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How demonetisation was wrongly blamed for some unfortunate deaths

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Rupa Subramanya
Ideas, not partisanship. Economist. Co-author: Indianomix. Not a journalist. Commentator @foreignpolicy @WSJIndia @GlobeandMail

I’m embarrassed that I even have to write a piece like this but sadly what I’m about to analyse reflects the pathetic state of the media in India. In particular I’m reacting to a bizarre and ludicrous piece of propaganda alleging a relationship between currency demonetisation and deaths of individuals.

The piece by Deputy Editor of Huffington Post India, Shivam Vij, claims that “there have already been 33 deaths due to demonetisation in 6 days”. The author is thus asserting a causal relationship between the government’s demonetisation of high denomination notes and these deaths.

Vij goes on to cite thirty three cases which allegedly support his claim but it doesn’t take much to figure out, that one can’t establish in any credible way a causal relationship between demonetisation and an individual’s death in so many of these cases.

Start with one of the most ludicrous cases where a “businessman” in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh allegedly felt chest pains and died soon after watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of demonetisation on November 8. Are we supposed to believe that it was what he was watching that led to his death? So for example, if he were watching Star Wars, would we blame Darth Vader for his death?

Take the case of a 96-year-old man in Udupi, Karnataka who died allegedly waiting in a long queue in a bank. Guess what? The man’s son says his father’s death had nothing to do with waiting in queue at the bank. So this one is at best poor fact checking or poor attempt at propaganda by the author.

Up next, a 45-year-old man in Kerala dies while falling from a construction area in the bank branch where he was depositing money. He had already successfully deposited money the previous day at the same bank.  At best, you could blame lack of barricades that would have saved him falling but it’s more than a stretch to blame Modi and demonetisation.

It only gets bizarre from here. An elderly woman in Kanpur died apparently counting currency notes. Tragic, but had she died while reading the newspaper, presumably this intrepid journalist would blame the newspaper for her death?

How about an elderly person who didn’t even have to wait in a queue but collapsed of a heart attack upon reaching the bank? If he’d collapsed outside a movie theatre would this journalist blame the movie that was screened for his death? And even here, the man’s two sons say he had a pre-existing medical condition, wasn’t even standing in line and his death had nothing to do with demonetisation. The family has also expressed anger that their father’s death has been wrongly linked to demonetisation by the media.

Or how about a 45-year-old cashier in Bhopal who collapsed while working at the bank. The spin is he died overworked because of demonetisation but not a shred of evidence is offered to back this up.

A 17-year-old, son of a Border Security Force jawan allegedly commits suicide because his mother wouldn’t give him small denomination notes. There’s almost no limit to the implausible connections this writer can draw.

A couple have already been debunked. Consider where a doctor says she had to turn away parents of a sick baby not because they were carrying demonetised notes but she just didn’t have the right equipment to treat the baby. As it happens this doctor is now the subject of a First Information Report.

In another case a wife is allegedly taunted by her husband for her “inability” to stand in a queue at an ATM. She apparently commits suicide and her husband is now the subject of an investigation in abetting her suicide. So let’s get this straight. A possibly abusive husband taunts his wife for not waiting in queue at the mandi, is the vendor now the cause of what played out subsequently?

You get the idea. In each of these cases, someone dies, shortly after demonetisation but there’s no credible causal link between the two events. Also many of these stories have only a single source suggesting perhaps the version of the stories presented didn’t seem entirely credible even to other news organisations.

As I remarked at the outset, it’s embarrassing that one even needs to debunk such tripe. Any death is tragic but it’s shameful and scandalous that they’re wrongly linked to demonetisation, no less than from an international media house like Huffington Post.

That the Huffington Post does not like demonetisation is clear from pieces on the subject such as “Why the demonetisation drive violates our fundamental right to life” as shown below.

Huffington Post India on Demonetisation
So Supreme Court refused to intervene is something that was unconstitutional?

This is clearly not journalism nor is it even good propaganda. But that’s the Indian media scene for you.

(Written by Rupa Subramanya, who is an Economist and Columnist. Follow her @rupasubramanya)

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Rupa Subramanya
Ideas, not partisanship. Economist. Co-author: Indianomix. Not a journalist. Commentator @foreignpolicy @WSJIndia @GlobeandMail

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