Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014 with the promise of “fighting black money,” has kept his word – or so it seems. On November 8, 2016, at 10:15 pm, the Prime Minister of India said that the 500 and 1000 Rupees ($ 7.5 and $ 15 respectively) those with the highest denomination in the Indian economy and representing 86% of the cash flow would cease to be legal tender currencies. Aiming to stop the flow of black money and clean up the fake bank system.
However, if we delve deeper into the consequences of the measure, we find disturbing stories. People have been forced to make long lines on the sidewalk of banks in metropolitan areas and in towns of India to try to change their money, and numerous people reportedly died while queuing or when health services refused to accept the Old notes.
Lack of planning has contributed to maximizing chaos, especially in a country that is extremely dependent on cash.
At first, I didn’t live it so drastically because I was in a wedding in Pali, so I didn’t leave the house or had to buy food or anything at all, so it was business as usual. Then I went to Jaipur, where the problem REALLY started.
I think I can better illustrate the whole idea with a video by Jasmeet Singh, one of my favorite comedians, and who hit the spot in exactly what had happened. (For the ones that don’t know him, he was born in Canada, so all he is doing is a mockery from the outside). You can just watch half of it, the rest is just a bunch of crap hahahaha. But I love him.
It was frustrating. I know there was no money and all, but all of a sudden… Not even GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS accepted the old notes. I kept comparing it to a disease. The government gave you the disease and didn’t even give you the vaccine! So, what could foreigners do? Virtually nothing. Since everything is handled in cash (except the fancy stuff), we could not even go sightseeing. Museums and other touristic experiences did not accept the old notes, and did not have credit card machines. So yeah… CHAOS. And I was even more frustrated because SO MANY of the things I wanted to buy (Earrings, jumkas, souvenirs…) From people in the street, not the big businesses were unavailable to me.
And I was angry, and frustrated, and sick of the situation… I know it was not easy for anyone, but I kept feeling like foreigners had the lower end of it. Going on about how angry I was, every person who asked me how I was handling it, I just said “Modi mera dost nahi hai” (Modi is not my friend) , and said how unfair it was not to have solutions for foreigners.
Every Indian was so sure there must be something, but there was not.
|The Indian Alternative||The Foreigner Alternative|
|You can deposit your money in the bank||We have no Indian account|
|You can make a transferrence||Many businesses didn’t trust other language portals|
|You can use RUPay, PayU, whatever e-wallet||Didn’t accept foreign cards for registration|
|Any other means of payment?||I had PayPal and many businesses did not|
|Use credit/debit card||Many places did not accept it. Even if they did, sometimes foreign cards would not work.|
The Indian Way
Let’s get honest here. I am not Indian. I am Mexican, and we are known for being explosive, short-tempered and violent. So I was just on the verge of killing someone. ALL THE TIME. But since I arrived in India, I knew it would be a challenge.
Still, I was in India, not in Mexico, where people do things… Very differently.
Overall, I found very divided opinions everywhere I went. Many people seemed to believe this was a BRILLIANT opportunity to find corruption in India, and Narendra Modi was a total hero. Others were just hating everything that had to do with the hassle of becoming acquainted with cashless transactions.
But I HAVE TO ADMIT INDIANS ARE INCREDIBLE. The way and the dignity in which they handled the whole demonetization business was remarkable. And there came the time of unity and brotherhood. The way in which Indians were helping each other was unbelievable. And the way they were helping foreigners who basically had no idea what was going on was even better. Even if they could not communicate with you, they found a friend, and officer, a man or a woman who could help out. Indians are good people, and demonetization brought out the best in them.
While I was in Jaipur, I had made an online reservation or a hotel, that I was sure I had paid online because they asked for my credit card details. It turns out I hadn’t. So when I arrived, it was TERRIBLE trying to find cash. I had no way of getting out of the hotel… I was basically kidnapped for three days.
Life during demonetization
So, as much as I wanted to (because I did have money), I could not get my hands on some cash… So I started living practically off charity. People gave me food, helped me get into museums and spent time with me so I would not have such a sad time roaming the streets of India alone, with not a single rupee on my wallet. And yeah, people trusted me enough to let me take things and promise to pay later.
But overall, I met many foreigners who cut their trip short, ended up homeless or cancelled their trip to India because of the hardships of demonetization. The situation for outsiders was critical.
Note: For the ones that don’t speak Hindi or are not familiar with the terms, a Gurdwara is a Sikh temple, and Langar is the holy food they give in the temple for free.
I know I was not the only one. Check out this yogi who was also left stranded.
When I was alone, I realized who were the real victims of demonetization chaos. The move left India’s cash-strapped economy as operators, workers and the lower strata of society depend heavily on cash transactions helpless, poor and in many cases, starving. The number of unbanked people in India stands at a staggering 233 million (about 20% of the population), according to a 2015 PEW research report. Even if everyone in India wants to get rid of corruption and black money, analysts say there was a lack of planning that caused problems for citizens.
For example, the Indians made long lines to withdraw their money, but during the first days of the demonetization, ATMs were not prepared to operate with the new bills because of the difference in size from the old bills.
Days had gone by, and people were starting to seem desperate and violent. With ladies and gents (that I still don’t understand why they separated the lines at ATM). All standing by to get some cash, people were starting to lose respect. With very little patience, I saw people starting to cut the line, and getting on the side to try and get to the front. This after many of us had been standing in line for over an hour.
So yeah. I started looking for a fight. I started giving a huge speech about respect, and how all of us needed cash. They had no special right to go ahead and claim they had rights to go first. People started saying that it was not my problem, and that I was not even Indian, and I should go back to my country if I did not like the system. Of course, I fought back. And that is when it all started, someone called the police.
After a while of trying to reason with the police, they understood (with the help of the crowd that was on my side), that I was basically, right. But it made me angry that some people in India understand critique as something offensive. And it is not only for foreigners.
According to Globalvoices.org, demonetization has also sparked debate over nationalism in India, and its detractors have been branded as anti-nationalists.
- A senior army officer was criticized for a comment on his Facebook condemning demonetization. He was waiting his turn at an ATM.
- A 19-year-old self-proclaimed activist in favor of the right to information law by name Abhishek Mishra was arrested by police in Madhya Pradesh. It was for a publications against Modi and other politicians on the subject of demonetization in social networks.
Once you got cash, the situation did NOT get any better! Now that I am home, I look back at that and smile. There’s no question: I’m dying to go back to India!
With another video to illustrate the situation, I say goodbye to all of you!