On Nov 8th 2016, when the Hon’ble Prime Minister announced demonetizing of Rs500/ & Rs 1000/, it did not ring any alarm bells in my ear. My only concern was the Rs 7000/ in 500/’s which I had to deposit. After a while, when it started finally sinking what this is all about, I was super thrilled-finally black money in various forms will be targeted. I remembered the trauma and struggle I had to go through while purchasing land for Prajwala when we could not even find one seller ready to do a complete white transaction. Infact we lost over two months just in search of a land owner who is willing to sell his land on a white transaction. It was a vindication of a sort thinking about the thousands of real estate agents who were in deep lurch that day.
In the days to come, my thrill and happiness grew by leaps and bounds when I noticed a drastic fall in the number of women and girls rescued from prostitution being admitted in our shelter. After 15days we were able to see for ourselves that there was a drastic reduction in the number of sex buyers as there was currency crunch and in Hyderabad where prostitution is more decentralized in apartments and hotels suddenly there was a lull. My colleagues in other parts of the country also reported the same.
We felt this acutely in Yadadri a temple town where a small community of women practice prostitution as a way of life. We have a learning center for their children in that area. On one occasion this month when I had to meet the women they sheepishly requested me whether midday meal could be given to the children as they were practically starving. Using that as an opportunity I once again (I had done this many times before too) offered them exit options. And to my utter surprise over 46 of them who had come for the mothers meeting readily agreed that it was time they choose an alternative life option. Definitely the entire sex trafficking industry was shaken by demonetization! To me the best surgical strike ever to counter this crime.
But on an another level I started feeling the pinch. We run three very large shelter homes for child and adult victims of trafficking. Although as part of transparency & good governance in the last three years we had systematically ensured that all our transactions are cashless including fruit and vegetable vendors are paid online, still cash is required on a regular basis. We have tried to deal with all the small inconveniences but when you have hundreds of lives dependent on you, many of whom being HIV positive it is not that easy to be cashless. Our crises started when banks continued to be filled with long queues(In Hyderabad, I don’t know why most nationalized banks are in a state of perpetual chaos).
We started sending a staff to stand in the queue early in the morning so that atleast by midday small requirements is fulfilled. The second problem came with ATM’s practically over 50% of the ATM in Hyderabad don’t work, and the ones which do, they do not have enough cash to last the day. So when staff whose monthly salaries is their only sustenance could not even pay their rents in December as they could neither go to the banks nor the ATM’s it became not so very pleasant. We declared a working day as a holiday so that the staff could go the bank, but only some of them could finish their work. This situation with the banks and ATM’s continue to pinch us in multiple ways. I guess it becomes slightly upsetting after a month when you cannot even use the cash that legitimately belongs to you. The hours in banks and ATM’s after a while is not that “feel good” as you are able to withdraw only a little although you might have a higher requirement.
I do not think any Indian is against demonetization, provided one does not require to go to the bank every week or hunt for an ATM in several cities!!! I am also fairly positive with interactions with thousands of Indians that everybody is happy to be subjected to inconveniences for a temporary period of time for the larger good.
But when mind-sets do not change and people find millions ways to cheat it gets on to your nerves. My blood boils when new currency notes are unearthed during IT raids. When the larger public is struggling for Rs 2000/ there are selected few who are siphoning in large scale. I think these characters should be dealt separately and the punitive measure should be on the lines of aggravated crime. At one end you respect Bankers for doing their best in these difficult times, but you also want to get hold of those who are responsible for siphoning.
On my mission ofcourse the most important takeaway-if the demand is hit the entire organized crime will be hit and the supply chain will crumble. I know right now this is temporary and criminals are applying their minds creatively and innovatively how to bridge this phase, but if the Government on a war footing initiate interventions to address demand ie if sex buyers are deterred, I do believe trafficking of millions of women and children for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation will drastically reduce. Maybe it is high time Government looks at a singular option of criminalizing demand. This ofcourse should be simultaneously backed by holistic package comprising of psycho-social support, health care services including de-addiction, employability training, employment options, educational support and therapeutic safe homes for adult and child victims.
Definitely if the all the ministries, corporates and the civil society organizations joined hands, it is possible. But is the Government willing to take this bold move to end sex slavery?