All this while I was sitting in the car but since the woman didn't have that much money she came to me and asked me whether I could lend her Rs 200. I asked her what was the price being asked and became suspicious. So I got down and went to the merchant and asked him what the prices of the old utensil and the new utensil were per kg and he said Rs 250 and Rs 450 respectively. I did a quick calculation and found that she would have to pay Rs 420 and not Rs 690 and told the merchant as much. He then said that a tax of 12% would apply on the purchase of the new utensil.
This was another red herring because for unbilled transactions throughout india no taxes are paid. Nevertheless I did a net search and found that the VAT in Madhya Pradesh for brass utensils is only 5% and also the price of new brass utensils was only Rs 400 per kg. The merchant then said that the least he could give the utensil for was 600 and the Adivasi woman was ready to give that amount but since she had only Rs 500 she still had to borrow Rs 100 from me. I told her I wasn't going to lend her money so she could get fleeced in this way. She then said that it didn't matter and she would pay Rs 500 and pay the rest Rs 100 later.
With that we parted ways, with her happy with her brass and I going for my steel!!
What I found most crushing is that this woman despite being a member of the sangathan didn't see much point in refusing the deal despite it being unfair and was happy that I had helped her cut back the price by 100 bucks. Indeed for all I know she might even end up paying Rs 690 in the end. I didn't ask but probably the merchant was her moneylender also and she wouldn't like to rub him the wrong way.
There is also a special history of the sangathan in this area. There was a militant movement in in the late 1990s and early 2000s against the moneylender merchants and the oppressive state bureaucracy that was crushed by the state with the use of force in 2001. So now only a few diehard people still retain their militancy and most, like this woman, have decided to go along with their exploitation. I too lack the enthusiasm and energy that I had a decade and a half earlier to fight the state and the ruling class full tilt!!
This is an instance of primitive accumulation, the only concept that is not teleological or not lacking in empirical validity and so not scientistic, of all that Marx has written in Das Kapital. Plain cheating, in simple terms, which has become the mainstay of capitalist accumulation and extends to even the literate consumers and not just this non-literate Adivasi woman!! After all no one asks why an I Phone costs the earth and instead queues up to buy one!!