Chottu stands forlorn at the tea shop of a small dusty village in Central M.P. He has just paid a precious Rs 5 for a watery tea to quench his hunger. His next meal will depend on events today. Like him, more from the village are gathered nearby, dull eyes on the road, awaiting the agent’s Tata 407.
Its arrival could mean that atleast a few of them could get work today, earning a few hundred rupees. But the agent has not turned up for two days now and with every passing minute their hope sinks low into their empty stomachs.
It has been like this since November 8th, when a 56-inch Prime minister went on television to dramatically announce a ban on large currency notes. Within days the maaliks, who employed the villagers in their mines, stopped work and then disappeared. Finding “sources” to convert their cash became priority number one for them. The fate of their daily wage workers did not even register on their radar.
First meager savings and then rickety assets were all liquidated by the villagers in the long wait for their maaliks to return and give them work. And when the maaliks did return, they were cautious.
The new currencies they had acquired looked good, but could also disappear again with another appearance of their PM on television. So they hedged their bets by scaling down their operations. Where before, all the able-bodied men in the village could expect the daily call for work, the new norm became work once or twice a week.
Some couldn’t adjust to this and emigrated with their families to destinations unknown. Some, like Chottu, stayed back, alternating between hunger and hope in a slow downward spiral to doom.
Across India this story has been replicated in millions of hamlets. The grandiose folly of one man, that ruined the lives of countless of his countrymen. And the story is by no means over. Multitudes of unemployed now wander across the plains of India looking for elusive jobs. Their growing despair, a fertile breeding ground for untold social upheaval.