Rural finance: Death by ponzi scams; the ripping off of the unemployed youth

Somewhere between the humble chai wala and pakoda-selling memes, is a young man who graduated, slogged through forms and applications, blew off a little bit of savings on bribes, and yet found himself manning security at a gated community in Delhi. A living-breathing version of the ‘Over-qualified, Under-paid’ tee that used to be in vogue in the urban India of the 90’s.

Is it any wonder then that get rich quick schemes sound like a panacea to this young man?

One of the most under-reported and prevalent socio-economic tragedies of our times – how Ponzi schemes thrive on the failed dreams and ambitions of an entire generation of young men.

November 2017, Banda

Such as one that spread like forest fires across Banda – men in several parts of this district in Bundelkhand, UP, all of whom succumbed to the same “company call” and found themselves duped, their money gone.

“All we know is the CBI ordered an enquiry. What did they find, what was so damning that they ordered the company to shut down, what exactly happened – none of this is knowledge in the public domain.” Ganesh Prasad Sharma, who runs a kapdon ki dukaan and found a fair portion of his savings gone, almost overnight. “Apparently, there was to be an auction of the CEO’s properties and assets, which is how people like us would be refunded. It doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Rajkumar Prajapati from Motiyari only knows that, “seth ko under mein kar liya hai government ne”, but has no awareness, or indeed hope, for what this means for investors such as him. It’s a breach of trust in his head – the word “vishwaas” comes up often. Pappu, also from Motiyari, is clear, “Either the government pays us, or the company.” The chances of both being not just highly unlikely, but impossible, is not a fact Pappu seems to be considering anytime soon. Ignorance and misery go hand-in-hand often.

Hari Kumar

Hari Kumar: “There’s no work in Mahoba. The only work here is in the quarries, and that’s dangerous. So, I went to Delhi. I was just sitting around idle, looking for work, for several days. Then I got a job, and I’m doing it now. If you take a day off, your money is cut. So, if you’re running a fever for say four or five days, then that’s Rs 1500 gone, just like that.”

Misery is no stranger to Hari Kumar, a Mahoba local, who works as a security guard in Delhi, “It’s a 12-14 hour round-the-clock job. It’s painful. I stand for hours together, then I sit for hours together.”

Hari blames the lack of opportunities back home for his desperate situation today. “What’s there in Mahoba except working in the quarries? And that’s so dangerous”, he says, referring to the stone-blasting and mining that’s a prevalent income source for the poor in Mahoba, but one that comes with the risky rider of being both life-threatening on several levels: It is physically dangerous, and the mafia nexus ensures lurking threats of other kinds too.

This article was first published on Firstpost

Read other stories from the rural finance series here:

Part 1: The parallel economy of the Bundeli middlemen

Part 2: Subsidies, entitlements and the problem of digital linkages in Bundelkhand

Part 4: Daily Banking Issues

Part 5: The Old Women of Bundelkhand Waiting for Money that Isn’t Coming: The Pension Problem, in Four Portraits