I was a kid in the 90s. This might seem cliché, but it really was the golden era. We saw the WWW grow to become Internet. We saw the evolution of computers. We saw the evolution of telecommunication and the birth of the millennium.
Before the Paytm, mobiWiki, UPI, internet banking and debit cards, there was the “physically take money from bank”. My mom did this every month (of course, there was no fear of demonetization then). She would take money from the bank and save 100 rupees as God’s money. This money was then donated to charity during Diwali every year (this started when her salary was 1000 Rs and continued to be the same amount even when her salary multiplied; not so impressed now! are you?). My mom would save the money in a plastic box that was in a very protected place (even the maid knew the protected place; I have actually seen her clean around the box and place it back where it was). Then during Diwali, my mom will take the money and donate. The highlight of that donation was….. She never counted the money (She was a bank’s branch manager guys; she counted everything. She used to count the number of clothes being washed; I am not even kidding!!.)
This non-counting gave me the liberty to, well, borrow some money from God’s money (Fine! I used to very very occasionally steal money. Oh! Please…. don’t judge me. I used to put it back using my brother’s piggy bank money).
The 100 Rs was always a currency note I admired. There was something about money that starts with an one and a zero: 10, 100, 1000. Maybe it was because my mom was a bank person or because I love 10s, I used to love 100s and 1000s. I was weirdly proud of the two notes.
And when I started to work, I followed the same tradition and collected 1000s for charity. It was a great tradition; I am saying ‘was’ because, then Mr. Modi brought in demonetization. Yup, he took away 1000s.
Although I am very angry at losing the currency note I love, that’s not what I am going to write about (I should be awarded for self-control). Indian currency is usually, sorry! was… was identified by its trademark color combination. That’s no longer the case.
The notes now come in all the VIBGYOR colors. You have violet, green, brown, yellow, pink. I will not be surprised if they introduce a burgundy 150 Rs note. Now, this is hard for us (because I feel like I am playing monopoly and that I am going to remove my virtual reality mask anytime now…. Now……..Now…..), but this is extremely tough for uneducated people.
The other day, I was in the SBI ATM. You all should know SBI ATMs are now used by many people with bare minimum income. Thanks to Mr. Modi “encouraging” everyone to open a bank account. One construction worker was there with a helper (a guy who knew which buttons to press to withdraw 100 Rs). As the helper guided, the construction worker kept pressing buttons and out came a “beautiful” violet-colored small note (I wanted to add more adjectives). The guys were visibly puzzled. They were not sure if that was 100 Rs. The helper said that this is not how 100 rupees note looked like. It came from the ATM, there were no bank employee present in the ATM to answer to their question, therefore they looked at me (now! you think I am going to talk about how, I, like a good Samaritan, helped the helper and the construction worker, right? WRONGGG). The ATM security, who was having his lunch below the air conditioner, started to explain to them that this was the new 100 Rs note and the old 100 Rs is still in circulation too. There are 2 types of 100 Rs note in use nowadays (he said all this is fluent Marathi). They were still puzzled; therefore, the ATM security got up, washed his hands and clarified every doubt they had. It takes a special person to go out of their way and help people. The ATM security guy was one such person.
Throughout this incident, I kept thinking about how difficult it must be for the people who are not able to identify the currency by reading the number on it. The construction worker was familiar with the design of the 100 Rs note that is in use for the last many decades . He is not aware of the new violet currency. He took it out from a machine. A machine that, again, contains numbers and words that he cannot identify with.
When I enquired about it to the ATM security, he told me that he does this to every uneducated, unaware person who comes to the ATM to take money. He was worried about how people manage everywhere else and that the bank should appoint someone to communicate and guide the people.
It was gut wrenching for me. How was that this particular problem was not factored in when releasing, violet, yellow, pink, brown notes for various values? Why was there not a relevant communication about all of these? More than half of India’s population lives in the rural areas with not-very-good schooling services. They make-do with the minimum knowledge of numbers.
I am not saying the pattern was the same in the last many years. They did keep changing. But these people did not have to worry about whether the currency note is going to go out of date. Whether the money they have will no longer have value. They never had to worry about the authenticity of the currency note. This was new to them.
These people identify currency notes with their design. NOT NUMBERS. They cannot be expected to be digitized. Because they were not given quality education. Before encouraging digitization and e-money, government should increase availability of proper guidance and services in every part of India.
This ATM incident was in a metro city. The ATM security informed the construction worker about the new violet-colored notes. But what will happen in rural areas? There are hardly any ATMs. If a person gives a colored currency note with some values and say, “Hey! This is the new 1000 Rs note that Govt. has introduced. This is the new red-colored note. You can accept this”. Should they accept it? How can they believe the giver? If there really was a red 1000 Rs note, then how can the giver convince the receiver to accept it?
Introducing a currency note should follow a process that is fool-proof and has factored in all the scenarios and consumer problems. Without proper procedures and proper communication, people will suffer.
Economic reforms and new alliances with countries are important. But in a country like India where there are so many people with lack of education, “not taking life-hampering decisions” is just as important. Now, I do not support or not support any particular political party. Just felt like writing about this.
In a gist, I hope the government will think about the rural citizens when introducing a drastic change that will affect daily life. Inform them prior to the introduction of a big change. Educate them through proper channels and take actions to ease them into the change. Let’s not make their life more difficult than it already is.