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Demonetisation: Widow struggles a year after husband died standing in a queue

Satish Kumar, a vegetable merchant in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, died standing in a bank queue while trying to exchange his life savings of Rs 48,000 in demonetised currency notes.

black money crackdown Updated: Nov 08, 2017 13:32 IST
Shubhomoy Sikdar
Shubhomoy Sikdar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Demonetisation,Demonetisation in India,One year of note ban
A woman holds Rs 2000 notes as she has her finger marked with indelible ink after exchanging 500 and 1000-rupee banknotes.(AFP File Photo/Representative image)

Nearing 50, ailing and with no children to look after her, Beena Devi’s life is a constant struggle for survival, dependent on others for food and shelter and almost everything else.

Nearly a year ago, her husband Satish Kumar, a vegetable merchant in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, died standing in a bank queue while trying to exchange his life savings of Rs 48,000 in demonetised currency notes.

That was November 21, 2016, less than two weeks after the government banned 500 and 1000-rupee banknotes, pulling out 86% of the currency in circulation.

The shock move forced millions of Indian to stand in queues – for long hours -- in banks and cash-vending machines to exchange banned currency or withdraw cash. Opposition parties critical of demonetisation link the death of nearly 150 people to demonetisation though there are no official numbers available.

But Devi has no doubt what killed her husband.

After twice failing to exchange his savings – the first time waiting for the entire day – Kumar had left home early to be among the first in line. But after six hours, an exhausted Kumar collapsed and died, barely 850 metres from his home.

Doctors later attributed his death to a heart attack.

“First, there was loss of work which had kept him worried and then the added pressure of standing in bank queues. We were never affluent to begin with. His modest income meant limited savings but this cost (his death) was way too high,” Devi told HT at her one-room accommodation.

“My husband’s death meant that I was pushed to the brink. Had it not been for my landlord agreeing to let me live rent-free, I would be homeless...,” she added.

Food is provided by neighbours who run an eatery close by. Another neighbour, Poonam Paswan, drops by occasionally.

“He (Kumar) was a support system in more ways than one. She struggles to walk because of an acute joint pain. He would take her to the doctor, give her pain relieving massages and do household chores,” Poonam said.

Devi relies on old prescriptions to buy medicines as she cannot afford a fresh consultation with the doctor. The only addition to the house is a refrigerator, donated by a kind neighbour.

The closest family member, Devi’s brother Chander Bhan, needs well over an hour to respond to an SOS call, that too if she finds someone to convey the message. Bhan works as a factory worker in Paharganj and visits her once a week.

Beena, one of three children of a refugee Punjabi family, was married off to Kumar in 2003. Originally from Haryana, he switched a couple of low-paying jobs to enter the vegetable business.

On good days, he earned up to Rs 500 a day but it was enough for the couple, Devi said, breaking into sobs as she recalled her past and broken promises.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and other leaders came and left with assurances which never came true.

She managed to exchange the Rs 48,000 and another Rs 50,000 came from Congress leader Ajay Maken. But daily medical expenses and a couple of visits to relatives meant very little is left now.

A glimmer of hope came when she learnt about the state government’s Rs 2,500-a-month widow pension scheme. But even after six months of submitting the documents and meeting local MLA Mahender Yadav of Vikaspuri, she is yet to get the pension.

Yadav said if the papers were complete there was no reason for the pension disbursal to not start. He also promised to look into the matter.

First Published: Nov 08, 2017 12:58 IST