Banging on the Door of Banks: An Experience of a Visually Disabled Person
Author: Masoom Reza | Contact: Disabled World (Disabled-World.com)
Synopsis: Masoom Reza, a final year law student at Jamia Millia Islamia, writes on his experience as a visually disabled person trying to open a bank account. What I wanted to highlight through this anecdote is that unfortunately every visually disabled Tom, Dick, and Harry has similar countless stories. Masoom Reza is a final year law student at Jamia Millia Islamia. He is also the cofounder of Lex Lexicon Journal and the first fellow of Javed Abidi Foundation.
I along with my brother reached the reputed bank of the country, the State Bank of India. The shiny glass door of the bank is glittering like a twinkle bulb. We directly walked towards the reception counter and asked for the bank account opening form. I had to open a bank account to receive the Toppers Scholarship awarded by my college.
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A person, sitting in a black shirt with white formal trousers, gave us a blank form. We duly filled the form and attached the required documents. Thereafter, my brother went to the counter to submit the form.
Understanding that it might take a bit of time, I put my earplugs on to listen to music. I all of a sudden recalled 7 years old memory. When I was in class 10, I went to the branches of the Access Bank and the SBI and they refused to open my account citing the reason that I am a blind person. At that time, neither I nor my parents were aware of the laws, so we returned home cursing them and the system. Interestingly, I had already an account in the United Bank of India (later merged in Panjab National Bank) opened by my school which helped me a lot.
After 15 minutes, my brother came and dismally said that the person sitting on the counter was contending that they could not open an account for a blind person. I whispered in my mind "what the hell! Again the same story". I said while standing, "Take me there Shoaib Bhaiya".
I held his hand and reached to the counter making a marrow passage in the crowd. "We don't open accounts for blinds". The person said seeing me standing closed to the counter before I would have asked anything.
"But why?" I inquired.
"Blinds can't manage the accounts. How come they know how to withdraw and how to operate the account? 'Unhe Kuch Pata Nhi Chalta Hai'. So, we can not open their accounts." He replied indifferently.
I countered, "how do you come to this conclusion that they can't manage the account? On what ground, you are refusing to open my account? Could you please show me any rules/regulations for the same? I know that the Reserve Bank Circular Related to Banking facilities for visually challenged/ persons with disabilities mandates all banks to provide all banking services to a person with visual disability. You can't refuse to open my account."
"I know very well, banking rules can't allow a blind person to open an account," he uninterestedly responded while giving forms to people who were standing there.
"I have already an account in Panjab National Bank. How can you say that bank rules do not permit opening an account for a blind person?" I countered.
"That is opened wrongly. The person discreetly counteracted. "I will show you the SBI rule. We can't give you access as per the rule." He continued adamantly.
"All banks are governed by the rules of RBI and your bank is no exception to this," I stated in firm voice. Since I was certain that there is no such rule at all, I asked him "Ok, do show me the rule. I would abide by your words and will go back."
"I will show you. It'll take 2 days because I have to find out. So, do come here the day after tomorrow." He vaguely replied.
Understanding that he just wanted to put off the issue, I furiously retorted "I have come today. I won't come over and again. Do show me now. It's an era of computers and Internet, you must search and show me now." This time, I felt that I hit the nail and he was completely clueless. His voice turned more polite and he said, "please wait a while. I'll let you know."
We sluggishly moved towards the waiting hall and resentfully sat there. I was disappointed that the situation is not changed even a bit. If persons with disabilities are not fully aware of their rights, they will be deprived of many basic facilities. Each time, they have to fight to get even small things done. The ignorance of people holding a post is fatal. The main reason for my irritation was that due to their ignorance, it's me who has to suffer. The need is that the government officials should create an accessible and barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities. But in reality, most of the government officials create more and more huddles.
