New Delhi: How Mohammad Hanif Mankad manages as India’s only blind bank teller has little to do with the size of the currency notes or the raised symbols on them intended for the sightless.
To keep track of the Rs1-1.5 lakh in transactions he handles every day at the State Bank of India’s main branch in Ahmedabad, he relies on something far less technical: the good old-fashioned hunch.
“A blind man has 10 eyes. Five eyes in each hand. My hands are my eyes. I can’t explain how I know the difference by touch, but I just do.”
Mankad has been dealing with money for the last 16 years and, according to the National Association for the Blind, he is the only blind cashier in India.
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His experience and longevity on the job is noteworthy in a week that, oddly, has seen two actions related to the blind and banking. On Tuesday, a US federal appeals court ruled that dollar bills discriminate against the visually impaired because all are uniform, no matter their denomination. Closer home, the next day, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) asked banks to stop discriminating against the visually challenged and offer all banking facilities to them.
Many banks, says RBI spokesperson Alpana Killawala, allow the visually challenged to open only joint bank accounts.
“What if the person is not married? It’s a draconian law,” says the visually challenged K. Ramkrishna, a general manager at IDBI Bank in Mumbai.
Embossed Currency (Graphic)
The main reason stems from problems identifying signatures. Says C.D. Tamboli, visually impaired himself and the director of education at the National Association for the Blind in New Delhi, “The signatures never tally 100%. Like old times, the banks sometimes insist that one has to come and personally sign in front of the bank manager.”
But Ramkrishna says he has been operating a bank account for 25 years and has never got a signature wrong. “The blind have to practice their signature and be careful when they sign a cheque.”
The fifth sense: Mohammad Hanif Mankad counts currency notes
The court decision could cost the US up to $228 million (Rs975 crore) for new printing presses and plates. Of the 180 countries that issue currency, only the US prints notes of the same colour and size irrespective of the denominations. If the ruling is upheld, it may have to change the currency notes or incorporate symbols that help distinguish the notes.
Despite RBI having different symbols on currency notes to help distinguish them, by the time money passes through a few hands, the notes all start to feel the same. For example, a Rs500 note has a small circle on the left side that is slightly raised. Similarly, a Rs100 note has a rectangle and a Rs50 note has a square. To raise awareness, the central bank has made a short film called “Know your notes” and will put it on the RBI website in a week’s time.
“I get notes in bulk and don’t have time to feel the symbols as they are prominent only in new notes. They wear out with use and the trademark is just useless,” Mankad says.
Most visually challenged people just make out the difference by comparing the size of the currency notes, as the length of the note decreases as the denomination is reduced.
Coins are trickier than even notes to identify. The Re1 coins are softer to touch than the rest of the coins. The Rs2 coin is larger than the Re1 coin; old ones are curved at the edges. Rs5 coins are thicker and have rough edges.
Some banks have made an effort to reach out to the visually challenged, says Tamboli. “Citibank does have a talking ATM in Mumbai that is user-friendly for the blind but that’s just one ATM,” he said.
To operate most ATMs, the visually challenged say they have to take another person’s help and that is dangerous while transacting cash.“The average cost of installing an ATM is Rs2-4 lakh and installing a sound software that will make it visually impaired friendly will be just Rs1 lakh more,” says Ramkrishna.
Cashier Mankad, who lost his eyesight when he was nine years old, says he handles credit cards and cheques with a little help from friends. ” No one can duplicate my signature on the cheque. I know because my friends tell me it’s is very complicated to copy.”