Inclusive cashlessness? A study of digital transactions in urban street markets in Bangalore
Soumyo Das (International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore)
Paper short abstract:
We research how the 'cashless' economy set up in India post-2016 affects the country's informal sector. Drawing on fieldwork on street markets in Bangalore, we illustrate three forms of injustice - design-related, informational, and economic - experienced by informal sellers in a cashless system.
Paper long abstract:
In November 2016, the Government of India suddenly banned the majority of the nation's banknotes in a move known as 'demonetisation', aimed at combating the diffusion of black money. The move anticipated the Government's shift towards a 'cashless' economy, designed to combat illegal money flows by making transactions traceable through digital technologies. As diffusion of cashless transactions has rapidly increased since 2016, it is important to understand its effects on actors of the informal sector, whose transactions are largely held in cash. To do so we conduct a case study of street markets in Bangalore, characterised by an extant dichotomy between sellers owning digital means of transaction (mainly digital wallets running on smartphones) and sellers not owning them. Our guiding research question is therefore, 'how has cashlessness affected street sellers in Bangalore?' Combining theories of information poverty with emerging theorisations of data justice, we find three forms of injustice experienced by street sellers in the observed context. First, digital wallets are mostly not designed for the basic needs of street sellers, who need immediate notification of transactions and easy-to-use interfaces. Second, knowledge on usability of digital wallets is discontinuous, with street sellers being exposed to incomplete and conflicting sources of information. Third, costs of exclusion from cashless transactions have increased over the last years, with competition from e-marketplaces generating a new important source of economic distress. Based on the empirical account provided, we draw implications for countries with large informal sectors transitioning to cashless economies.