It’s been one of the human stories reported around India’s demonetization drive – the deaths resulting from the move. Several news outlets have chosen to carry these stories, often with loud, jarring headlines. Some, like the Huffington Post, are now counting a “death toll”. The appeal of such stories is not hard to understand – they are instant click magnets, and put the whole move into real, visceral terms – if a move has resulted in people literally losing their lives, it can’t be any good, can it?
But it’s useful to dive deep into what the numbers really mean. Huffington Post painstakingly compiled a list of 33 reported deaths within the first week of the move. The deaths are a combination of suicides, heart attacks for the elderly, and people who supposedly died while waiting in a bank queue.
While 33 deaths is certainly 33 too many, it’s important to keep in mind how large India really is while parsing these numbers. While demonetization resulted in 33 deaths/week, here are some numbers on how Indians have died across the country last week.
Deaths from road accidents (2,964/week): 1,40,000 Indians died in 2015 in road accidents. That puts the death toll from road accidents in India at 2964 per week, much greater than the 33 people who died in the week following the demonetization plan.
Deaths from suicide (15,342/week): 8,00,000 people commit suicide every year for a wide variety of reasons. That translates into a death toll of 15,342 per week. In comparison, 11 people committed suicide thanks to the demonetization scheme last week.
Deaths from heart disease (20,000/week): India has a growing problem with heart disease. The Times Of India reports that a person dies every 30 seconds from heart disease in the country. That’s equal to 20,000 deaths in a week, much greater than the 8 people died from heart attacks after the demonetization plan was introduced.
Deaths from electrocution (184/week): In 2014, 9606 people died from electric shocks in the country. That translates to a weekly death toll of 184.
Deaths from rabies (383/week): 20,000 people die annually from rabies in India. That’s 383 deaths per week, more than 10 times the deaths attributed to demonetization.
Deaths on the Mumbai local trains (38/week): Forget the entire country – 2000 people die on the Mumbai local train system every year. That’s around the same number of deaths per week that the demonetization scheme has supposedly caused. But these deaths haven’t caused outrage, or headlines in the press. And they haven’t stopped millions of Mumbaikars taking the trains every day.
The demonetization deaths are undoubtedly unfortunate, and the scheme could’ve been implemented better. But stoking indignation by selectively reporting on these deaths is disingenuous and misleading. Most experts agree that the demonetization move will help India in the long run – this is the time for the country to rally together and get through this together, not rely on misplaced statistics to create a false sense of panic.
[The opinions in the article are the author’s own and don’t necessarily represent the views of OfficeChai.]