Cover

Notes of concern

P Anima | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on December 09, 2016
Nothing to lose?: Women engaged in canal work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in Haryana’s Karnal, metres away from its boundary with Shamli in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.
The workers say that none of them has been to the bank in the last 20 days and that they don’t have a single rupee on them images. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Nothing to lose?: Women engaged in canal work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in Haryana’s Karnal, metres away from its boundary with Shamli in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.The workers say that none of them has been to the bank in the last 20 days and that they don’t have a single rupee on them images. Photo: Ramesh Sharma   -  BusinessLine

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

Talking shop: Mangalaura resident Sumantri doesn’t have money to buy supplies for her provisions store

Talking shop: Mangalaura resident Sumantri doesn’t have money to buy supplies for her provisions store

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

Bottom line: Irate villagers outside a State Bank of Patiala branch in Mohiudinpur, also in Karnal

BLINK_KARNAL8

In rural Haryana, where living on little is a way of life, demonetisation is proving extra-cruel

“Thoda hi hai, ji, hamara dimaag (I’m not very clever),” Sumantri, the matriarch, intones apologetically. In Karnal I meet women — young and old, stoic and weather-beaten — who work in the fields, dig canals, queue up before banks, run small shops and toil in the grain market. They invoke their unletteredness sometimes sheepishly, often casually and even defensively. Sumantri’s quip is her response to demonetisation or notebandi, as she knows it. She quickly adds, “ Suna to hai, ji (I have heard about it).” Her account of living it is undramatic, but real.

Mangalaura, a border village of over 2,000 inhabitants in Haryana’s Karnal district, is hemmed by the Yamuna. Beyond lies Uttar Pradesh. In this village of farmers and agricultural labourers, demonetisation cleaves opinions. The handful of men and women in Sumantri’s courtyard raise a din over it. Sumantri, around 60, lives with her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. A bedspread canopying the cot in one corner of the courtyard has snapped from a hook and billows in the wind. Washed vessels are drying, stacked against a mud wall. Near the curtained toilets at the far end, a buffalo chews on grass. And beyond is the scum-laden pond that brings the village’s dirt and sickness to Sumantri’s backyard. To skimp is the organic way to live in Mangalaura. The government’s demonetisation move has merely intensified paucity. The rhetoric of greater good, though, has seeped in. Sumantri laughs when her younger son, a vendor of potatoes and onions says, “ Hum khush hai, sahmat hai (We’re happy, and agree with this initiative).” The only “black money”, Sumantri jests, that has surfaced is the ₹15,000 that her eldest daughter-in-law had saved up after selling her buffalo.

“There is nothing in my shop,” she exclaims. Sumantri, it turns out, is no idle woman. She runs a small provisions store, from a room built adjacent to her compound wall. Indeed, it is largely empty. Long strips of snack packets festoon the shopfront. Plastic jars cradle remnants of savouries. Demonetisation has dealt her business a body blow. “I have no money,” Sumantri is cryptic. A month ago, her daily sales ranged between ₹500 and ₹700. Since demonetisation, it has not gone beyond ₹90. That has left her with no money to buy new stock. The shop has been her source of livelihood ever since her husband died less than a year ago; now, demonetisation has stymied it. Villagers have no money to spend, she says. They keep their buys small. A spike in credits has further depleted her goods. Sumantri has a bank account and some deposits. “I have about ₹5,000. But I never go to the bank. My back hurts and I can’t queue up.” The bank has never played a part in her scheme of things. Sumantri spent a part of her daily collection on replenishing her stock and the rest on the house.

“We’re running our homes with a tight fist,” says Neelam, Sumantri’s neighbour. An agricultural labourer, Neelam is recovering from chikungunya, and is out of work. At Mangalaura, this is the lean season. The paddy is in the market. Work in the sugar cane fields and sugar mills is yet to start. Wheat is being sowed. The villagers rely on odd jobs to see them through. Neelam’s husband has got a day’s work after a gap of eight days. Neelam has a Jan Dhan account — Modi khata (Modi account), as she calls it — with zero balance. Notebandi has set off a trail of rumours in the village and generated new narratives. “A girl apparently got married with ₹500 and over a cup of tea. I watched on TV. Modi, too, sold tea once,” Neelam reminds me. Chikungunya hasn’t compromised her sense of humour. As news reports of currency washing up on riverbanks are relayed, she wonders if they couldn’t just be distributed among the poor. Better still, she hopes, a few lakhs would surface in Jan Dhan accounts some day. Left without a single rupee in hand, she no longer serves her family sabzi with roti , and instead makes do with salt. But then there is buffalo milk. “Modi cannot take away our milk,” Neelam grins.

Sumantri’s son Vinod puts things in perspective. Notebandi, he says, has affected lives. But people are managing within the limitations. “What else can we do?” interjects Neelam. “We can’t go to Modi wailing. Anyway, he was travelling abroad.”

Notebandi, says Vinod, also an agricultural labourer, has given a few a strange sense of equality: “We didn’t have money then. Neither do we have now. Some are just happy to watch the neighbour’s house burn. The thought that he has become like us makes them happy.” Mangalaura, meanwhile, works on credit. “Modi’s scheme may be good. But our daily expenses are a struggle. I’m yet to get change from my vegetable vendor, whom I paid three days ago,” he adds.

