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(DAY 455) Catharsis in Shared Misery

· 5 min read
Gaurav Parashar

In November 2016, India underwent a significant economic transformation. The Indian government announced the demonetization of ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes, rendering 86% of the country's currency in circulation obsolete overnight. The move aimed to curb black money, counterfeit currency, and corruption. However, the immediate aftermath was widespread confusion, long queues at banks and ATMs, and economic disruption. Amidst this chaos, a unique phenomenon emerged: a collective catharsis through shared misery. I feel that the shared suffering during demonetization fostered a sense of solidarity among Indians, while simultaneously causing many to overlook the broader implications of the policy.

The Immediate Impact of Demonetization

Demonetization's sudden announcement left millions scrambling to exchange old notes for new ones. The entire country faced severe cash shortages, affecting daily transactions. Long queues formed outside banks and ATMs, with people waiting for hours, sometimes days, to withdraw or exchange money. Small businesses, dependent on cash transactions, faced severe downturns. Farmers and daily wage workers, operating largely outside the formal banking system, were particularly hard hit.

The Psychological Effect: Shared Misery and Catharsis

Despite the widespread inconvenience and economic strain, a curious psychological phenomenon took hold. The collective experience of hardship created a bond among people, leading to a shared sense of endurance. This shared misery acted as a form of catharsis—a purification process through which individuals collectively processed their suffering and frustrations.

  • Nationalistic Justification: Many Indians justified the short-term pain as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. The narrative of fighting black money and corruption resonated deeply, leading to a sense of nationalistic duty. People found solace in believing they were contributing to a larger, noble cause.

  • Community Solidarity: As people stood in long queues, conversations blossomed. Strangers shared their stories, frustrations, and hopes. This communal sharing of experiences helped alleviate individual stress and fostered a sense of unity.

  • Resilience and Adaptation: The collective struggle highlighted the resilience of the Indian populace. People adapted by finding alternative means of transactions, such as bartering and using digital payment methods. The shared adversity showcased the ability of communities to adapt and support one another.

The Role of Media and Government Narratives

The media played a crucial role in shaping public perception of demonetization. Government officials and prominent media personalities emphasized the benefits of the policy, often downplaying its immediate negative impacts. Positive stories about demonetization's potential to curb corruption and bring black money holders to justice were widely circulated.

  • Propaganda and Messaging: The government launched a massive propaganda campaign to justify demonetization. Messages of patriotism and the fight against corruption were pervasive. This narrative helped maintain public support, despite growing hardships.

  • Selective Reporting: Media outlets often focused on success stories and long-term benefits, overshadowing the immediate suffering of the common people. This selective reporting reinforced the notion that the collective pain was worthwhile.

Questioning the Benefits: A Delayed Reaction

Initially, the collective justification for the pain overshadowed critical analysis. However, as time passed, questions began to surface about the actual benefits of demonetization. Reports and studies started to reveal that the objectives of curbing black money and counterfeit currency were not fully achieved.

  • Economic Slowdown: The economy experienced a slowdown, with small businesses and the informal sector bearing the brunt. Job losses and reduced consumer spending highlighted the economic cost of the policy.

  • Questionable Efficacy: Data revealed that a significant portion of the demonetized currency had returned to the banking system, raising doubts about the policy's effectiveness in tackling black money.

  • Long-Term Psychological Impact: The initial cathartic effect gave way to disillusionment for many, as the anticipated benefits did not materialize. The long-term psychological impact included a sense of betrayal and skepticism towards government policies.

The Broader Implications

Demonetization's legacy is multifaceted. While it showcased the resilience and unity of the Indian populace, it also highlighted the need for critical engagement with government policies. Blindly justifying collective pain for perceived greater good can lead to overlooking significant flaws and consequences.

  • Critical Engagement: It is crucial for citizens to critically engage with government policies, questioning their efficacy and impact. This engagement fosters a healthy democracy and ensures that policies are scrutinized and held accountable.

  • Long-Term Solutions: The experience of demonetization underscores the need for comprehensive, long-term solutions to issues like black money and corruption, rather than sudden, disruptive measures.

Demonetization in India was a period of intense shared misery that paradoxically brought about a sense of collective catharsis. The experience revealed the power of nationalistic narratives and community solidarity in mitigating individual suffering. However, it also served as a reminder of the importance of critical engagement with government policies. As we reflect on this significant event, it is essential to balance nationalistic fervor with rational analysis, ensuring that the pursuit of greater good does not come at an unjustifiable cost.