Look Out, Notes Ban Will Test Marriages Too

Published: November 18, 2016 18:58 IST
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One unintended consequence of the Modi government's ban on the existing 500 and 1000-rupee notes is putting an end to "financial infidelity".

During my earlier career in the tax department, I carried out several search operations (euphemism for "raids") and nary was a house in which we did not find the housewife with a secret stash of money of which the husband had no knowledge whatsoever. This "rainy day" fund, which most housewives liked to call it (rightly so), was financed in part by skimming off the household budget given to them by their breadwinner husbands, with the balance coming from gifts from parents and relatives, again behind the back of the husbands. The cache would be secreted among her clothes, in the box bed, in her suitcase placed in the loft, in plastic pouches buried deep in rice or flour canisters in the kitchen, you name it. Some even had lockers in which to stow their booty, the key safely hidden from the spouse but, ultimately, not the taxman.

Many housewives preferred to convert the cash into jewelry. But in that case, there was no need to hide it. The husband wouldn't have known any better. In this case too, the husband was unaware of its antecedents. 

We used to jokingly refer to such cash/jewelry as "Number teen ka paisa."

It was my misfortune to witness the consequences of the discovery. Very few husbands took it well. There would be screaming and shouting, foul-mouthing, and in some cases, even punching and beating, which of course we immediately stopped. The presence of police escort very rarely acted as a deterrent to what the husbands perceived as breach of trust and lack of faith. We knew that as soon as we left, the fighting would resume.

Why do housewives resort to such clandestine squirreling? The answer is obvious. Some save for that rainy day, for that emergency when funds may be required in a hurry, some for their children's future; some to indulge occasionally in clothes, jewelry, handbags, shoes. It gives them financial and emotional comfort, provides a safety net, gives them a cushion, makes them feel less dependent. All noble objectives, nothing sinister. But since almost all raids take place on the business class, usually the household expenses (and consequently, the diverted funds) are from unaccounted funds ("black money"), and get seized. No housewife keeps proof of gifts received from her family, which are also usually in "black." So it's a double whammy for her - her carefully sequestered funds get confiscated and her marriage takes a beating.

Raids are few and far between. Only some out of the several lakh tax payers are made unwilling hosts to the early morning tax brigade. But the government's move to ban currency notes has covered everybody, and housewives are not smiling. Neither are their husbands. In one fell sweep, the winds of demonetization have blown away their clandestine financial nest to smithereens. Sure, they can deposit up to 2.5 lakh rupees without raising any eyebrows, but there are a significant number out there who have saved more. Plus, their husbands are now in the know and going forward, this clandestine scrimping will see a dip.

Another typical Indian institution which has suffered is the "kitty", a social and financial grouping of like-minded people (there are wives' kitties, there are couples' kitties) who meet up regularly. They contribute a fixed sum (in cash) to the pot (the kitty), ranging from a few thousands to lakhs. At every meeting, chits are drawn, and the winner receives the total deposit. This amount - a loan of sorts - is then invested in business, or for any large purchase, or any other expense. The entire dealing is usually in "black". The wives' kitty usually takes place on Wednesdays when every restaurant and party rooms are full (every other weekday is dedicated to a God and someone or the other has kept a fast; Wednesday is the only free day and weekends are ruled out). Not only is the future of this "club" bleak, but settlement of outstanding dues and the status of members whose turn is yet to come poses a big challenge.

The winter months are the wedding season and the entire sector is in the doldrums. Cash is king. Unless you have booked well-known hotels, the other stake-holders - even established caterers - will deal in partly cheque/partly cash, and the smaller peripheral players only in cash. My daughter got married last year and we refused to pay cash, only to be informed that we would need to compensate the vendors with the tax liability which they would be saddled with. Service tax was extra. One vendor even asked us to assist him in getting his service tax registration! Not too many big fat weddings will be seen this season. You can already see a slide in showiness and this is likely to be the flavor of the season. We can now also sleep through the night with no all-night crackers and fireworks disturbing the peace and quiet of our housing colony from the nearby Baraat Ghar!

We received a wedding card yesterday - with a sticker attached - requesting no gifts be given, except blessings. However, if we were insistent on giving something tangible, then a cheque or the new notes would do, thank you!

We have a peepal tree growing through the cracks on our terrace. Every time we call an expert to have it removed, he lops off the visible part and pours acid to destroy the root. But the tree is persistent. Finally, we were advised to break off a part of the terrace to reach the root and finish it off once and for all. Banning notes is similar. It's only a symptom of a deeper malaise that needs to be tackled by an all-out war. Plucking the fruit will not destroy the plant. Never doubt the ingenuity of an Indian!

(Ajay Mankotia is President, Corporate Planning and Operations, NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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