While these thoughts were randomly coming into my mind, a stranger, sitting beside me, gently touched my palm and said, "You spoke very well in front of the counter. They indeed procrastinate a lot. I've been coming here for 3 days, but they are not doing my work. And yes, I am very happy to see you asserting your right so emphatically." He further continued "You know, when you were speaking there in English, the person was gasped. He was gazing at you without blinking his eyes."
"Thank you, uncle. I know they are wrong still, they are denying me to open my account. I'll not let them go. They have to open my account anyhow." I humbly said.
After 20-25 minutes, we went to the counter. The person saw us and asked to meet the bank manager. The cabin of the manager is next to the counter. We knocked at the glass door and entered the room. It had 3 tables and a desk in all the corners. A person, aged around 45-50 years, was sitting in an armed chair wearing a navy blue shirt with grey trousers. He had been already informed about my issue.
"Sir, I have to open an account," I put forward my concern politely.
The manager carelessly said, "OK wait. If the accounts would be opened for blinds, we'll also open." He began flipping through some papers. After few minutes, he looked at us and maintained, "We can't open the account."
"But as per RBI circular and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, you have to open my account, sir." I retorted.
"No, just show me any SBI circular." The manager insisted.
"But, RBI is a governing bank, it will release circulars for all the banks and they have to follow the same." I tried to convince.
"Mister, you don't understand the laws. I require an SBI circular, show me that one." He reiterated.
"Sir, I'm a law student. I guess I know more about law than you. Please, do show me any SBI circular in which it is stated that the bank will not allow a person with blindness to open an account." I annoyingly responded.
After searching for something for a couple of minutes on his computer, he said "OK, we'll allow you to open an account, but it will be a joint account."
"Joint Account? Why?" I asked worriedly. "No sir, I require a separate account." I said trying to be calm.
He narrated the same story that blind persons can't handle their accounts properly. They require a manager. The joint account will be in favor of them and so on. In short, my will, preferences, and agency are undermined in the guise of self-styled 'best interest'.
I emphatically reiterated "I need a separate bank account. Please show me any rule refusing opening an individual bank account".
Realizing that I would not give up easily, the manager replied while looking at his watch, "Ok, please wait in the lounge and I'll update you".
I was again on the same chair in the waiting hall. Angrily scratching the armrest, I was thinking about the whole development. The conundrum is that they are neither showing me any rule in support of their claim nor ready to accept the RBI circular. I was pondering that if they will not open my account, I will file a complaint in the Chief Commission of Persons with Disability against them.
After 1 hour, the manager called us and said, "We'll open your account. But..."
I thought "what the hell! Again but." I impatiently asked, "what but?"
"As you don't sign and put a thumb impression in the place of a signature, therefore your Illiterate Savings account will be open." He answered while putting some files in the table drawer. To put it simply, my account will be opened but I will not be given the facilities such as ATM and Net Banking ETC. Isn't it ironic? Net Banking and ATM are very necessary facilities and for a person with a visual disability, it is even more significant because they can easily access their account without going to the bank avoiding the inaccessibility issues and mobility challenges.
"Then what is the benefit of opening an account? If you'll not give me the necessary facilities." I anxiously questioned. "Sir, I need full facilities. Nothing less than that." I confidently completed my sentence. "If you put thumb impression, so you will get only this otherwise you have to sign. I can't do anything." He echoed.
"But I can't sign and always do LTI." I told having a questioning look on my face.
"In such a case, we won't give you the access." He remained cold.
I thought enough is enough. I went outside his cabin. I asked my brother to write an application regarding opening a new account and quickly returned to the manager-cabin. While giving him the paper, I said "Sir, this is my application regarding opening the account. Please give me in writing that you will not open my account with full services. Thereafter, I'll see what needs to be done. I'll surely file a complaint against you."
He looked at the application over and over. "Ok, No problem. I can give you in writing because our rules don't allow opening the account," he maintained although unconfidently.
