The 25 Paisa is dead. 50 Paisa, you're next

In the 1980s, the five paise had already vanished from the cities and its purchasing power in villages was shrinking fast due to runaway inflation. Today, the 50 paise coin finds itself in the same situation.

S Srinivasan April 15, 2011 10:09:50 IST
The 25 Paisa is dead. 50 Paisa, you're next

We all know people kill for money. But what is the least amount of money that a man will kill for?

The 25 Paisa is dead 50 Paisa youre next

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

I have been bugged by this question since my teenage years when I read a news story from the southern part of Tamil Nadu, the state's bimaru region, about the murder of a young man over five paise. There was this guy who went to a teashop in a neighbouring village that happened to have people of a caste different from his own. He had his tea and paid five paise less than its price. He also shouted at the shop owner when asked for the money. The tea maker told his villagers about the dispute and the young man marshaled his own troops. It led to a full-fledged caste conflict in which the tea drinker was dispatched to eternity.

I remember that when I sought to discuss the futility of killing people over a mere five paise, my elders told me great many murders had been carried out for much lesser sums in the past! And that's what got me thinking about the least common monetary incentive for murder.

The answer, it seems, depends on the ravages of inflation. Soon after the aforesaid murder, the five paise coin went out of use and the Reserve Bank of India retired it (The RBI always waits for everybody else to stop using a coin before it does so). There has never been a murder for five paise after that even though richer sums such as 10 paise, 20 paise or 25 paise continued to invoke the passions of the criminal brotherhood.

In January this year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced that the 25 paise coin would cease to be legal tender on July 1, 2011. That would leave the 50 paise coin as the minimum legal tender and the lone representative of the sub-one-rupee coin family.

Now, the 25 paise had been out of use for a long, long time. Let us just say that it was pre-Facebook currency. But even 50 paise is practically extinct. When is the last time you paid or accepted a 50 paise coin? It is very clear that the RBI will have to consign this coin, too, to the vaults of history. In fact, the Press Trust of India reported last year that the RBI was not ordering any more minting of 50 paise.

Back to our little question about the connection between money and murder. Weeks after the RBI announcement, a murder took place in Rampur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. This time, it was over a sachet of gutkha, the chewed tobacco mix that has paraffin among its flavours. And wonder of wonders, it was over a young man’s refusal to pay, exactly, 50 paise. In other details, it was an eerie replay of the five-paise murder.

In the 1980s, the five paise had already vanished from the cities and its purchasing power in villages was shrinking fast due to runaway inflation. Today, the 50 paise coin finds itself in the same situation.

So, the answer to my question is becoming clearer. Man will kill for minimum legal tender. Even if it is rapidly falling out of use.

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