A domestic worker’s travails when exercising her right to have a bank account show the unsympathetic attitude of the bank staff and deficiency in service
Was technology meant to simplify governance or complicate it? Maybe it simplifies some things for the government and other agencies, but it only adds an extra page of photocopy to a citizen’s set of documents when trying to avail any services.
This is the story of Jyoti — a young woman in her early 20s — and her struggle to get banking services. She works as a domestic help, earns just about Rs 8,000 a month and wanted to get a savings account with an ATM-cum-debit card and a cheque book to make formal payments when necessary.
Jyoti lives in a notified slum area in Mumbai with her mother’s family and her husband. She has an Aadhaar card, a voter’s ID and a PAN card. Her household also has an LPG cylinder connection in her mother’s name. They don’t have a BPL certificate, but own a ration card.
Aadhaar, Voter ID, PAN and Still No Proof of Address
Though she has attended school till the eighth standard, Jyoti was unable to fill the bank account form. That is when she asked me to help her. She signs her name in the Devanagri script and can read some English. She is also able to use a smartphone and social media texting services. But when it comes to filling a bank account form, even the people with the highest degrees get confused and have to seek help from the bank staff. So, I helped her fill her name, address and KYC details. She just signed the form.
I realised that the bank, one of the state nationalised banks, requires a minimum balance of Rs 1,500. I thought it may be too much for her to maintain, and suggested that she opt for a zero-balance account. She said she had no faith in that service. She already had that account, but was told that a charge will be deducted from the savings. No one from her residential community uses those accounts for fear of losing money to bank charges!
After I helped her fill the bank form, she asked me to accompany her as if she was asked to make corrections in her form, she would not have been able to do it.
Jyoti took all photocopies and original documents with her. At the bank, while verifying the documents, the staff asked her the weirdest question: “Do you live at the same address?” I was baffled, because she had an Aadhaar card and a voter ID card with the same address. A government notified slum doesn’t have numbered houses. While checking the column for a cheque book, I did ask her if a postman visited her locality because banks deliver cheque books via post to your house. She said yes, and she told me that she got the Aadhaar card and the PAN card delivered to her via post. And then I realised that her family had an LPG connection too.
The bank officials were not convinced. They wanted further address proof.
When I apply for any services, I also have to submit my latest electricity bill as address proof and a copy of my legal rent agreement. And that is because I had my documents made when I lived with my parents. And I have been a migratory student/ worker doing temporary jobs and field-work over the past seven years.
Jyoti had got an electricity connection in her slum a few months ago. But when the connection started working, her community felt that the installation charges were too high. So they gave up the connections collectively. They have some kind of an arrangement where they get electricity through a common connection and pay a fixed monthly charge. But their households don’t have electricity metres like ours.
No electricity bill meant no proof that she lived at the same address that her Aadhaar card showed! So now she had to get a written proof from a local corporator — nagar sewak –– elected from her slum, that she indeed lived at the same address. It took her another week to get the letter.
She finally submitted her complete application form, with all documents attached. It only took her two weeks and five sets of documents to prove her existence!
Why do you need a cheque book?
I went to the bank with her each time. I also showed her how to keep a track of her account through the texts the bank sends. She was very happy when the bank notified that her account was started with R2,000.
Once the account starts, the bank issues the passbook. This is when one can request other services. I went with Jyoti to the bank to show her how to make deposits and how to get her passbook updated. Now she was supposed to fill additional requisition forms for an ATM-cum-debit card and a cheque book. I helped her fill both. This time again the bank officer asked Jyoti if she actually lived at the address she has provided. I think this poses a big question mark on the governance mechanisms in the age of biometric identity proof. I thought the bank officers were only doing their duty by verifying. But then he asked her the most ridiculous question, “Why do you need a cheque book?” I think as a customer of the bank she has the right to avail every service.
The bank issued her an ATM card and notified it to her through a text message. This was the first time Jyoti went all by herself to the bank to pick it up. Later, she asked me impart some bank literacy and show her how the ATM worked. I also impressed on her that no matter what, she must not to divulge her bank details to anyone. I even warned her against the fake calls seeking banking information.
In the coming week, Jyoti also showed me the bank’s text message about her cheque book. I told her to either take leave to stay home to receive the delivery or to inform her neighbours or anyone else at home to be present to receive it. But she kept telling me each day that no mail came for her. When two weeks passed, she showed me the text. I realised it had the post tracking details. I looked up the e-tracking and records showed that a delivery was attempted at her place three times — and a note was left for her to collect the packet from the post office. Tough, she confirmed that no one from the post office visited her home.
Finally, we went to the bank again. This time the bank officials blamed her for providing a wrong address and refused to give her the cheque book. They again asked her, “Why do you need a cheque book?” I had to intervene. I saw in their ledger that they had received her mail back and yet, they asked her to come after two-three days to get her cheque book.
Jyoti told me she bumped into the postman in her area some weeks ago. When she asked him about her parcel, he just smirked.