India (MNN) — One of the worst feelings in the world is getting punished for something you didn’t do, and not being able to do a thing about it. That’s what is happening to the poorest of the poor in India. The government’s recent decision to demonetize certain notes is having far-reaching implications on people, the economy, and ministry.
Audio Scripture Ministries’ JP Sundararajan says the idea had good intentions to fight what is called “black money” — money which is illegal or unreported gains. But, it’s taken a toll.
He says, “The government decided to kind of go with a draconian measure of banning two primary denominations of Indian rupees — the 500 rupee note and the 1000 rupee note. And this may not seem like a big deal for a lot people around the world, but if you live in India, these two denominations are pretty ubiquitous. We use them all the time.”
Running out of time
Citizens have until the end of December to switch out these old notes at the bank. The announcement, made early-November, had people scrambling to the banks. In just a few short weeks, any 500 and 1000 notes left will be worth as much as the paper they’re printed on. Nothing.
But daily limits, long lines, and an abundance of other roadblocks have made changing notes unrealistic.
Sundararajan says most Indians live in villages, far away from the banks of the city. And even if they do have a banking relationship and are able to make the journey, there’s no guarantee the bank will have any money left for exchange. Along with ATMs, banks continue to run out of money.
Gridlock in the marketplace
Two factors make this such a radical decision. One, as we mentioned, is the fact that these rupee notes are the most common. According to the BBC, they make up about 86 percent of the cash in circulation. For some, it’s also the notes they’ve kept their life savings in.
The second factor is that India is a cash society. In fact, Sudarajan says only two percent of the population uses cards. Therefore, the major method of payment in India has suddenly been taken away, and very few have backup.
“What has happened is we’ve now ended up with some sort of gridlock […] — while, like I said, the intention was good, the crackdown on corruption. But the corruption they were trying to tackle were with people who were the super-rich and the hoarders of wealth. But unfortunately the effects are felt most severely by people who belong to the lower socioeconomic brackets.”
So now, simple tasks like buying food or hiring transportation have become nearly impossible. Even if they’re fortunate enough to change out their rupees, there are more problems. If their money is changed into the next biggest note, 2000 rupees, they still cannot buy things. Nobody has change for that large of a note.
For these same reasons, Audio Scripture Ministries is face-to-face with the consequences of this decision. The people most severely affected are also the same ones ASM ministers to: the poor, the ignored, and the needy.
“We have been received well, we’ve been seeing amazing stories of transformation happen, and especially in communities that have been so neglected and often times just ignored by the general population.”
When ASM goes to distribute audio Bibles, they pick out a location central to many remote villages. However, people from these villages can no longer afford to get a ride to the distribution sites. In addition, ASM cannot give people change for the audio Bibles when they come to the office to purchase them.
“The demonetization issue, while is political in nature and it does affect everybody in India at some level, it kind of throws a huge wrench into these fine moving parts,” Sudarajan says, referring to their work in India.
Rupee ban harms the destitute
Recently, ASM spoke to a group of people in south India. They come from a village comprised of people with leprosy. It is them, perhaps, who are the most destitute.
“Nobody wants to talk about the plight of people with leprosy in India.”
These individuals cannot have jobs. They are outcasts. Their main source of income is begging along with a small monthly stipend from the government. Now, nobody has money to give them.
“Their request to us was, ‘Pray for us. It has been a very long season and we’re not sure how Christmas is going to go for us this year.’”
ASM is looking for ways to assist them further. They are also trusting God will help them iron out this wrinkle in their ministry.
“We believe with our hearts that this is a hiccup, sure, but it is something we will figure out.”
Please pray for wisdom and clarity for ASM, and that the emotions in India would not turn people to anger. Ask God to send His peace to this country, and for Him to use ASM to spread the Gospel.
And, finally, “Pray that the people who actually don’t have a voice in all of this will actually have their needs met during this holiday season. As we gather with our family and friends, be mindful of your brothers and sisters who may not be enjoying the same privileges we so often take for granted.”