India is historically and mythologically known for protest by hair. Chanakya is said to have left his Brahmin’s braid open to protest an insult made to him; in Mahabharata, Draupadi kept her tresses untied and unwashed vowing to do so only after washing it with Dusshasana’s blood to avenge the insult meted out to her; in Ramayana, Kekayi is said to have left her hair open to protest Ram being declared heir apparent of Ayodhya, instead of Bharat.
Following on somewhat similar footsteps – with a tad bit of variation – is a tea vendor from Kerala, whose story has gone viral on social media after it was shared as a Facebook post.
Yahiya, a small hotel and tea shop owner in Kerala’s Kollam district, has shaved off half his head to protest PM Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move – which has been lauded by many for its intention, but slammed for its ill execution and its negative impact on the lower rungs of society. But Yahiya’s drastic step seems to have been a result more of confusion and lack of awareness.
An assistant professor in Kerala University shared the 70-year-old’s story on Facebook recently. Ashraf Kadakkal, in his Malayalam post titled “Mann Ki Baat to a former tea vendor from a small hotel owner”, writes about Yahiya, who lives with his wife and two daughters, along with a picture of the vendor and his half-shaved head, wearing his wife’s nightie, which he finds comfortable.
After marrying his daughters off using whatever little he had and a loan from a cooperative bank, Yahiya started a small shop to earn a living. On the fateful day when PM Modi announced the demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, he had Rs 23,000 in the same denominations. He tried to exchange the notes, but to no avail. On the second day in a queue, he even collapsed due to low blood sugar levels and had to be taken to a hospital.
Yahiya, who only has a loan account with a cooperative bank, thought that all cooperative bank transactions were frozen and he had nowhere to deposit the money. In a fit of helplessness, after returning from the hospital, he burnt the entire Rs 23,000 he had, and shaved half his head off, vowing to grow back his hair only when Modi ceased being the PM.
Though, Yahiya’s step was arguably a bit hasty since he could have deposited the amount in a bank even if exchanging the sum wasn’t an option, since exchange and acceptance of the demonetised notes in cooperative banks was not allowed.
indianexpress.com has written to Kadakkal for a comment on whether the vendor was aware of this option.
Moreover, Yahiya’s not the only one suffering from confusion around money exchange around the various rules and regulations on exchanging and use of the demonetised notes that has plagued many since November 9.