BENGALURU: K Venkatesh knew the moment the annoucement, demonetising `500 and `1,000 notes, was made on November 8 that there would be a “backlash” and there will be a “human-interest story. He has been a news photographer for 33 years now, working with and freelancing for various different national and international publications.
He decided to follow the story and every morning, from November 10, started to take his Kinetic Honda to any bank and every bank he could find in the city and its surrounding villages. Venkatesh would wait at a bank from 8 in the morning to 2.30 or 3 in the afternoon, after the banks closed. “I didn’t keep a count of the number of banks or branches I visited,” he says, but he was at this routine for a month. On Monday, December 26, he opened an exhibition at Chitra Kala Parishat with the best 60 shots he got during that time.
The thrust of the exhibition seems to be that the people who were affected by the “black-money” hunt were poor people who don’t have plastic money to fall back upon. During all those days of waiting and watching, Venkatesh says that he has not seen one rich person stand or wait in queue.
“By rich I mean anyone wearing expensive shoes or clothes... or anyone who got out of fancy cars,” says Venkatesh. “Most of the people I saw were people who wore slippers that must have cost `50.” To stress on this, he has clicked various shots of feet, wearing cheap but durable slippers. The most poignant one is of a pair without slippers but coated with the red soil of a tilled field. “He is a farmer,” says Venkatesh. “Can he have black money?”
“I am not against demonetisation,” says Venkatesh, “the government and the Parliament decides things like that... but the cash crunch that followed was the result of poor planning and bias.”
Through his conversations with the bank managers, he realised that branches that serviced the poor were receiving lesser money. In one of the frames, we see a crying woman holding out her voters’ ID to a police officer at a bank. The woman is obviously pleading and is in a state of shock.
“She hadn’t eaten for three days because there is no money at home,” says Venkatesh. “But the bank was not accepting her ID card.”
In another photo, in stark contrast, we see a man grinning and holding out `2,000 notes spread out like a Japanese fan. “I don’t know how he got that many notes,” says the photographer. But there were people who profited out of the cash shortage. “People, hanging around banks, were offering to break `2,000 notes for a commission. You give `2,000 and you get back hundreds, but with a few hundreds shorter.”
The daily wagers were the worst hit, says the photographer. “They come to work in the city from surrounding villages or from other states and live on the footpaths. Their address proof would be of their villages back home, but the banks were not accepting it to change their cash,” says the photographer.
There are shots of pensioners waiting in long queues, with one showing an exhausted woman holding her head in her hands. “She is a heart patient but no one was willing to give their place in the queue away for her,” says Venkatesh. “What few people know is that pensioners were given their monthly allotment on November 6, the annoucement was made two days later. So, they had to come back and stand in queues to get their pension exchanged.”