NEW DELHI: Most women in India have very little social security but whatever little they had has been affected very adversely by demonetization. Women have a habit of saving a little whenever they can and quietly putting aside this money in a safe corner.

This often includes the money gift they receive on raksha bandhan, bhaiya duj and other ceremonial or festive occasions, particularly when they go to their maternal home. Denying themselves the luxury of spending the money immediately on much desired clothes or toys for their children, they save this money to help their families particularly children in difficult times. As these savings are in the form of cash in hand which can be used any time, this little stash gives women a sense of security even if the amount saved is not very high.

This actual as well as psychological security was rudely snatched away from millions of women in one blow by demonetization. Now they had to take out their savings , or the bulk of these, and deposit this in banks. The deposit is generally made in the account of the husband or a male member of the family. This money has been deposited but what about its withdrawal and eventual restoration to women who saved the money with great sacrifice and difficulty ?

As recent withdrawal limits have made it difficult even to meet daily expenses, the possibility of the women being able to withdraw this money at present are remote. But even if after some time it is possible to withdraw this money, the likelihood of this being restored to women who originally saved this is even more remote and it is more likely to be adjusted in overall family expenses. Hence in one blow the painstaking savings by women have been taken away.

In the case of several women the situation has been even worse as when they took out their savings they had to hear suspicious rebuke and taunts from husbands and other family members, as to where they got the money, and why they had hidden it. There have been reports of alcoholic men turning vindictive and beating up their wives for not giving the money earlier when demanded by them. I recorded two such cases in which women were beaten up so badly as to require hospital treatment, but still these women did not want the details to be published.

The second big source of social security for women has been in the form of self-help groups which have been formed on a large-scale in recent years in India, their membership confined largely to women. In the days of the cash crunch following demonetisation the smooth functioning of these self-help groups has been hampered badly.

One of the disrupting factors has been the increasingly inaccessibility of banks due to their preoccupation with demonetisation related responsibilities. Another factor has been the difficulty in getting timely paybacks because of the severe cash crunch. Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association said recently that some women who could not pay back their loans felt so disgraced by the sudden turn of events that they went away from their village or even committed suicide.

The third big source of social security for elderly women and widows have been the pensions received by them from the government . Meager and irregular, these pensions are nevertheless much awaited due to the poverty and needs of these women. After demonetisation these became more difficult to access because of the preoccupation of banks with demonetisation related problems.

A lot of evidence has become available in recent times regarding the highly disruptive impact of demonetisation on the informal and unorganized sector. As most of the livelihood opportunities of women are in this sector, the earnings of women have been very adversely affected. In some cases they have lost their livelihood or else are on the verge of this.

On the other hand, their household responsibilities have become more difficult as they have to somehow feed the family and meet other essential needs despite much reduced earnings. In particular their worries increase when children cannot be fed properly or when it is not possible to meet essential educational and medicare expenses of children.

In recent years even people living in villages and urban slums have shifted in large numbers to private schools which charge fees which are difficult for many families even in normal times. But in the post demonetisation phase it was just not possible for many of these families to find the cash for this. As school fees were delayed, many children were given humiliating punishments, or even sent back on some days from school, or threatened that they will not be allowed to appear in exams. In the entire process the affected children felt very humiliated.

As livelihood opportunities were suddenly disrupted for many migrant workers several of them could not survive in the city and hurriedly had to go back to their village. As some of them had brought their family members also to the city due to the increasingly semi-permanent nature of migration, the education of these children was disrupted. On the other hand the families of some migrant workers continue to stay in their villages. Due to the disruption of their livelihood they could not send the normal remittances to their families in villages. This adversely affected the nutrition of children and women in villages as well the education of children.

The nutrition situation was worsened by the demonetisation related poor performance of government’s nutrition programs. Demonetisation was announced on November 8. In November the number of kids getting supplementary nutrition declined by 15 per cent compared to the average of the previous six months. In addition many children had to make do with lower nutrition food or only dry food in a situation of cash crunch and related problems.

Similarly there was a decline in the number of expecting and nursing women getting supplementary nutrition in November by 9 to 10 per cent compared to October. In overall numbers this adds up to millions of very needy women and children being denied nutrition or getting lesser nutrition in supplementary nutrition programs for at least three weeks.

One option of meeting basic needs in difficult times in rural areas is to take up work under the national rural employment guarantee act or NREGA which is publicized as more accessible to women. However according to the available data the number of rural households who could get work under this legislation declined from 6.72 million in November to 5.16 million in November. In November 7.5 million demanded work but only 5.1 million actually got it. So this option of fighting deprivation and hunger actually declined for women in the post-demonet days.

Hence women and children particularly in the poorer areas suffered from a triple whammy of declining local livelihood opportunities and cash crunch, declining remittances and declining support of government welfare programs.

(The writer is a free-lance journalist and a social activist)