This is the first in a two-part series of reports on the impact of demonetisation.
It was a working day, but the narrow lanes of Block A, Jhuggi Shahbad Dairy in outer Delhi were unusually congested. Most of the local men and women who filled those streets were construction workers. Gopal, one of the workers living in the slum since childhood, said, “If you had come here before notebandi you would have found the streets deserted as everyone would have gone for work and would return only in the evening. But now you see everyone hanging around because employment opportunities have been reduced drastically after notebandi.”
Speaking about his own experience, Gopal added, “Immediately after notebandi there was almost a complete loss of livelihood followed by a little recovery. Now the situation is such that my employment days are about half of earlier times and income is less than half.”
Bhomani, a woman worker, said that with lesser chances of work, some workers have tried waiting at the chowk where daily wage workers gather to make themselves available for work. However, when no one was offered any jobs after long hours of wait, the incentive to go there daily reduced. Why spend on bus fare when the chances of getting work are so few, other women asked.
Most of the other construction workers who gathered said that their income is now half or less than half of what it was before demonetisation. Babulal, a member of a wedding band, said that even at the peak of the wedding season his income was about half of what it normally was. In addition, he said that it had now become more difficult to get the due payment.
Even during normal times, the overall situation is a difficult one for the residents of this slum, most of whom are originally from the Mahoba district in Bundelkhand. There are no usable toilets here and when the women go to relieve themselves they often face harassment, even the risk of molestation.
The children of this slum are forced to go to a government school some distance away because the the nearest one is in need of repairs. Residents claim that many children have been beaten up to keep them away from that school. There is drainage congestion in some places and no drainage in others. Water supply is quite precarious and depends on the arrival of a tanker.
While people were appealing and waiting for a solution for all these pressing problems, their lives were thrown into even greater turmoil by the note ban. Even as the earlier problems remain unresolved, severe issues, such as hunger and a lack of cash to treat illnesses, have emerged. In this slum, four people have died due to a lack of cash for treatment after demonetisation.
As people explained, after the note ban, there were no employment opportunities or wages. Employers were not giving any advances or clearing past dues, and the savings at home were no longer legal tender. Neighbours and relatives were not in a position to lend and there were long queues outside banks. Hence, all sources of cash for treatment had dried up.
Besides the four deaths, the residents also mentioned a case of suicide by a woman from the slum who could no longer bear to see the hunger of her children.
Chanda is ill and weak, and has been suffering from chest pains since her son Sonu died. Holding back tears, she said that 15-year-old Sonu was suffering from fever but she could not arrange the cash for his treatment and he died.
Similarly, Rambai has been ill since her 18-year-old son Mahesh died due to lack of treatment. Rambai is a widow and has been in poor health since. She does not even receive a pension. The question hanging before her now is how to feed herself and her other child.
Two workers, Dayaram and Bhagwandas, also died due to the lack of treatment, leaving behind families in precarious conditions.
While sharing these incidents, the residents of the colony hurriedly summoned several others, including orphans, disabled, ill persons and widows, who have been suffering from hunger, malnutrition and deprivation. They depend on others for their survival but now that nearly everyone is struggling to meet even the most basic needs in the aftermath of demonetisation, their survival has become even more difficult.
The loss of income has added to the prevailing cases of hunger and malnutrition, particularly since the public distribution system here is also weak. Instances of disrupted livelihoods and increased hunger and malnutrition are widespread in this slum even about a hundred days after demonetisation. This coupled with the existing issue of poor sanitation and the inability to access timely treatment without cash has become a deadly combination.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.