It's a sunny Wednesday morning.
Shirin woke up early, finished her morning chores and headed out. She will be going to Raang today, the small market town nearest to her home, to pay the monthly installment that she doles out to Raju Saini - a small-time trader from whom she had taken a loan a year back to start her shop – a little shack where she sells tea, biscuits, potato chips, and the occasional Maggie for the passerby's. The walk to Raang is a good 6 kms. through a winding road that clings to the mountains like a long serpent, but she doesn't mind. This is normal for her. She has even done it almost every day in the past when she would pick up firewood from the forests and carry them in the market to sell for Rs. 20 a bundle.
Shirin walks into Saini's shop and hands out the slightly-dirty 500 rupee note that she has saved up the whole month with a smile. Saini looks up. “No, no, you can't give me that note. This note has no value than a piece of scrap paper. Give me 100 rupee notes. Haven't you seen the TV?” Shirin stares at Saini, dumbstruck, while Saini explains the government's latest 'Surgical Strike' on black money to her.
Her head is swimming and nothing is making sense anymore. She has 5000 rupees tucked away in a battered tin box next to her bed, all in 500 rupee notes - her only savings that she has managed in the last 3 years since she has opened the shop. “What do I do with my savings then? You mean, I cannot use that money anymore?” Saini assures her - “You can go to the bank in Reckong Peo with your money and an ID proof and open a bank account. They will deposit your money and then you can change it with 100 rupee notes from the bank.” A bank account! In Reckong Peo!! But that's around 20 kms from her home and there's no transport!! How is she going to get there?? By walking?? And ID proof? What ID proof?? What proof does she have that she, Shirin Dzigme, is living her tiny life in her tiny village to feed her two little kids by herself, without any support from anybody??
It's a story which, in all likelihood, will unfold all over India, especially in remote parts, which are not well-connected to any town that has a bank or a post office. This is the story of the little people, doing their best to make the ends meet in their little lives, mostly unaffected and untouched by the government and its decisions.
I'm not taking sides here. Neither am I naysaying the laudable effort to trap the huge influx of black and fake money that threatens our economy. I too, like any moderately educated and socially aware person, understand the menace that is looming over our economic system and all the great ramifications of this radical step. We all like our superheroes that save the day.
But, have we really stood in other people's shoes and thought through all the implications? Have we done our part to make the remote corners of this vast country connected enough, so that people can reach the nearest place offering the basic of all modern amenities, that we, the big-city folks, take so much for granted? Have we done our due diligence to make sure that every citizen in this country has a valid ID proof to enable them to do the operations that they need to do to access these amenities that they have a right to? Do we make their lives conducive enough to get an education and awareness to even understand what their rights are?