India: Demonetisation takes its toll on the poor

The Indian government’s move to withdraw high-value banknotes from circulation is taking a toll on the country’s poor.

Endless lines outside banks have become the norm in India, as millions of people queue to deposit or exchange the 500 and 1,000-rupee notes that since last week have become officially worthless.

For India’s poor, however, the country’s new currency policy is more than just an inconvenience.

“We don’t have anything to eat in our house,” Manjula Begum, a waste picker who lives on the edge of a New Delhi slum, told Al Jazeera.

“The kids want rice for lunch, but I can’t give it to them. What will I do? Who do I ask for money? No one is helping us.”

READ MORE: India pulls 500, 1,000-rupee notes to ‘fight graft’

The notes’ sudden withdrawal from circulation, a measure aimed at fighting corruption, has caused chaos, with markets, petrol stations and other retailers refusing to accept the larger notes and bank cash machines staying closed.

The Indian government is asking people to be patient with what it calls the “short-term inconvenience” of the new currency policy, but the situation is taking its toll on people living off meagre daily wages.

Most of the India’s poor do not have proper IDs to exchange the notes that they have, or even the time to stand in line in front of a bank for hours.

So, all they can do is wait.

Inside Story – Will India’s crackdown on high-value banknotes stop corruption?

Another waste picker told Al Jazeera that he feels like the government is “squeezing” people like him.

“We can’t even live our lives right now,” he said.

“Most people have old currency notes at home but can’t exchange them.

“No one is paying us salary either; they’re paying us with the old currency. What will we do with the old notes? The government is really squeezing us.”

Some opposition MPs on Wednesday marched to the president’s home, demanding a roll back on the currency plan, saying it has crippled the daily lives of hundreds of millions in the country.

“People are in utter distress, especially the informal sector [which] is totally disrupted. Poor people, daily wage earners, they’re all facing difficulty,” Saugata Roy, an MP from the opposition Trinamool Congress Party, said.

So far, the government is standing by its decision, saying the new policy will root out counterfeit money and prevent corruption.

It says the currency change will be beneficial for the whole country, including the poor, in the long term.

But the poor feel like they are paying the price for the corruption of the rich, as the money they worked hard for remains worthless.

Source: Al Jazeera