For me, 2019 was a year of many firsts. I travelled to North India, experienced the thrill of bungee jumping, endured real cold climate and most importantly, moved out of my 17-year hostel life.
Moving out of my comfort zone signalled something. A thirst to change the way I live gripped me. A thirst to be independent and confident occupied my mind. For the first time, I was travelling every day to college from my home. I started to make new friends and observe interesting people.
My quest for new experiences and independence did not stop at joining for my post-graduate course in a nearby college. In fact, the quest was just branching out to other areas. Other ways to be a bit more independent.
I was in a new environment; I was experiencing new things, and I was making new friends. But I realized I was not financially independent. In one of my earlier poems, I remember listing an individual bank account as an ambition, a wish.
Technically, I had a bank account with my name in 2019. But it was a joint account with my father. But I wanted to have one of my own. So, I floated this idea to my parents and their immediate reply was unsurprisingly negative. I convinced them to take me to the bank after telling them about net-banking, and the usefulness of accessible apps for managing an account.
We went to our nearby branch of State Bank of India to register for an account. I was excited. We got the form, and filled it out after a while of me anxiously signing my name many times.
We entered the manager’s chamber to submit the filled application. I sensed what I wanted might not happen based on the way he spoke to my father. As soon as he saw the application had my photo, he started screaming at us. He told me that I can’t manage my own bank account. Even after I showed him the rules enforced by the Reserve Bank of India (‘RBI’) to give all banking services to disabled people, he was stubborn in denying something I have the right to have.
His way of addressing me and my parents disturbed me. Being denied something which others get so easily frustrated me. So, I angrily stormed out of the bank. In my mind, I definitely wanted to prove him wrong by opening an individual bank account somewhere.
“You don’t need an account!” “You can use mother’s account for your financial needs!” Those were some of the things I heard from my parents and neighbors. My nature is to prove people wrong. The desire to prove people wrong, coupled with the frustration of being denied something that sighted people easily got pushed me on mentally. My parents also gave in, and started asking around for a suitable bank.
Weeks later, my second attempt started on another disastrous note. The manager was not sure about letting me open an individual account. I gave the same explanation about mobile phones and accessible tech. I also showed him the legal document released by RBI about inclusive banking. Unlike the first manager, he listened to what I said and read what I showed him. He was convinced enough, so he let us fill the form.
A month later, I got my own bank account. I can’t do anything without a debit card, so I applied for one. It took more than 10 months to get my card, which usually takes a month for a sighted person to get. To re-assure my bank manager, I had to write a letter declaring I was mentally fit enough to have my own debit card, and if anything happens, I was the one to blame.
I was frustrated when I was asked to submit the letter. My ego was bruised. But I wanted it badly, I wanted a debit card alongside my own bank account, which is a dream for many visually impaired people in rural places. Last October, I finally got the card I wanted. It was one of the proudest and happiest days of my life. I proved people wrong and got what I wanted.
Though my experience with the banking sector ended the way I wanted, many of my visually impaired friends were not so lucky. One friend of mine almost had her own debit card, when at the last moment the bank manager broke the card after knowing she was blind. Even married men who are employed are denied their basic right to banking.
Even though RBI legally notified all banking service providers to make their services accessible, bank managers and employees are not made aware. The fact that blind people are viewed as objects of pity makes it even worse.
I am an optimist. All the books I read tell me that everyone is equal and anyone can do anything. But, this experience, along with many others have convinced me that all are not equal. Let me know when disabled people get what their abled counterparts get at the same time. Then I’ll think about joining “I’m not different, I’m just like you” bandwagon!