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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 49 New Delhi November 26, 2016

Three Demonetisation-Related Deaths and a Suicide Attempt

Continuing Distress of Weaker Sections

Monday 28 November 2016, by Bharat Dogra

Athough the general impression being created is that the worst of the problems of ordinary people related to demonetisation are over and the situation is returning to near- normal for most of them, three extremely tragic deaths and one suicide attempt related to demonetisation, reported in newspapers today (November 22), reveal problems of an extreme kind still being faced by the people of weaker sections in villages and slums of the country.

The Banda edition of Amar Ujala, a leading Hindi newspaper, has reported the extremely tragic death of a Dalit girl child in Banda district. Her family lives in Chaapar village. In order to arrange the money for the treatment of the child her father, Dharmendra, had been standing in bank queues for three days but had not been able to get any cash. On the third day he again drew a blank, while his daughter— waiting a few steps away—died. This led to a lot of anger in the area and people gathered to block the traffic on the highway for some time.

The national edition of Dainik Jagran has reported another tragic death and an extremely distressing suicide attempt. Akbar Ali is a worker in a lock factory in Aligarh. On November 7 he drew his salary of Rs 4800 in the form of four currency notes of the denomination of Rs 1000, one currency note of Rs 500 and three currency notes of Rs 100. Demonetisation was announced the very next day. Since then his wife, Razia, had been going to bank again and again to exchange the notes but due to the heavy rush she could not succeed. Meanwhile all food stored in the home was exhausted. For three days Razia could not feed her hungry children.

As reported in this leading newspaper of Uttar Pradesh, Razia became increasingly sad and tried to commit suicide by sprinkling kerosene and setting herself on fire on the night of November 20. She was admitted to the district hospital with serious burn injuries. While reporting this extremely tragic and heart-breaking incident, this newspaper also checked with local police officials who said clearly that they are not aware of any demonetisation-related suicide attempt in their area.

The national edition of Dainik Jagran has reported another equally tragic incident which took place on November 21 in Tarkulwa, a semi-urbanised area of Devaria (also written sometimes as Deoria) district of Uttar Pradesh. Ramnath Kushwaha, a senior citizen aged 65 years from Gulriha village, was standing in a long queue outside a bank. There was a stampede and Ramnath was injured badly. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead by doctors.

 The Hindustan Times, the Rashtriya Sahara and some other newspapers have reported the demonetisation-related very tragic death of 49- year-old Satish Kumar, a vegetable vendor, in the Uttam Nagar area of Delhi on November 21 (reported on November 22). He joined a queue in front of a bank at 8 am to deposit money. After waiting in the queue for nearly six hours he fainted. Others waiting with him informed the police. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared brought dead. The police officials have said that this may have been caused by a heart attack but his family members have said that Satish Kumar did not have any medical history to suggest this. Satish Kumar had eaten very lightly that morning and just a little while before he collapsed his wife had phoned him to ask him if she could come over to support him in the queue.

Reports of such tragic incidents should be seen in the context of a host of other reports on the same day that tell about continuing long delays, queues and hardships related to demonetisation particularly for weaker sections and those living away from the limelight of metro areas.

Instead of creating a false feeling and premature images of the situation easing out for most people, the authorities should remain in close touch with the actual reality and based on this understanding should take urgent steps to provide quick and genuine relief to the distressed people, particularly the more vulnerable sections and those living in the more vulnerable areas. In this context special attention should be given to the needs of small farmers, landless small workers, small artisans, small shopkeepers and vendors, construction workers and other workers, including women employed in a wide range of informal sector activities.

 The extremely tragic incidents mentioned above are a grim reminder of the urgency of this task.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several people’s movements and campaigns.

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