The cash crunch that has hit millions after the notes ban brought 66-year-old Munni Lal to the lowest point of his life as he waited next to his wife’s body for two days, with no money to cremate her.
Phoolvati, 61, died of stomach cancer on Monday after a nine-month fight with the disease.
Munni Lal, a daily wage labourer, lit incense sticks near the body, put up a plastic tent and waited for his sons.
“I called my sons one hour later. For two days I have been by her body. We finally cremated her today. Three days I had to wait because I had no money,” said Munni Lal, who lives in a one-room house in Noida near Delhi, with his family of five.
After the government’s sudden ban on 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, which drove millions to banks and ATMs for valid cash, Munni Lal found it difficult to pull out any money. The local bank branch turned him away, saying it has no cash.
His three sons have more than Rs. 16,000 in the bank. “They went to withdraw money but the bank officials said there is no money,” said Lal.
“We don’t have the status to fight with them. When we beg, they don’t listen. What can we do?”
Looking at his desperation, neighbours went to the bank and demanded to know what it could do for a poor man who hasn’t even the money to cremate his wife. They allegedly got no satisfactory response.
Lal’s son Janardhan Prasad felt helpless that he couldn’t take out money for his mother’s cremation. “When we give our own money and want it back, we can’t take it. If we say anything to bank officials they turn on us. We fear them and that’s why we can’t do anything,” said the 32-year-old, who works as a daily wage laborer in Noida.
The distressed family finally decided to go back to Uttar Pradesh, to their native village 750 km from Delhi.
On Tuesday, a policeman and a politician reportedly gave some cash to Lal, but he refused to accept it, saying “my wife would not approve of borrowing money for her cremation”. A day later, the bank organized around Rs. 15,000 for the family.