It’s 2.30pm and Ranjana Sonawane has returned to her hutment after hunting for work all morning. She kindles a chulha (hearth) to prepare a quick meal for her family. Within a few seconds, she’s enveloped in the smoke billowing out. In her ramshackle home, there is no cooking gas, no toilet and no electricity. After demonetisation, she can’t find work and has no money.
But she has a unique identity. She is the first Indian to get an Aadhaar card, which was meant to help her and others like her get better access to government schemes and facilities like banking and insurance.
“I am finding it difficult to survive,” says Ranjana Sonawane, a daily wager who also sells toys in village fairs. “I feel all governments use the poor just for politics and actually work for the rich. Getting daily work has become difficult because farmers say they are not getting cash from banks and cannot give us work. I wanted to go to the Sarangkheda fair to set up a toy shop there, but couldn’t because I have no money to travel.”Tembhli, Ranjana’s remote village in north Maharashra, about 470km from Pune, briefly became famous as India’s first Aadhaar village before receding into the shadows. Ask her about the Modi government’s cashless economy plan, and she says with a tired smile, “We are already cashless. See our empty bank passbooks. The previous government made us the first Aadhaar village. This one can declare Tembhli the first cashless village.” No one in the village of Tembhli queued up to de posit the demonetised currency notes in the nearest banks in Shahada town, about 10km away – they didn’t have Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 notes to exchange or deposit. The majority of transactions here take place in cash and that too in denominations of Rs 50 and Rs 100.
Wiping off the dust on a laminated photo frame with her pallu, Ranjana Sonawane, the first Indian to get an Aadhaar card, says, “There is no banking and no insurance here. In 2010, netas handed over the Aadhaar card to me and other villagers, clicked photos and went away . Nobody has even bothered to ask us what happened after that brief moment of fame. My electricity meter was taken away and the bank account connected to Aadhaar remains empty . I have not got a single subsidy deposited in my account to date. The previous government gave this useless Aadhaar card and this government has taken away our roji-roti (work) with the demonetisation move.”
The stained photo frame shows her with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders in 2010, when they descended on the village to launch the Aadhaar card project. Since that moment of glory, Tembhli remains in a shambles, and the villagers have lost faith in governance and governments.
The then Congress-led government had chosen Tembhli in Nandurbar district, north Maharashtra, about 470km from Pune, to launch the Aadhaar project because Sonia Gandhi formally entered politics with a massive rally in Nandurbar in 1998.
Ranjana’s husband Sadashiv is also a daily wager. He says that he and his wife are somehow managing to run the family and look after their three kids.”There is no work and no money in the market,” he adds.
“The government of that time (UPA) built a concrete road overnight and this government scrapped currency notes in a single day. The cement road has developed cracks because it was a hasty decision. I hope demonetisation, which has landed us in trouble, doesn’t meet the fate of this road,” says Azad Thakre, pointing at the crumbing road.