NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi warns the ‘dishonest’, seemingly all Indians except for the politicians of the BJP and crony capitalists, of dire action; the Opposition holds up Parliament and takes to the streets; the chattering classes argue day and night about the pros and cons of demonetisation; the middle class and the poor queue up day after day for their own money outside banks; the Income Tax carries out raids on seemingly innocuous persons and seize crores stashed in the new Rs 2000 notes; the economists predict doom while some insist that the good days are just around the corner…..and as always in the cacophony the poorest of the poor remain without a voice, faceless, indeed ghosts who remain invisible.

The marginalised poor has disappeared from the media, from political discourse---the PM has spoken of cashless economy repeatedly during the ongoing demonetisation chaos ---without a thought for the millions who struggle around the poverty line to just survive. There has not been a word from him or his Ministers in government as to how the Indians who are completely dependent on their basic wages to survive, will do so in the face of a clamp down on labour from the employers who are left cash strapped as a result of notebandi that has wiped 86% of the currency in one stroke. And unable to withdraw cash, are unable to dispense it; and even where the money has been transferred to accounts, the account holder has been unable to withdraw it as the banks are out of cash too.

The odd newspaper reports when collated tell a harsh story about these ‘ghosts’ who have been placed in acute distress, without a word or a gesture from the government at the centre:

Described as ‘ghost workers’ by the newspapers these faceless persons form the backbone of the jute industry in West Bengal. They appear at night in trucks, they leave at dawn. There are no figures of how many. They are paid in cash, figures suggest Rs 300 per shift. They represent an old collusion between labour syndicates and jute mill management, in what a newspaper quotd a mill manager as saying, “it is a win win situation for all.” In that these facless ghosts get some money, the agents a commission from both ends, the mill management the work done at a low price and without any liabilities. They work and they disappear.

Demonetisation has hit them hard. Estimated to be one third of the jute worker force, their wages have been stopped and they are back in their tenements jobless. The 160 year old jute industry in West Bengal has been hit hard by the demonetisation, with the cash drying up, and along with it the daily wages of the huge work force (nearly four lakhs including the ‘ghost’ workers).

Vegetable and fruit farmers are amongst the worst hit, as their commodity is perishable, and they are selling it at a fraction of the price. Economists predict that the impact on the small farmers will be long lasting. The Citizen covered this earlier in some detail and can be read at : Demonetisation-Small-Vegetable-Farmers-Vendors-Hit-Hard-in-Maharashtra

"Before demonetisation we were getting price of Rs.100 to Rs 120 for 10 kg packet of Brinjal. Now, we have to sell off at Rs 30 and times even less. Carrot price was Rs 15 to 20 per kgand now we are forced to sell it at Rs 8 to Rs 10 per kg," Navin Saini, a farmer from Sikandrabad was quoted as saying to the media.

Artisans across the country have been severely impacted. The brass workers in Moradabad, the chikan workers in Lucknow, the weavers in Varanasi have been hit hard as the daily wages they are dependent on have stopped, with work declining alarmingly. Artisans are dependent also on daily wages to survive, and even the few who do have bank accounts are not being able to withdraw their money because “there is no money.” The poor artisans are also finding it very difficult to cope with Rs 2000 notes, as they find it difficult to impossible to encash these.

The bamboo artisans are also hard hit. Already fighting a losing battle with plastic fare, this demonetisation could well be the last blow for struggling daily wagers making baskets, mats that are losing currency in middle class India.

In all these cases, the artisans are paid only if their work sells. The one month has seen a sharp decline in demand, cash has dried up, and as a result most of them living on daily wages find the money supply has diminished if not stopped altogether. The few artisans who manage to sell their ware directly to the client, do not have credit card facilities and hardly any one has moved to online transactions. There are no figures but as senior Opposition leaders have pointed in and outside Parliament, the informal industry is badly impacted as they have been pushed from the margins into an abyss. A national award winning artisan Rashid Ahmed Qadri told a newspaper recently, that for all artisans transactions are cash based and, “I don’t recall any artisan who accepts cards in his shop.

Demonetisation has also led to migration, in that workers have gone back to their home states as money and earnings have dried up. Punjab farmers find themselves without labour as the earnings have dipped dramatically; construction workers finding the work to be scarce have also returned to their villages; and more recently Gujarat jewellers have also reported an exodus. The media has reported that about 60,000 of the one lakh or so Bengali artisans who work in Ahmedabads gold factories have returned to West Bengal. The state supplies a large work force for the goldsmiths of Gujarat spread across Surat, Vadodara and other towns with most of them going back after the demonetisation hit the trade hard.

These ghosts of the large informal sector is the vote that governments tend to ignore, crony capitalists cannot see, and the media and pollsters dismiss. But it is these ghosts that often during election days acquire the ability to haunt their tormentors even if in between the five years they remain invisible.