It has been several years now that I live and work in India, and that India became a sort of fieldwork space for my psychological research. I wasn’t specifically drawn to India, I am neither an Anthropologist, nor an Ethnographist much less an Indologist, but being a Psychologist – India was to me just like any other country, like some other counties and like no other country – it was about people.
The first crisis I am referring to, is that of demonetization, which happened only few years ago, in 2016.
“On the Unexpected Disappearance and Appearance of Money in India in November 2016.
On November 8, 2016, at 8:15 pm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India made a surprise address to the nation in which he announced that the two most common types of bills in circulation—the ₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes, worth about $8 and $15, respectively—would cease to be legal tender beginning at midnight. Together, these two bills accounted for over 86% of all bank notes in circulation by value. 1 The government’s stated reasons for the abrupt move, which came to be known as “Demonetization,” were several: to make illegally obtained stashes of cash (so-called “black money”) useless; to combat counterfeiters, terrorists, and other criminals who relied upon cash; and to encourage all Indians to open banks accounts and move their money into the formal economy. The main result, however, at least initially, was massive panic and confusion, as hundreds of millions of ordinary Indians suddenly discovered that most of their cash risked losing its value unless they deposited it at a bank within the next fifty days. The Indian media soon overflowed with stories of long bank queues, widespread economic chaos, and even instances of people dying when health service providers would no longer accept their now useless cash. 2 ”
(Jilinskaya-Pandey, M. & de Zamaróczy, N. 2019 3 )
Through this unprecedented situation, an unexpected veil got lifted. Not necessarily on the ‘money smugglers’ but on ‘money house-launderers’ – i.e. the housewives. As our work then tried to demonstrate, this situation forced number of dependent women, limited by their lack of access to banking systems and facing a total financial dependency on their male counterparts to reveal, often after harsh internal debates, their hidden treasures. Not the kind of illegally obtained cash the Prime Minister had in mind, but the patiently saved Rupees which they have been keeping aside, for the rainy days.
Not all got affected similarly, indeed in Indian women’s history this situation is not new. Those who were deeply aware of their state of dependency just kept on doing what their mothers and grandmothers did for generations – they bought gold, bangles, earrings and other ornaments – to secure their savings, for them Demonetization was no change. It is the other ones, those who either didn’t have enough for gold or whose family earnings were too unpredictable who got most affected. Their saved bunch – for school fees, fancy school snacks or upcoming medical expenses got demonetized overnight.
Those were then faced with an unprecedented internal challenge: losing their security net or publicly confessing to their male counterparts that they have been ‘keeping money’ from them. A forced reveal which, no doubt, affected and will keep on affecting their family trust, communication and perceptions.
Four years have passed, and Covid-19 made its entrance. This time it is another veil that is being lifted in Indian families. This time – the men are at the center of everyone’s attention. Now that they have taken a permanent 24/7 seat in their homes – their words are now being seen in a new light.
Those, who were the first to leave the house (after a prepared and served home cooked warm breakfast) are now being watched at their work. Those whose hours were countless, evenings needed peace and quiet to recover from hectic work days are now sitting in the living room, in their pants and shirts, talking on the phone, sending emails and having after-work drinks over skype. Those who has no time to look at their kid’s Art because “Papa’s too tired after his long and tiring day at the office” have to face their children’s gaze when, after few calls, and few hours behind their laptops – are too exhausted. Their phantasmatic office life, as pictured by their home-making wife, their devoted mother and their loving children just became real.
“So, this is what you actually do?” / “This is what Work is?”
It is of course too early to pass any comments or hope to seize the impact this revelation could have on family dynamics, gender dynamic, or on any other aspect of our future, normal inside-outside life, but it is never too early to observe and discuss what we see.
My own husband – who is a known workaholic – just summarized this in a new aspiration mantra, for the time of our home-quarantine: Wife – Work Balance.
Wishing you to find the same.
1 Reserve Bank of India (2016), Annual Report 2015-2016 (Delhi: RBI): 89.
2 Arafea Johari & Vinita Govindarajan, “‘I haven’t eaten all morning’: Chaos on the streets as Indians struggle to break Rs 500 notes,” Scroll.in, November 10, 2016; M Rajshekhar, “‘All these notes suddenly have no value’:
Small traders in villages struggle to cope with rupee move,” Scroll.in, November 10, 2016; Arafea Johari, “From wholesalers to daily-wage earners, demonetisation has hurt all Indians who use cash,” Scroll.in, November 13, 2016; Menaka Rao & Priyanka Vora, “Demonetisation or not, doctors have no business denying emergency healthcare services,” Scroll.in, November 15, 2016.
3 Jilinskaya-Pandey, M., & de Zamaróczy, N. (2019) “From That Day Onwards, I Decided that I Would Never Again Be in Such a Helpless State”: How North Indian Women Safeguard Their Money in Times of Uncertainty. International Feminist Journal of Politics RFJP. DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2019.1583071