On June 12, 2008, the Reserve Bank of India issued a notification ordering all banks “to ensure that all the banking facilities such as cheque book facility including third party cheques, ATM facility, Net banking facility, locker facility, retail loans, credit cards etc. are invariably offered to the visually challenged without any discrimination. Banks may also advise their branches to render all possible assistance to the visually challenged for availing the various banking facilities.”
Cut to July 2021, thirteen years later. Shobha Kumari, a visually impaired student of Delhi University, living away from her home in Bihar, struggled for four months to get an ATM card issued by a nationalised bank.
Shobha’s parents periodically send her money to manage her hostel and other expenses. In order to avoid making trips to the bank, she decided to get an ATM card. This would enable her to independently withdraw money at any time of the day. But the officials simply denied her this facility on grounds of blindness. They insisted for sighted witnesses to be present for issuance of a debit card to a thumb impression user.
Incidentally, Shobha’s friends who accompanied her were also visually impaired, and they availed all banking facilities from another nationalised bank. When she called Eyeway seeking advocacy intervention, our counselor’s arguments also fell on deaf ears. The bank continued to discriminate despite presenting government issued guidelines in person and in writing. Ultimately, Eyeway escalated the matter to the Grievance Redressal office. This ticked off the local branch officials and they called Shobha to fetch her ATM card.
Except they didn’t activate the card until two of her friends submitted copies of their Aadhar cards. They also forced all of them to sign instead of thumb impression, something they had never done because of vision impairment. Shobha felt harassed and humiliated. But also relieved to go home with an active card. So she decided to settle the matter and not fight further.
Eyeway receives calls from across India throughout the year, where visually impaired citizens are denied banking services on grounds of disability. So many of them have even demonstrated using Internet baking services on their smartphones and laptops using screen readers. Eyeway counselors have tried to educate bank employees about the rights of persons with disabilities as stated in the RPWD Act 2016 as well as in the RBI and IBA circulars. It takes weeks and months to resolve such complaints of discrimination. How can we deny 5.4 million people the basic right to banking in today’s digital economy?