He asked us to wait outside. We all know that government officials can drag your work, delay your files, and even refuse to do the required the task, but when it comes to giving anything in writing, they take a backseat. I could feel the same hesitance in his voice too. We came back to the waiting hall. It had become very crowded. I said to my brother that if he will give in writing, I will file a complaint against the officials of this branch. Although, somewhere I was thinking that if my account would not be open, the things will be difficult. If I file a complaint, it will surely take months to resolve the issue.
While sitting in the waiting hall, I called one of my school seniors, who is also a person with visual disability and working in SBI. I narrated him the entire event. He also emphasized that they have to open the account and also sent me the SBI guidelines related to ATM and Net-banking facilities given to visually impaired persons. After half an hour, we entered the manager-cabin and asked him to check out the documents sent by my friend.
He said "Send these files to my official E-mail I'd. I'll see." After a pause, he continued "I have to verify all the rules and confirm with my seniors. So, it'll be better that you would come tomorrow."
I was not in a mood to postpone but we had to go to another place as well. In the whole debate and discussion, we have already spent 4-5 hours.
"Ok, sir. We'll come tomorrow in the morning and please have my file ready." I said feeling very low.
"Ok, I'll check. As per my knowledge, all the facilities can't be given. I'll tell you." He maintained his position unbendingly.
"You should cross-check. I'm sure that you are wrong and I'm hopeful that my account will be opened." I boldly answered and came out from the bank.
We moved towards the rickshaw stand like a defeated soldier. There was an awkward silence between us. I guess the recap of the previous events is going on in our minds. Before getting into the auto-rickshaw, we bought a water bottle to quench our thirst. Despite being right I was feeling helpless and clueless. Only because of me the entire day of my brother remained engaged. The work which was supposed to take one hour would take two days. Looking towards the setting sun, I tried to forget all the things with the increasing speed of auto-rickshaw.
The next day, at sharp 10.30 pm we were at the entry door of the bank which was beautifully glimmering in the sunlight. We rushed towards Manager Cabin. While seeing us coming, the manager chuckled and wore his old-fashioned spectacles. We greeted him and sat in front of the modern Sheesham wood cornered table. The manager opened a drawer and take out several files.
He gave me my duly filled form and courteously said "give this to the counter and initiate your account opening process."
I took a heave of sigh and walked out of the cabin victoriously. I handed over the forms on the counter.
The person curiously asked, "Has the manager Sahab given the permission?" Noticing our nod, he quietly started the remaining procedures. After online registration, doing Know-Your-Customer (KYC), and printing of the Passbook, the file again went to the manager cabin for the final verification. Skimming through the documents, he said "We are opening your account. But we are still not sure about the rules."
"Sir, I don't know about your rules but yes I am sure about my rights." I replied boldly. Then formally thanking him, I finally exited from the bank holding the Passbook as though a winning medal.
You might be thinking such a small event and why am I presenting it as a great victory? Because what I got after investing 2 days and putting so much effort is a cake-walk for many non-disabled persons. Isn't it? I guess 'disability paradox!!!'
Actually, what I wanted to highlight through this anecdote is that unfortunately every visually disabled Tom, Dick, and Harry has similar countless stories. The need of the hour is to ask and decode "why" and "till when." My answer lies in the womb of 'education, awareness, and interaction'. And what's yours? Let's add one or two more and make every effort to achieve them.
About the Author:
Masoom Reza is a final year law student at Jamia Millia Islamia. He is also the cofounder of Lex Lexicon Journal and the first fellow of Javed Abidi Foundation.
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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Masoom Reza. Electronic Publication Date: 2021-07-12. Title: Banging on the Door of Banks: An Experience of a Visually Disabled Person, Source: <a href=https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/blogs/blind-banks.php>Banging on the Door of Banks: An Experience of a Visually Disabled Person</a>. Retrieved 2021-07-27, from https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/blogs/blind-banks.php - Reference: DW#322-13996.