(originally published in The Mizoram Post, December 22, 2016)
Mizoram is a state which survives the eleven months of the year to make it to the 12th month, December. While crowds are few in the market area the rest of the year, come mid-December and one hardly has space to place their feet. It is a state where you can feel the essence of the Christmas spirit in whole, little children hugging tight to plastic bags filled with “Krismas kawr mawi,” styled up teens going out in groups and hanging around Millennium centre with the holiday cheer all over their faces, and of course, the young couples whose love blossoms with the festive cheer.
But this year, Christmas comes a little harsh on the hearts of the Mizo people. There is a gloom in the air evident in the glum faces of sales persons as you walk around the busy market area. It’s a gloom of demonetisation.
For the business-dealing men and women in Mizoram, Christmas is the ‘boost period.’ It’s the time where there’s a smile glued to the face of their profits, probably enough to keep them going in bits for the rest of the year. But this year, it’s a whole different story. While it’s a story of lives lost in long queues in other states, it’s the heart of the sales factor that is being mourned this Christmas in Mizoram.
The Mizoram Post met with sales women in the hub of the main market, and they had much to say about the state of their affairs. Lalthanmawii, a 62-year-old business women from Dawrpui said, “Our sales are down to a minimum. Even those who earn one lakh can only withdraw Rs. 24,000 a week and it takes a whole month for them to withdraw their entire salary. So, no one is brave enough to splurge. The Christmas air has become a troubled one for us.”
With only Rs. 24,000 withdrawal a week permitted by the bank, one has to pay rent, buy amenities, household needs and there is little left to spare for buying clothes, highlighted Lalrinmawii, a clothes dealer at Zion Street.
The saleswomen seated inside the cozy clothing stores at Bara Bazaar agree that their sales have been decreased by half. “Even those who can afford more only have enough to spare for sale discount items. Most people who come and take a look at the goods only put focus on the discount items,” said Mafeli, a shoe seller at the market.
One saleswoman told of an experience she encountered the other day where a young girl was insistent on buying a coat that cost Rs.2000 but if she bought it, there would be nothing left for the younger sibling and the ATM withdrawal limit did not permit any extra for the day. Goods suppliers who have come a long way to earn their money are putting out their items at wholesale rates and big discounts instead of going home empty-handed. On what they see as the best solution, these saleswomen say people should be permitted to withdraw the amount they require, let them buy what they need with what they have earned.
It is not just the sellers who have a dilemma, even the consumer part of the market has their share of troubles. Lalruatliana, a resident of Zonuam veng said, “We put aside our important jobs to stand in line at the bank for the whole day where we receive only notes of 2000. And when we buy something that is below the rate of 2000, we get change of old 500 or 1000 notes for which we have to put aside our jobs and stand in line for another whole day to deposit.”
The clothing sector has been hit hard what about the others such as gadgets? Lalthanzuala of Israel Mobile Store, with a cheerless tone said, “Our sales are badly affected, customers are few. It’s down by about 50% for sure.” Another sector that is down by 50% is the motor dealers. Lalfakzuala Hauzel, Managing Director of Khaia & Sons Hero Showroom and Worskshop, Vaivakawn, said, “The sales have dipped by 50%, the larger part of the population is only comfortable with cash. There are few who use cheques or ATM debit cards for transaction purposes. Even the income from workshop repairing and motor part sales has come down.”
While many are experiencing the gloom of Christmas sales, there are few who seem unaffected by demonetisation. The sofa business seems to be in good spirits, Lallawmawma Hnamte owner of the prominent Victor Sofa, said, “We have not faced much challenges. People pay us by cheque so that makes it simple for business.” Another business in good spirits is the taxi sector, “I have not faced any difficulties, people don’t pay us in bulks of 2000 or such and they seem to have more change than ever these past days. So we have not felt the load of demonetisation as of yet,” said Lalrammuana of the Durtlang Taxi Stand.
On the part of the banks dealings with the Christmas cash demand and demonetisation, Narendra Sonowal, Deputy Manager Operations, Axis Bank Chanmari Branch said, “We work atleast 2 extra hours everyday. There is a rush of customers and a high amount of transactions. The biggest challenge is the denomination, there is a big scarcity of small denominations.”
The demonetisation gloom of the festive season does not end at Mizoram, sweets sales are down at Kolkata, at the favourite holiday hub, Goa, the hospitality sector is impacted, even in Tamil Nadu, the sale of Christmas decorative items has hit a big low. On Wednesday, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, CM Chandrababu Naidu stressed, “More than 40 days after demonetisation, there are still a lot of problems, but there appears to be no solution,” and there appears to be none now for the Christmas spirit at Mizoram because what can the people do but grieve among themselves and hold tight to the scarce pink notes in their purses. While Modi has strived for eradication of black money, he has eradicated a huge amount of smiles in the Christmas town of Aizawl.