Demonetisation: Do not bank on crass communalism for narrow political gains, Mr Owaisi

By Soroor Ahmed,

Demonetisation may not have been the best news this year, but nevertheless, this has been a time when all have suffered, cutting across caste, class and religion.

When foreigners landing at various international airports, especially in the immediate post-demonetization days were left high and dry as there was no scope for money exchange; when pilgrims and tourists from all over the world visiting Bodh Gaya or Amritsar, Puri or Agra, had to line up for hours to get Rs 2,000 or 4,000; when migrant labourers and women domestic helps cutting across all caste, genders and community lines had to literally starve for days in unfamiliar territory; when 60 crore people live in villages which have no bank branches; when all Gramin Banks in Lucknow and its vicinity––said to be more than one hundred––were without a penny on the day Narendra Modi visited Kanpur (Dec 19) and when people of all communities died while withdrawing or depositing their hard earned money, the supremo of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi, came out with another outlandish and absurd statement.

He proclaimed that the ATMs and bank branches situated in the Muslim localities of Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Delhi or anywhere in the country are deliberately being ignored and have no money. These days he is seen in television channels and BBC radio to allege how banks have adopted discriminatory attitude towards Muslims. He would in between meekly take the name of Dalits too––but that was more to moderate his rhetoric.

With the help of half-baked data and half truths, it is very easy to whip up passion and create subjective impression. Some Muslim youths addicted to social media may get carried away by these figure. No doubt, it may be true that only 50 per cent Muslims have bank account in India while the national figure is 68 per cent. But is this the issue today?

It is not the case that Muslims are not lagging behind in many sectors, and that the issue merits serious debate and discussion on from all aspects. At the same time, it should also be seen whether Muslims themselves are, to some extent, also responsible for the present plight.

But this trivialisation of the issue for narrow political gain deserves strongest condemnation.

Owaisi cites figures from certain reports to suggest that less number of Muslims have bank accounts. But he has no answer to the question as to how 60 crore Indians are living in villages with no bank branches? Are all 60 crores Muslims?

Mr Owaisi, only people from Muslim-dominated Jama Masjid in Delhi––as he argued in BBC interview––are not flocking to banks and ATMs in Connaught Place. What you also forgot to mention is that equally large number of general people from Saket, Malviya Nagar, Karol Bagh etc are also coming to Janpath or Barakhamba Road.

Mr Owaisi pretends that he keeps tabs on figures and data. But quoting them in silly way is not going to serve the purpose. He will have to substantiate the charge that banks and ATMs in Muslim localities are deliberately being kept cashless. If not he should just keep quiet. After all, why is he reminded of the cashless-ness 40 days after demonetisation when the crisis has to some extent subsided? Is it because UP election is round the corner?

It seems that he speaks more than listen and read. It appears that he just browse through some figures and cites them as it suits his argument.

Has not he watched a TV programme which said that there is only one bank branch in population of 12 lakh in the vicinity of Delhi. And one of the women who was standing in the queue for hours was a cancer patient. Neither was she a Muslim nor the whole area a Muslim-dominated one.

There is one criterion to judge what can be called the communal angle in the whole post-demonetization development. That is the break up in death toll.

In the first 30 days 89 ‘demonetization deaths’ were reported––not to speak of unreported ones. Save a handful of them the name of all the 89 are available. Out of this 14 are Muslims, which is something around 16 per cent. This is more or less near to their population in the country.

Had Muslims been more harassed––and deprived of the money––it should have been at least reflected in the figure? Making sweeping generalization and unnecessary whipping up subjective feeling of discrimination is dangerous and should be avoided.

Following are the 14 Muslims, who reportedly died due to demonetization in the first one month. A dispassionate study would suggest that Muslims, Hindus and others died in the same way.

Razia Husain, a 45-year-old mother of four, died days after she allegedly self-immolated herself on November 20 when she failed to exchange six demonetised notes of Rs 500 after repeatedly standing in queues outside banks. She is from Shahjamal area of Aligarh.

A 32-day-old girl died in the arms of her mother, Arguna Khatoon, while she was waiting in a crowded room at a branch of the United Bank of India in Balrampur in Bihar.

Akbar, 27, a rickshaw-puller, allegedly committed suicide at Khujra, near Bulandhahr after he failed to exchange four Rs 500 notes.

Haider Ali, a tailor and a resident of Shafichak village of Sherghati sub-division of Gaya died after he suffered a heart attack that had been reportedly brought about because he failed to withdraw money.

S K Sherrif, a 46-year-old deputy manager at a Nellore State Bank of India branch allegedly died of stress following the cash rush.

Mohammed Idrees, 45, died of a heart attack after he failed to exchange old notes. He had reportedly made the rounds of a number of banks as he did not have a bank account.

Saud-ur-Rehman, a resident of Old Delhi, reportedly fell ill after he stood in a queue outside a bank in Lal Kuan for over eight hours. The 48-year-old was taken to a hospital where he died.

A tempo driver, Khaleek Hasan Khan, 45, died at a bank in Bareilly after waiting for three days. He collapsed after he managed to exchange his older notes. Ishteyaq Ahmad, 70, a retired teacher, died in Azamgarh, UP, after he collapsed while in a bank queue.

Aziz Ansari, 60, an employee at a power loom factory, died in Meerut after he fainted while standing in a queue at a bank.

Sheikh Chanda Khatun, a 50-year-old mother of three, allegedly committed suicide in Surat after she failed to buy groceries for her family with the demonetised notes. While her children claimed she consumed insecticide because of demonetisation, the police said that the death may have been brought about by a family issue.

Barkat Sheikh died due to a heart attack when he was standing in a queue at the Corporation Bank branch to exchange his demonetized notes.

Shabana, 20, a resident of Shamli, UP, alleged that she committed suicide after she could not get her hands on valid currency to pay for her treatment.

Rizwana, 21, allegedly committed suicide in Khajoori Khas, Delhi. While her relative said that she was upset because she could not exchange currency––despite having tried for three days––the police have not been able to confirm the link.