I see Arti every morning. Draped neatly in a sari, a bag around her arm, she walks in long, purposeful strides. We know each other fairly well; around the time I wait with my daughter for her school bus to arrive, she walks past us to go to her job as a domestic help at a building nearby. She often helps me out when my own domestic help goes to meet her family in rural Maharashtra. Last week, she told me, she got paid for one year—Rs72,000, in old money. It was her employer’s way of using old cash . It has left the woman distressed. She has a bank account and an Aadhaar card, but uppermost in her mind right now is to get new currency for the Rs72,000. “Why don’t you deposit it in your bank account?” I asked. “No, I want the money with me. The ATM card is with my husband. I don’t trust him,” she replied.
It was an eye-opener.
My domestic help, Savitri Aherkar, around 30, is single. She is stubborn, funny and remarkably tough—she has funded her own treatment for a long illness without her family’s help, she saves for her nephews and nieces, has the stamina of a body-builder and never complains about her hard life. I have been giving her Rs100 notes ever since demonetization began. Why was I doing that? She has a bank account and an Aadhaar card too. I asked her how she uses her debit card. “My card is with my brother,” she said. “I don’t use it.”
Here was my chance. After a long conversation, I convinced her to carry her card with her the next day. She bought something in a shop with the card for the first time. She is semi-literate and can write her own name and signature in Marathi and English. “Itna easy,” she exclaimed.
For our domestic help and others who help us every day by driving, cooking and cleaning, demonetization has been tough. They feel insecure. The PSU banks they go to have not taught them how to do bank transactions or use their cards. Last year, somebody pretending to be from her bank called Savitri and asked for her account number. The bank had not told her she shouldn’t be sharing her account details with anyone. She lost savings of Rs50,000. She and I visited the bank a few times, wrote to the chairman of the bank where she has a account, but nothing happened. It was her mistake, and it made her more wary of digital banking.
We owe it to our domestic help, especially the women who often don’t have financial power despite earning their own money, to help them change with the times. Savitri says she will put her card to use. I will transfer at least some part of her salary to her account and show her how that is done.
If Savitri is afraid of banks, how good can the PM’s demonetization drive be?