“It was like hitting hard at the bird’s nest with a stone,” said P Somu, a Dalit migrant labourer, who travelled from Mudigubba mandal of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh to Cochin to work. He said, “It’s the same feeling I got after I was cheated by [the agro-based retail conglomerate] AgriGold. I had sold the cow and calf I loved.” When I met Somu on 12 November 2016, he described the impact of demonetisation as reminiscent of AgriGold. Established in 1995, the AgriGold Group was based in Vijaywada, in Andhra Pradesh. In 2007, it publicised a scheme through which it invited deposits in its companies, promising investors either double the returns or a residential plot in lieu of the amount deposited. However, AgriGold gave these investors neither the promised money nor the registered plots.
On 8 November 2016, in an unexpected late-evening message on television, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government’s decision to pull Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes from circulation, making them invalid for most transactions starting that midnight. The purpose of demonetisation, he said, was to “fight against corruption, black money, fake notes and terrorism, in this movement for purifying our country.” The move has dominated the news since then—several reports have emerged of the distress caused by it, especially to the sizeable population that carries out its day-to-day dealings in cash. The consequent toll it has taken on banks and ATMs across the country has further exacerbated the situation, and is expected to continue for some time—on 12 November, the finance minister Arun Jaitley stated that
the government had not calibrated the ATMs for the new currency, and that the process would take at least two or three weeks to complete. The demonetisation has also led to a debate on its effectiveness in restricting the black economy and on whether the government acted too hastily, catching even policy insiders by surprise.
On 11 November, I reported on how the government’s recent decision to declare notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 invalid had resulted in long queues of befuddled people
—waiting at banks for hours on end, and often, without success, to exchange the now-illicit currency in their possession. On 13 November, I experienced first-hand, the mayhem that these queues could result in.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, was born on 14 November 1889—127 years ago—in Allahabad. In 1907, he began studying at the Trinity College, at Cambridge University. Upon graduating in 1910, he moved to London to train as a barrister. Nehru returned to India in 1912 and dove straight into national politics. His tryst with his destiny as a leader of the Indian freedom movement was perhaps set in stone in 1919
—when, while travelling on a train, he overheard British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer boasting about leading the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of April 1919, in which hundreds of Indians were killed after Dyer ordered troops to open fire on a large crowd in an enclosed area. In the years that followed, he became increasingly involved with the INC and national politics, and, in 1921, was imprisoned for the first time for his participation in the Non-cooperation Movement. (Nehru would be imprisoned eight more times
over the next 26 years, before India attained independence.) On 19 December 1929, he was elected the president of the Lahore Session of the Indian National Congress. The INC then adopted purna swaraj—complete independence—as its goal. He was elected president of the Indian National Congress for the fourth time on 6 July 1946, and served for three more terms from 1951 to 1954.
At about noon on 11 November 2016, outside a Bank of India branch in Green Park, Delhi, a middle-aged man swore incessantly as he extricated himself from a crowd that had been steadily expanding since morning. Chaos reigned. Only half the day was over, but the bank had just closed its doors to the hundreds that stood waiting outside.
In February 2016, the Delhi police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar
, a PhD student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and then the president of its student union. The police had arrested Kumar for allegedly organising an event on campus to observe the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, a pharmaceutical equipment trader who was convicted for conspiring to attack the Indian parliament in 2001 and executed on 9 February 2013. Kumar, along with five other students from JNU, was charged with sedition for allegedly raising “anti-India” slogans during the event. He was taken to Tihar Jail, where he was kept in custody until being released on bail on 4 March. Kumar’s arrest spurred on a nationwide debate that was ongoing at the time—regarding issues such as government crackdown on public institutions, nationalism and dissent. Kumar recently wrote a book about his life until the arrest and how political developments, both within JNU and outside, shaped his experience. The book, titled From Bihar to Tihar, published by Juggernaut Books, was released in paperback on 7 November.
On 6 November 2016, the British Prime Minister Theresa May flew into India for a three-day visit aimed at strengthening ties between the United Kingdom and India in the areas of trade, investment, defence and security. The significance of May’s visit is underscored by the fact that this is her first bilateral trip outside Europe since taking office in July. Speaking about her decision
at the inauguration of an India-UK Tech summit, May said, “I chose India...because of the special partnership between our countries.” However, an aspect of the historically “special partnership” that the British Prime Minister referred to has now come under scrutiny. May’s first visit to India is eclipsed by the shadow of the British government’s alleged involvement, under the aegis of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in Operation Bluestar—an ill-conceived military operation that was conducted at Amritstar’s Golden Temple Complex in June 1984, resulting in the deaths of over 700 people, of whom at least 350 were civilians.
Nearly 35 years before the attack orchestrated by the Laskhar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed took place in 2001, on 7 November 1966, a massive protest comprising nearly 125,000 people charged the Indian parliament. The protest was part of a movement for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, led by various Hindutva groups. In his September 2016 story, In the Name of the Mother
, Ishan Marvel reported on how the state is nurturing the gau rakshaks, or cow-protection vigilantes, of Haryana. In the following excerpt from the story, Marvel recounts the first-ever attack, and how it was a “a day of violence and vandalism.”
Twenty-five-year old Hanif lives with his wife, mother and two children in a small ground-floor apartment, in the Govandi area in Mumbai. In 2012, Hanif was diagnosed with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, a form of tuberculosis that is resistant to the standard drugs for treatment, as well as some second-line drugs. At the time, he worked as a salesman in a shopping mall in the city. “Initially I was okay and was on treatment, energetic, and had a normal weight, and could lift heavy things,” he said. “But then suddenly my mind became blocked, I stopped interacting with people, I used to talk senseless—blah-blah-blah—and would trouble everyone a lot. I used to feel like a living corpse. I never felt that I was alive.” For four years, he received treatment at three different clinics in the city. But the treatment was not regular, and as a result, ineffective. One of the clinics, for instance, which provided him with drugs, “was a charity dependent on donations, and sometimes would run out of money.”