ML walked in with a temper one morning and i was curious... her first grouse was the noise (construction work) in the adjacent building and as she did the dishes, I made breakfast for us all and we continued our general chatter, a daily routine now ! The few weeks that i've known her i've hardly seen her grumble, rather she always has a pleasant and smiling disposition, despite her difficult life[*0].
She spoke about issues pertaining to her children, family, money etc.. which
is how I learnt that she has not opened a bank account, which in-turn got her a
sermon from me. I never can understand why women dont take finance seriously.
AFAIK, the story echo's with many maids working at every indian home and as a
kid i remember my g'ma urging our maid to open an account and learning to use
the government banks facilities, and so save money (atleast some rupees) every
month. Evenso she did not initially but when she wanted to borrow a huge sum of
money for personal reasons[*1], her 4 employers decided that it would be better
to put that money in the bank or the men of the house would fritter away the
money in drinking, gambling or what not.
So although ML does take money seriously, her husband is not an alcoholic and does repay debts, manages to educate the children, she still does _not_ have a bank account which means she does not save money imho. Cant blame her since according to her every penny earned is spent either on husbands health, daily expenses or childrens books/fees[*1],....
Fine ! Great ! BUT what about learning to manage finances? Most women leave the finances to their husbands. Well... one person i know does it all herself, rather her husband and in-laws trust her more than themselves but then such cases are a rarity. The vast majority still leave the decision making to the men (in whose absence they may take a leading decisive role) as far as finance is concerned. She says most women from her community get married at a young age, have kids before they are 18. Her daughter has taken up a summer job for two months as she was worried that keeping the girl at home alone when she went out to work is fraught with risks with too many frisky young boys her age doing nothing in summer. Didnt want her daughter to spoil her life as she has plans to put her through school/university.
Reverting, ML is terrified that they (bank) will ask for minimum INR.1500 as balance but after I explained the options to her she agreed. I promised to help her open a bank account with her daughter's first salary in the hope that she and her daughter learn to use financial services to their advantage.
For women (and some men) like her the fear factor revolves around illiteracy (usually inadequate English knowledge which imho is not illiteracy[*2] but then who can argue with the system), lack of knowledge (of their rights), fear the legal system, and i can go on and on. Is there a parallel financial economy running ...yeah, they are called money lenders and they can charge 40-60 % interest rates for small amounts and usually fool folks into signing away their village property/home or (in the case of women) pawn jewellery, etc.. Most times the interest rates repayment takes a lifetime ensuring that they will never repay the principal amount and forgo everything. Gah... its a pretty slimy industry and the circle of debt for these people just goes on endlessly.
Talking of finance, banking and credit, I am utterly annoyed with a
particular bank which does not understand security in financial applications and insists
of shoving a credit card down your throat. Since the call centre employees are
just doing their job I hear them out each time and decline politely. End of
conversation ! ... or so I thought... apparently, they dont take NO for an
answer and a manager called (as if his team members calling daily wasnt enough)
to say my application was pre-approved... doh, when i did not even apply !? So
now I am supposed to take a pre-approved credit card when i have clearly told
the QA manager that their **employee** was keeping tabs on me, leaking personal
financial information and inshort harassing me. What is the guarantee that he
cant access my credit card number by virtue of being an employee (hence
priviledged) and misuse it - None whatsoever. I just dont trust private banks
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[*0] - Folks who dont fall in the BPL (below poverty line) strata, form a bulk between the lower middle class and the poor, also have a tough life with rising aspirations, desires and needs and wants, albeit a different struggle from the rest around them.
[*1]- The Indian government does not have a social health scheme like many developed nations and the taxpayers money poured into government run schools (including the public education system) is a joke but that is an issue for another blog post.
[*2] - Once an old man in the bank asked my help to write his name on the withdrawal slip (a cash withdrawal instrument used by folks who give a thumb impression as they are unable to sign/write their name -- usually in english -- , or maybe because they dont maintain a minimum balance of INR1500, hence are not given cheque book facility) and i spelt it wrong since Hindi is a phonetic language and English isnt. When his name did not match the entry in the system the bank manager flew into a rage and yelled at him, refusing to accept the withdrawal slip but accepted it when the old man pointed to me (a tale best left for another post). Incidents of public humiliation like that are enough to keep even the most thick-skinned person away.