Black MoneyIn November 2016 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement that declared 86% of all cash in circulation null and void.
What followed was three months of chaos and instability as 1.3 billion people struggled to cope with an outright economic emergency and the government's poorly planned and lethargic response to resolve the crisis.
Black MoneyAn autorickshaw driver displays a wad of 500 rupee notes, made nearly worthless when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared 500 and 1000 Rs notes illegal overnight.
The demonetization scheme was aimed at reigning in vast caches of untaxable cash, so-called "black money" and modernizing the Indian economy by encouraging citizens to embrace cashless transactions.
Black MoneyWith 86% of the cash in circulation rendered useless, life became extremely difficult for the majority of Indian citizens. In a predominantly cash-based economy, many had to make the daily choice of working or waiting in long lines at banks to exchange their old bills, subject to a daily deposit limit.
"My wife and I wait in line at the bank eight hours per day [to exchange our old bills]. We have money, but we cannot use it. We have no cash to buy food or tea for the day," one man said.
Hours spent in the queue at the few stocked ATMs were often wasted when the machines ran out of cash or broke from overuse, often inciting emotional and violent scenes at banks across the nation.
Black MoneyThe new normal: ATMs broken or out of service. In second- and third-tier cities it was common for only one or two ATMs to be restocked with cash, the supply lasting only a few hours per day. Some towns were completely without new cash infusion for weeks on end due to the shortage crisis.
For over one month, customers were subject to a withdrawal limit of one 2000 rupee note per day (about $30 USD). Since the next largest denomination was the highly in-demand 100 Rs note (about $1.50 USD), 2000 Rs notes were almost impossible to use due to scarcity of change.
Black MoneyAt the few places where new notes were being stocked, lines at banks and ATMs stretched down the block at all hours of the day and night.
For two months following the demonetization, the daily withdrawal limit at ATMs was 2000 Rs (about $30 USD), requiring people to queue frequently to obtain the money they needed to survive day to day.
The ban affected Indians from all socioeconomic classes and some proponents of the measure even praised the momentary national unity it caused:
"We are happy because now the rich people are also in the queue. They used to sit in the AC with a glass of wine and now they are out on the street waiting with the rest of us."
Black MoneyA blacksmith squats on the side of the road, pounding out knives in a tiny, hand-powered forge.
The hardest hit in the currency crisis were the working class and poor, already precariously eeking out a living on next to nothing.
Black MoneyA child navigates the labyrinthine passages of Dharavi slum, India.
Dharavi slum, in the heart of Mumbai, is home to more than one million people in less than a single square mile (2.59 sq. km). Its residents live in unfathomable housing conditions, a sacrifice made by poor migrants seeking employment opportunities in India's economic hub and most expensive city.
Dark, claustrophobic alleyways with exposed electrical wires (hazardous when monsoon rains flood the slum) connect one room shanty dwellings stacked three units high. Stale, hot air is filled with the stench of rotting garbage and open sewers.
Despite the health hazards and lack of space and privacy, the residents of India's largest slum take immense pride in their work and ability to save money to send back to family in their villages.
Black MoneyDharavi is home to several thriving cottage industries, a legitimate micro-economy valued at over $1 billion annually. The largest of these is recycling.
Workers collect, sort, clean, chop up, and melt down recycled plastic into sheets, then sell the raw materials back to big manufacturers.
The demonetization and ensuing crisis was especially difficult for informal, cash-based economies such as those that operate in Dharavi and similar slums.
Black MoneyUnable to exchange old bills at the overwhelmed banks and blindsided by the sudden cash shortage, India's poor were the hardest hit by the demonetization and the resulting cash shortage, which continued for months following the announcement.
In a country where over 90% of all consumer payments are made in cash, many Indians do not have credit cards or even a bank account. A lack of cash flow can mean life and death on the streets and remote areas.