Documentary filmmaker, Nakul Singh Sawhney, travelled to Uttar Pradesh to film demonetisation and its impact on rural life. Alice Sharma spent time at a government bank in New Delhi. In order to juxtapose two stories, the urban and rural, sbcltr discovered a world of chaos, anger and hopelessness.
More than a month ago, the government announced a surprise recall of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as part of its efforts to purge black money from the market and reduce counterfeit currency. Since then, millions of people have lined up outside banks and ATMs in an effort to exchange or deposit scrapped currency but been badly affected by never ending queues and a cash crunch. The scenario remains the same-long queues and painful exchanges.
It’s 10 o’clock in the morning when I reach Samaypur Badli branch of the State bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, a government bank in New Delhi. While inside the bank the staff members prepare themselves for a long day ahead, sipping tea before they get no time for it later. “Initially we didn’t have time for lunch either. On November 9th, we were scared that we wouldn’t be able to handle this. We then called up an emergency meeting and decided that everyone from clerks to officers will exchange and deposit the money,” says deputy manager, Hari Shankar Sharma.
As the gates are thrown open to the public, a sea of people rush in. Within a few minutes the bank premises turn into a fish market. People are seen hitting each other while trying to get inside. Women and senior citizens are given the privilege of going in first.
In between all the chaos inside and outside the bank, there is one person who has the most difficult task at hand. The security guard is seen struggling with the public, muttering abuses at times under his breath. 40-year-old Ram Prasad or as called by the staff members, guard sahib, has never faced such hard days in his contractual service of 15 years. “I have to constantly argue, shout, and even push people. I now know banking on tips now,” he says adjusting the heavy rifle on his shoulder.
There are people who have come to take out their salaries, pensions. “My daughter is getting married tomorrow. I have to pay the caterers. But this line is very long.” says, 42 years old Harish Yadav who works as a contractual peon in a company. “We pushed the wedding from November to December, so that we don’t face any problem.” he adds. But the change in deadline doesn’t seem to have helped.
Post lunch, the frustration amongst the people and the staff members mounts. The cash is slowly running out of stock. Its 4pm and the gates are going to be closed to the public. One woman argues with the bank manager and started crying. “How long can we sympathize with every person. We are helpless without cash.” says the manger while he give out tokens to the public in order to reduce inconvenience for the next day.
It’s now 4:30 in the evening, the bank wears a dull face. People are still sit outside in the diminishing hope of getting money. But the crowd has now shifted to a serpentine line outside the ATM, opposite the bank. Staff members are busy piling up all the money and cheques they have received. “Every day now, I reach home by 9pm. It takes me two hours by the metro. By then, only my wife is awake. I don’t want to comment on the credibility of this decision. I am just waiting for 30th December now,” says one harassed staff member who wants to remain anonymous in the fear of losing his job. He then quickly starts counting old currency notes.
While leaving the bank I couldn’t help but think that neither the common man, nor the bank employees are at fault, but they are the ones that are paying the most for this decision.
For more videos on the reality of demonetisation, click here