The first casualty of war is either the innocence or the truth, depending on who you prefer to believe. But the main casualty of the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes in India seems to have been something every bit as important and human. Sensitivity. No, this is not about whether the decision to withdraw the Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes from circulation was right, wrong, or was poorly implemented. This is about the kind of commentary that has accompanied it on a variety of social networks.
Of course, it is a big issue. After all, most of the currency in the nation has just been rendered useless at very short notice. Of course, emotions are running high. But by any standards what has been seen over the past two days on social networks has been appalling. People have been criticised and abused for complaining about standing in long queues for hours. People have been abused for “not being able to bear a little inconvenience for the country” just because they said they were finding it difficult to get their own money from the banks. People have been branded unpatriotic and irresponsible for not having bank accounts and credit or debit cards.
And yes, the example of the Indian army jawans who are braving it out on our borders has been evoked to tell anyone who is having problems getting the new currency that “hey, stop being a s**t, think of those protecting you. They are having a much tougher time.”
What has been altogether missing is what gives our species its name.
Humanity. There have not been too many people expressing sympathy for the hardships being borne by those who are queuing up outside banks and ATMs for hours. Yes, the hardship of standing in a queue for a few hours is nothing compared to patrolling the borders of the nation day in and out. Yes, a nation has to make sacrifices to eliminate an evil as expensive as black money. But that does not make standing in a queue for hours fun or struggling to find money to pay for basic amenities a wonderful experience.
No one – NO ONE – has the right to say that a poor rickshaw puller or a vegetable seller is at fault for not opening a bank account when he or she is unable to buy anything because all they have is a Rs 500 note, which no one accepts. A daily labourer is within his rights to complain about missing two days of wages because he has been trying to get new currency notes from a bank.
Many of us have been able to handle the demonetisation crisis well. Many have not. The former have no right to poke fun at the latter, abuse them or call them unpatriotic because they are facing legitimate problems.
The Indian Army is the nation’s sword arm, our pride and defense, not an instrument to deride the very countrymen it is protecting.
The demonetisation move is a bold one. And if it is silly to deny that in the long run it could prove immensely beneficial to the nation, it is no less so to deny that a number of people are being inconvenienced – and severely so – in the short run because of it.
There are two sides to demonetisation, and one of them is painful. All I am asking is for people to acknowledge the latter and help whenever possible. And empathise. It is not about being patriotic. It is not about the Indian soldier. It is not about being pro or anti our Prime Minister. It is about something far more basic. It is about being human.
These are not easy times, as the queues outside banks and ATMs prove. Given our infrastructure, it is perhaps too much to expect a simple, quick fix solution. But is it too much to ask for some sensitivity, please?