Vinod bought seeds and fertiliser on credit from the village shop. “The moment I get change I will pay. But credit is a way of life. If I don’t have change, I borrow from the provisions store. If I can’t pay the village doctor, I offer wheat. I repay when I have money. Notebandi has slowed down repayment,” says Vinod. “My shop is empty,” Sumantri reminds.

Away from the village’s bylanes, on the main road, metres from Karnal’s boundary with Shamli in UP, scores of men and women are engaged in an MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) canal work. They scoop out the sandy soil to make a gaping hole. For the women of Mangalaura, who are largely agricultural labourers, MNREGA work is a welcome change. The daily wage of ₹259 is more than what agriculture work fetches them.

Breaking from work for a bit, Kailaso, a small woman with a robust voice, says notebandi is a non-issue for her. “ Jab paise haath mein nahi rahega to bandi kya karega(When there is no money in hand, what can notebandi do),” she asks. Other women concur.

Kailaso is living on credit, as are others. The women chorus that they don’t have a rupee on them. None of them has been to the bank in the past 20 days. “If there’s no money in the account, what is the point of going?” asks Paro, another worker.

Most of these women have a bank account, to which their MNREGA wages will be credited. But that will suffice just to pay off credits. Kailaso had borrowed an additional ₹30,000 to fix her daughter’s broken leg. The women will move to the sugar cane fields once they finish the canal work. In the lean season, those like Kailaso travel as far as Gujarat for work. Kailaso, in fact, had returned from the cotton fields of Gujarat — Modi ka gaaon, is how she calls it — a month ago. She had exhausted the ₹15,000 she earned there in paying off credits. When demonetisation was announced, Kailaso didn’t have a single ₹500 or ₹1,000 to exchange. Her struggle, she says, is an everyday event. Mahendro, another worker, pitches in. Her neighbour’s daughter is getting married this month. “I know she is struggling to raise money.”

The only crowd at the small market of Mohiudinpur is in front of the State Bank of Patiala. Outside the iron grill hangs a board which says — Cash nahi hai (No cash). That, though, is not deterring the long line, made up largely of old men and women. Two shops away, Sanjeev Kumar sits in a cabin at a fertiliser outlet. He quickly breaks into a paean for demonetisation. “Whatever little issue there is, we are covering it. We’re not allowing the zamindar to be worried,” he begins. He points to the queue outside and vouches for its discipline. “Whatever little difficulty there is, we are bearing it. We are finding solutions together,” he asserts. However, Kumar’s friend, who joins in our conversation, disagrees. The inconvenience, he says, is not small. “The farmer who has no money will have to leave his field empty,” he says.

As the men talk, a commotion breaks out in the queue. Kumar and his friend pause and watch. The restless crowd of a moment ago is now an angry bunch. Some bang on the iron gates. Others yell. A few have been here since six in the morning. A woman has left her children at home, missed the day’s work and is here to withdraw money to build a toilet. A haggard old woman is in the queue for the third straight day for her pension. The rounds of the bank have extended up to 15 days for one, six for another. They chorus that the bank employees are showing preference to a chosen few. A man shouts, “They say they have no cash. And then cash arrives and it’s over. So tell me, whom did you give the cash to?”

Across the road from the bank, at another fertiliser shop, owner Sushil Chaudhury is counting a bundle of soiled ₹20 notes. Farmer Bhisham Singh, his client for 16 years, has paid him for fertiliser. The cash crunch has meant that Singh has sowed wheat a week late, and the fertiliser too will be applied late. For those like Chaudhury, whose association with farmers as well as the history of credit with them is long, demonetisation is a blow. Farmers haven’t been able to pay past credits this season. He has loans to repay. “I have known the farmers for long. If I can help it, I will not allow his field to be empty. But if my stomach is empty, how will I fill his?” he asks.

At the co-operative bank inside The Karnal Co-op Sugar Mills, bank manager Ashok Kumar is enjoying a bit of the early evening sun. Today, like the past few weeks, has been hectic. Over 150 customers had been at the bank. “We try not to send anybody empty-handed,” says Kumar. Daily consignment of cash is coming in, he says, but the amount fluctuates. “When we are out of cash, the customer tells me, ‘Give me from my account. I’m not asking yours.’ What do you say?”

The end-of-season dullness characterises the New Grain Market in Karnal. The harvest is packed in gunny bags and lined up to be ferried across the country. Women are a considerable workforce here. Under a shed, Lakshmi, a long-time worker at the market, is measuring paddy in a broken plastic jar. For every sack they fill and weigh, the women earn 100g of grain. Says newcomer Santosh, “ Hamara toh roz ka kamana aur roz ka khana hai (We are daily wagers).” The women get by by selling the surplus grains. Notebandi, they say, has depleted buyers. “We sell a kilo for ₹10. But people aren’t buying much,” says Santosh.

A little away, Rajni and other women are resting on the sacks they have just filled. Rajni hasn’t got her widow pension yet, as the bank has run out of cash. “I spent a day at the bank missing work here,” she says. The women say fewer buyers have turned up this season. “What grain can you buy without money?” they ask.

Published on December 09, 2016
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor