The young and the cashless

Queues to exchange old notes for new have become ubiquitious. Photo: Arunangshu Roy Chowdhury  

The Prime Minister’s announcement declaring high-value currency notes not legal tender caught the whole country on the wrong foot. The last few days have seen people of all ages scrambling to get any legal tender they could to pay for day-to-day expenses. For young adults — students, working professionals in entry-level jobs — with tight budgets and busy lives, demonetisation has had some very definite effects, even if temporary.

Some fall-out was serious. Shivraj Nirmal (26), from Pune, lost an academic year, because he couldn’t complete his admission requirements into the Indira Gandhi National Open University. Routine expenses were a problem too, he said: “For small needs like stationery or milk or roadside tea, how can I pay with Rs. 2,000?”

Nishant Maher (23), a producer with a news channel, said, “It hasn't quite affected the places I visit or on partying, clubbing, dating etc. It's all on the debit card.” It’s the smaller transactions that are the bother, he said.

For Tanvi Shah (22), a digital marketing executive in Chennai, the announcement came at a particularly unfortunate time. She was travelling on the night of November 8. “I only had five hundred rupee notes in my wallet, and now I have to think about even having enough money to give my cook money to buy vegetables. I just find it easier to spend cash instead of swiping my card. So, while the demonetisation move has not really adversely affected me, it just makes me think more about how I spend money. Hundred rupee notes, even fifty rupee notes, have much more value now.” Rohit Mistry (21), a marketing management trainee at Chennai's Kingfa Science and Technology institute, was also travelling when the announcemenet broke. “We were 160 of us and had to borrow money from the hotel staff because 500-rupee notes were no more legal. The ATMs are so crowded and I don’t have that much time to spare during work.” He has had to abandon his low-cost street food and commuting by bus, because those are cash-only options. “I use my card more now, but it’s frustrating there are extra charges which add up to be a lot.”

For those working away from their hometowns, it can be hard. Nikhil Jain (22), from Ahmedabad who was returning to Mumbai where he has an internship, says, “I was carrying a considerable amount of cash in 500s and 1000s. The very next hour I had to stand in long queues of banks for getting the exchanged money. Even today, after a couple of days of the notification, I have these denominations with me, and have to stand in long queues at ATMs.” “At first I thought it’s a hoax,” said Avni Jain (24) from Jaipur, currently working in Mumbai, “just another Whatsapp forward, but then I got a notification on an app. All my major transactions are via cards, but I required daily cash. It was shocking but it is manageable.”

"It was a nightmare,” said Indira Basu (22) from Kolkata, who is interning with a Mumbai magazine, “I had to walk three kilometres to get to my bank's branch office as ATMs were chock-a-block and running dry, only to find that the queue was so long, I decided to try another day. I have been borrowing cash from my flatmates and a generous uncle of mine lent me some 100 rupees notes when I met him over the weekend. I have had to reduce daily expenditures. It has become terribly difficult to get lunch at office as the canteen only accepts cash. So I step out for lunch to a place where cards are accepted which has made my expenses go up.”

For the middle-class urban millennials, accustomed to even daily transactions through cards, there were still glitches. Arundhati Sarkar, student at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, said, “Not having change in your wallet is problematic. You can’t depend on cards. [A friend and I] ordered food, and then her card didn't work. She didn't have cash; I couldn't spend the cash, because I had to save it for my daily bus journey.” It’s hard enough getting bus conductors to give change for Rs. 50, she said, “I don’t know what will happen with higher denominations!” Raj Walia (27) who describes himself as a consultant, said, “Mostly I use my card everywhere.” For other expenses, it’s tough, but luckily for him, “My shopkeeper has stopped giving credit temporarily. But I don't know how to pay my maid and my cook. They are paid in cash only.” Gaurav Puri (21) who handles marketing at a Gurugram star-up, faces the same issues: “This has made my card transactions go up and usage of apps like PayTM and BookMyShow as well. It’s become difficult to pay for small items like milk and to my dhobi, carpenter, plumber etc. I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to avoid the long lines to withdraw money from the ATM.”

Koninika Roy (23), who lives in Thane and works for a Mumbai-based LGBT advocacy trust, relies on cash more than cards. “I am usually very irresponsible,” she says, “I only have exactly the amount of money on me that I need. On the day the move was announced, I had exactly Rs. 500 with me. I had to survive on that for three days before going to the bank.” But banks and ATMs in Thane were frequently shut because they did not have enough money. When she was finally able to withdraw money on the weekend, she spent three hours waiting in line. “I Snapchatted my way through the queue,” she said, laughing.

To make her salary last all month, Debarati Choudhury (25), a PR professional in Kolkata, shops for most things at street vendors. And if queueing for hours for money isn’t hard enough, she says, “The biggest challenge is the shop owners who ask me to buy more to have a round figure. Very irritating!”

Manjari Misra and Bhavya Iyer, both 22 and currently interns at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, say it’s easier away from the metropolises. Ms. Mishra says being a smaller town, queues at the banks were shorter and the new currency notes were easily available. “We also do not have many expenses here, since the Institute takes care of lodging, food, and transport,” Ms. Iyer said. But she adds, “I have been scrolling through my Facebook news feed and seeing many people talk about how the economically weaker sections of society — which, of course, is most of India — find it difficult to exchange their old notes for new ones, and of course banking systems are not as automatically accessible to them.” The digital generation’s constant e-connection to their networks has kept them informed and aware, even when they have had it easier. As Ananya Tiwari, a Master’s student in New Delhi, says, “Common people are really facing difficulties. Imagine the plight of the rural population.”

-- Reporting by Shreya Ramachandran, Rashi Tater, Ishaan Wasu, Aishwarya Parikh, Vasundhara Rathi, Sadaf Vasgare.

The writers are interns at The Hindu

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 2:49:18 AM |

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