The 'Unsung Heroes'
It is 6 am in the morning and it is time for Shyam Narayan to leave the bed and get ready for his office. He dresses up in his light blue shirt and dark blue trousers, cleans the barrel of his gun with a piece of cloth and hangs it on his shoulders before heading towards his tiny office, a small ATM at Ashram Chowk in South East Delhi. He has been a guard at the ATM for two years now.
ATM guards are the people who directly interacted with the angry public at the time of demonetisation. They watched to the whole saga of demonetisation unfurl before their eyes, closely. They bore the wrath of the people who occasionally lost patience standing in long queues. The public felt that they were supposed to know when the ATM machines would be refilled with cash and they were often abused and scolded. Yet they swallowed the humiliation just for the sake of the small salary they get at the end of the month. Millennium Post introduces you to these 'Unsung Heroes'.
"People hurled abuses at me when there was no cash in the ATM. How am I supposed to know? People held me accountable if someone jumped the queue. They fought with me for every small malfunction in the ATM. They asked me to call my seniors if the ATM somehow was not able to dispense money," Shyam Narayan, narrated his ordeal faced at the time of demonetisation.
Shyam came to Delhi from Mainpuri, UP and has two daughtres and a son. When asked if his family is in Delhi he said, "Kaha Sahab, ittne paise me kaise guzara hoga" (How can I afford my family in Delhi with such small salary).
If you think his ordeal is over, his next statement would prove you wrong. "They pay me just 50 Rs for overtime per hour. I work in an 8-hour shift daily. You can imagine how difficult it is for me to afford my family," he adds. If you ever visit Okhla Vihar in Jamia Nagar a tall, bald guard sitting on the footsteps of another ATM would catch your attention.
His name is Danish Hashmi, a resident of Agra and working as an ATM guard for quite some time now. He spreads a small piece of cotton cloth on the floor of the ATM gate to sit. "I told them about my broken chair, no one listened. This ATM is my home. I am on a 24 hours duty. I just put down shutters when I go to relieve myself. I have no place to sleep and have to spread a cloth on the floor of the ATM at night. I barely slept when the ATM machine was refilled at night."
Danish shows his tiny room built inside the ATM where a person can barely stand. He gets up at 6 am in the morning and after he is done with his morning prayers he heads towards is ATM. He flaunts his long silver shutter keys that he holds tightly in his hands.
When asked how much is he paid he answers "Hume sirf 9 hazaar hi milta hai 24 ghante duty ka" ( I get only 9 thousand for a 24 hours shift)
56 year old Suraj Yadav guards an ATM at ITO. Yadav a resident of Kanpur says, "The best-dressed men sometimes hurled the worst abuses. I had to check if someone was using more than 2 ATM cards but people asked me to show them the rule. You will be surprised to know my salary. I get only 5 thousand per month. I have to work 24 hours to make it at least 10 thousand," Yadav hesitantly vented out his anguish.
When almost all of India had to line up in long ATM queues to extract money, ATM guards were seen monitoring the rush together with the policemen. Not all ATMs had the policemen on guard and it was often the ATM guards who were left with the job to tackle the public. Shafaat Hussain is 56-year-old and firmly sits on the chair in an ATM at New Friends Colony community Center.
He speaks up for the humiliation he faced in the past 2 months. "Kids as young as my grandson teased me for no money in the ATM. Some asked me to lock the ATM and go if there is no money. I felt as an accused sometimes. I have so much of respect in my hometown in Gazipur. What was my fault? I was just doing my duty," said an emotional Shafaat struggling to hold back his tears.
While the PM has thanked the Bank employees for their efforts and service, seems like the ATM guards missed any special mention. Their vows were never been brought into light and they continue to serve without any praise or appreciation, leave aside monetary benefits. They have stood alert guarding the ATMs but they still seek someone who could guard their honour, guard their interests.
They are the 'Unsung Heroes' of the demonetisation saga who stood on duty in extreme conditions serving the interests of others.