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Standing in the queue: First-hand account of the new demonetization move by Modi

Tuesday November 15, 2016,

5 min Read

Yesterday wasn’t a usual Sunday morning for me in Lucknow, my hometown and the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the most populated state of India and interestingly the one where sacks full of burnt 500 and 1000 rupee notes were found a few days back, post Modi’s surgical strike on black money.

Despite having transitioned to e-commerce long back, I realized it would not work in my area where its penetration is low and I would still need few 100 denomination notes to purchase basic necessities like milk from the local grocery shop. And, with the next day being a public holiday, having to survive for two days without any cash only added to my worry.

So, I started my day at 10 am quickly surveying all ATM within 10 km. They either weren’t dispensing cash or already had long queues, with the longest ones in front of Public Sector Banks, considered to be the most trustworthy by majority Indians. Some even had police vans stationed in front of them just in case the crowd got unruly. The crowd itself was a mix- 20% of the people were from within the city and the rest 80% ere from nearby towns/villages. The gender ratio largely stood as 25 men to 1 woman, echoing the latest statistics by UNDP which says 80% of women in India don’t have bank accounts. Also, the queues in front of ATMs where shorter in comparison to ones in front of the banks, where people had lined up to exchange cash, reflecting the amount of ATM usage in India.

Disheartened by long queues, I returned home hoping to try again later in the afternoon. Around 1 pm, I got information from my neighbour that a nearby Canara Bank ATM was functional. I rushed to the ATM and luckily managed to be the 10th person in the queue. Standing there itself was quite eye-opening.

Despite the hot afternoon, the queues were getting longer by the minute. Every person standing in the ATM queue had two or more ATM cards, which meant the waiting time would at least double. The ‘bank’ queue parallel to us for exchanging or depositing cash, was being diligently supervised by a security guard who had to be rough sometimes to keep the crowd in check, allowing only three people at a time to enter the small bank.

In stark contrast to what is being currently projected in media, though people were desperate to get over with this exercise, no one was really complaining. Everyone was aware of the inconvenience of withdrawing cash but no one was blaming or criticizing the government for this move. It was so till a gentleman joined the queue three places behind me. The moment he joined, he started with a tirade of Modi bashing, hoping to find eager listeners. His arguments lacked depth because all he did was regurgitate what is being propagated in media- the top 1% of the population is corrupt so why is Modi making rest of us suffer; does he think he will be able to curb corruption just by this one drive; small traders/vendors are experiencing heavy losses; it is marriage season in India and how will people pay for the expenses etc. People either didn’t pay attention to him or just smiled but didn’t validate his argument. When he didn’t find enough traction, he switched his talk to exchanging of cash saying he had 2.5 lakh rupees at home in notes of 500 and 1000, which now he would have to get deposited and what an arduous task it would be.

It was the last of his arguments that I heard before my turn came and I got hold of 20 crisp notes of 100.

It is welcoming to see that despite with media focusing on only one side of the story-the side of inconvenience; majority of India that lives in towns and villages isn’t complaining so much about this move. They may not understand the depth of it but they do consider it as a good thing. It is true that people are experiencing trouble but they also understand they would have to bear with it for some time for us to make progress in the long term. It may not be the most well-planned move but the Government is trying its best to make it work by introducing various measures like increasing the withdrawal limit, extending the usage of old currency for certain transactions till November 24, and sending mobile cash vans to villages. And, one cannot ignore the positive outcomes of the drive which is bolstering India’s anti-corruption efforts, eliminating terrorist funding, tackling counterfeit currency, working towards reducing inflation and causing a progressive shift to a cashless economy in the long run. Hence, it should be media's prerogative to show both sides of the story.

And, as far as marriages are concerned, they don’t stop because of this move. One just took place successfully in my locality where vendors agreed to accept postdated payment. Instances of good Samaritans helping people during this currency crisis are spread all over media. This is also what India is.

Next week, I will be exchanging few old currency notes at my bank. Let’s see what it holds.