Thursday, November 17, 2016

Demonetisation causes 33 deaths, and counting

I am writing this after reading a detailed report of several deaths published by the Indian Express. Sadly, whatever may be the good intentions behind demonetizing Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, precious lives are lost for no obvious reasons directly attributable to them.

As many as four children died because hospitals/doctors refused to treat them as their families could not pay the hospital bills in currency other than the demonetised notes. A newborn baby died in Rajasthan because the driver of an ambulance refused to take the child to the hospital. In Sambalpur town in Odisha an auto rickshaw driver refused to take a two-year-old child to the hospital and the child had a premature death.

These sad incidents should shake the conscience of the entire nation, the politicians and leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties, and the entire humanity, and the guilty should not be spared.

As many as eight more unfortunate deaths occurred due to heart attacks and shock. Two men suffered attacks while watching PM Narendra Modi announcing the demonetisation – one is a Faizabad businessman and the other a Kanpur man who had received an advance payment of Rs 70 lakhs for selling his land. Curiously, a State Bank of India cashier from Bhopal too became a victim of heart failure, probably not because of any banking inconvenience.

The cases of two men – one from Kaimur district of Bihar and the other from Tarn Taran in Punjab were because both were planning the weddings of their daughters and their inability to exchange their hard-earned money may have triggered the attacks. The deaths of a 40-year-old washerwoman from Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, and the farmer from Tarapur, Gujarat, and the senior citizen from Mumbai were because they could not exchange or deposit their old notes.

These are not superrich people or those who had unaccounted wealth, but people who just could not think of losing their lifelong earnings and see their families suffer the pain and hardships. They would not have had such fates if they had black, counterfeit or illegal money. And if a poor family puts away a few hundred bucks per month for marrying off a daughter, it cannot be treated as illegal by any stretch of imagination, no matter whatever the law provides.

And there are eight suicides reported, five women and three men, from the states of Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Telangana. Mostly, these were poor people who were not able to exchange their old notes and those who were unable to buy food for their families. The case of the farmer from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, who committed suicide as he could not exchange a meager Rs 3,000 to send to his children stranded in Tamil Nadu, is the most heartrending and it shows the level of poverty. Successive governments could not eradicate poverty though it is going to be seven decades after India’s independence. That is an entire lifetime of poverty and deprivation.

And the suicide in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, of the 17-year-old son of a BSF jawan when his mother was unable to give him legal tender points to many other inadequacies. The case of the 24-year-old Rizwana from Delhi who hanged herself because she could not exchange her old notes for three days is also deplorable.

Nine senior citizens, eight men and one woman, died, after collapsing while waiting in queues in front of banks for long hours, the oldest being a 96-year-old man who collapsed in front of a bank in Udupi which was yet to open in the early morning. They are from the states of Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, and Gujarat.

A man from Howrah, West Bengal, killed his wife who returned home from an ATM empty-handed. Can it be attributed to demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 bank notes? Well, the answer may be ‘no’. Or, some legal eagles may argue that it is a murder the foulest, or even of the rarest of the rare category. But the truth may be that the poor suffering man could have gone mad because of the financial mess he was forced into, now compounded by making even his hard-earned money inaccessible to him.

Fight against corruption, eradication of black money and fake currency, and all other high sounding principles are meaningless for him, and others who suffered for no mistakes of theirs.

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