Sunday, November 27, 2016

Demonetization-its impact on Lokavidya livelihoods and lessons for Lokavidya Samaj

The demonetization of high value currency, which was implemented from the 9th of November, has had a widespread and telling effect on Lokavidya livelihoods and members of Lokavidya Samaj. While there has been widespread support for the idea and intent of demonetization viz the rooting out of hoarded black and white money and an indirect strike against ‘terror funding’, there have been many complaints regarding the way it was implemented, the seeming lack of adequate planning and in anticipating the hardships caused to citizens due to the non-availability of adequate small currency. While all this may be so; it is imperative to examine the effects of this move on Lokavidya livelihoods.

A majority of members of Lokavidya Samaj are greatly dependent on capital inputs , as small cash loans, at every stage of their livelihood activities. Most of these financial inputs come from local money lenders at usurious rates. Cash flow, which is equally crucial to continuation of the livelihood activity, is determined by local market conditions, which often push the producer into a debt trap. Accumulation of surplus (in the form of cash -in- hand) , as a result of marketing their produce/services and after debt servicing and meeting daily-life needs, is almost non-existent. In short, a majority of Lokavidya livelihoods are in a precarious position and almost wholly dependent on cash available on a day-to-day basis.

One large scale effect of demonetization has been the non-availability of small currency to almost all sections of society. While those connected with the banking system have been looking to banks to meet their needs of spendable cash, the plight of a vast number of members of Lokavidya Samaj has become alarming. Many have no work to do, because their local lenders and/or paymasters do not have liquid cash(small currency) . This ‘drying up’ of local sources of cash, much like the non-availability of water during drought, may soon lead to the ‘withering away’ of these livelihoods and lives dependent on them.

While the situation may improve in the coming days with the availability of fresh stocks of small currency; the lessons, from this experience, for Lokavidya Samaj are important to understand. We have been focussing on the negative impact of the terms-of-trade (pricing of produce and labour) in the current market situation and demanding more equitable terms/remuneration based on equality between the different (forms of) knowledge content underlying production and service, by the Samaj. However, what has emerged from the current exercise of demonetization, is that the flow of small and adequate currency at the local level has had a telling effect on the sustenance of Lokavidya livelihoods and consequently on the lives of members of the Samaj. The demand for the Right to a dignified life now gets hinged on this new factor of cash flow. He who controls this cash flow wields the sword!

The over-arching spread and reach of International Finance Capital, which we know has determined the course of market-driven capitalism and path of development these past few decades; has now spread its tentacles to Lokavidya livelihoods and the Samaj. During the past few weeks after demonetization was implemented, there have been a few reports of how members of Lokavidya Samaj have been coping with this potentially life-threatening situation. In one local market, farmers exchanged their produce(grains, vegetables etc) for cooked food made available by a local caterer at some mutually agreed -upon exchange value. At another place transport services were made available in exchange for goods/services made available by those being transported. There may be many such instances that have emerged but have not been reported.

However, what is important to note is that such ‘solutions’ provide two important inputs in the struggle of Lokavidya Samaj to come to its own. First, it points to a discovery of a new mutually beneficial basis for assigning exchange value that is based on a new concept of equality. Second, such solutions are outside the ambit of the (financial) control of the capitalist-market system and therefore inherently sustainable by the local community of producers and consumers.

We may also take note that the real intent of the minimum wage scheme under MGNREGA has been to enable the vast majority of ‘unemployed’ members of the Samaj to participate in the market system by providing guaranteed minimum wages for doing the work of coolies(manual labour). The Jan Dhan Yojana, which requires all such people to obtain Aadhar cards and open bank accounts, is also aimed at providing this cash(wage) through a direct cash transfer system. And now with the crises of cash flow and the banking system’s inability to meet the requirements of this path of ‘inclusion’ , there is an appeal to all to switch to a cashless system using bank/credit cards.

It appears imperative that Lokavidya Samaj come up with ways and means and mutually agreed upon solutions to protect and sustain its livelihoods and to meet the onslaught of the capitalist market-system. These are pointers to the agenda of Lokavidya Jan Andolan in the coming days.


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