Unfortunately for her, this fear too has come to life.
|Sathi, who retired 20 years ago from the state veterinary department, lives alone in a small house, without a television or a phone. [Photo: TheNewsMinute]|
Her house was raided on Tuesday evening by the police and panchanyat members and Rs 4 lakh in old currency notes were retrieved, after Sathi went to the Varapuzha branch of State Bank of Travancore (her branch) with a bag full of the now-void Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, in the first week of January. A police officer has TheNewsMinute that since she is old and did not know about demonetisation, the police will ask the IT department to help her and advice her on what can be done with her money.
The depositing of old notes is a privilege only NRIs and Indian nationals (who have been abroad from November 9 to December 30) now have. And for them too, there caveats. One can deposit up to Rs 25,000 of the demonetised currency during the three to six month grace period, but only if they show the junked notes to Customs officials at the airport and get declaration form stamped.
While the Varapuzha Panchayat committee did try to help her get in touch with the Reserve Bank of India, a thoroughly paranoid Sathi outright refused it. Her paranoia stems from incidents in the past, where she has been swindled.
According to the Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Ordinance, signed by the president of India, has penalises transferring, holding and receiving old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, and holding, receiving or transferring the old currency mandates a penalty of Rs 10,000 or five times the total face value of the invalid notes involved.
One of the principal criticisms of the demonetisation drive has been the Indian government’s apathy towards the impoverished and the marginalised. While government, the apex bank and the finance ministry has tried to keep the nation up-to-date with their ever-changing set of rules for the drive, the effort has nonetheless been faulty at best.
Though Sathi’s situation may not be one that is common, nor by any means a normal, foreseeable one, it does highlight a gaping hole in the shoddy manner the central government has implemented its demonetisation drive. Sathi represents the hundreds of thousands, who either by choice, or mostly because of lack of infrastructure and proper channels for communication, are cut off from vital information like this. Her story highlights the plight of those who have been far away from the care or concerns of the digital-first government.
Sathi’s plight also highlights a rather quintessentially Indian habit that has become legally problematic now: mistrust of banks and stowing cash away at home. It is more than obvious that the Rs 4 lakh that was found post the raid, is not black money. It is all too probable that this is years and years of meticulous saving, which once again poses the criticism that Narendra Modi has received since the beginning of this move – not all undisclosed income is black money.
“She never speaks to anyone. She is scared to even taste the food we sometimes offer. She stays cooped inside the house for weeks together without even opening the door. We never imagined that she had such a huge amount with her. Had we known, we would have told her,” said Radha, a neighbour of Sathi, to TheNewsMinute.
The rejection of the old and taking undue advantage of their naivety or ignorance is possibly the reason why Sathi lives in constant paranoia, chooses to not interact with people around. From society, to her neighbours and relatives, and even the government – everyone is complicit in Sathi’s situation.