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While digitisation has revolutionised things, it enables abuse in relationships, putting women at a disadvantage, as all their shopping behaviour can be tracked by controlling husbands.
I was speaking to an Aunt over the phone but after a point, she seemed quite distracted. When I asked her if she was busy and wanted to disconnect the call, she sighed and agreed. Later, she called me back and apologized for cutting short our conversation. She mentioned that she had been having an argument with my Uncle over a saree that she had purchased. He felt it was squandering of his wealth and she felt it was worth the money because of its unique design. Moreover, it had been a good while since she had last bought anything for herself, as lately it had always been about shopping for children and grandchildren.
“You know I would not have even told him about it and he would never have even realized that I have a new saree in the closet. But, thanks to the SMS that he receives immediately after the online payment, I had no choice but to tell him.”
Over the last decade, digitization has taken over our lives in many spheres. Technology as well as Government’s initiatives towards a digital India are leading to the augmentation of the use of digital payments, be it the now popular mobile wallet options or the conventional account transfers and debit/credit cards. “Digital” is the way forward but this revolution is a double-edged sword.
The pros of digitization are known to all and sundry, but there is another side to all this hoopla which is mostly overlooked. In one of my previous posts on insidious violence and emotional abuse in a marriage, I talked about women who face financial abuse from their husbands and need to justify every penny spent to them. In such cases, digital payments affect the way women shop adversely.
29-year-old Rimi Sen is an entrepreneur who runs a small scale business from home. Her husband is the primary breadwinner of the family and calls the shots when it comes to the finances, though the overall contribution of both of them is equal towards the household. She lives in a patriarchal set-up and often feels suffocated because of being controlled by family members.
“My husband insists that I use his add-on card for all my purchases. Because of this, he has a record of my occasional shopping escapades and he scrutinizes every rupee I spend. If he thinks that a particular purchase is a waste of money, I am ridiculed for my carelessness. My opinion doesn’t matter. For me, shopping is therapeutic and sometimes, whenever I feel like escaping the confines of my home, I like to visit a mall and buy something nice and simple for myself. Earlier, I used to try to hide and save some cash from the monthly budget, but now due to digitization, we hardly have cash at home. My husband also keeps checking the financial records of my small scale business and hence, I have little control over the money earned by my own blood and sweat. If I bring this up with him or my in-laws, I am told that I am fortunate to have a generous husband who, unlike many others, at least gives me an add-on card which is apparently mine.”, she confesses, clearly sounding miserable.
This is probably the unfortunate and harsh reality of many households and the effects of financial abuse are more devastating than one would imagine. Often, the victims end up feeling incompetent, inferior and unsure of themselves, and they also become vulnerable to more dangerous forms of abuse and violence.
39-year-old Shruti Makad is a housewife and admits to being caught in a vicious circle. She was never a compulsive or impulsive shopper but the financial control on her pushed her to the brink and she started resorting to shopping to pamper herself, something she missed sorely in all the relationships of her life.
“I was just getting fed up of giving an account of every rupee to my husband and in-laws. I have had a tumultuous relationship even with my parents since childhood. I did not even realize when I started shopping frequently in my quest for feeling loved. Digital payments were not possible for me as I was scared of my husband’s wrath. So I began to take help from a close friend. I would ask her to buy on my behalf and would pay her in cash in instalments as and when I got hold of some. All this affected me a lot mentally and I had to begin therapy.”
Unlike popular notion, it is not just the housewives or the lesser earning women who face the brunt of digitization but digital payments affect the way women shop even in case of those in high profile, well paying jobs.
Sameera Shah is a freelance journalist and comes across as a fiercely independent and strong woman. She is respected by many for her inspiring work, but her personal experience brings to fore a part of her life which seldom is acknowledged by anyone. A victim of gaslighting and insidious violence, she has been recently diagnosed with high functioning depression and is on medication. She opened up about the abuse she has been facing since years and the double standards of her husband when it comes to spending. Every financial decision made by her is criticized by him and this reduces her freedom to spend at will.
“Any significant purchase made using my own hard earned money becomes an issue as it is the ‘family money’. Even if I gift him something from ‘my’ money, it is always faced with disparagement and I’m questioned about the necessity of every purchase. However, if he buys something expensive which I feel can be avoided, he blows up a fuse and blames me for opposing his decision just for the sake of it, saying that I was ‘creating trouble just because he wanted to get it’, while he would have issues with my wanting to get anything. He is of the opinion that he has ‘given’ me the freedom to shop using an add-on card which many husbands deprive their wives of. He keeps testing me on my ability to make important financial decisions. All this has contributed to my current health condition.”
45-year-old Hema Das also shares a similar story of obsessive financial control which she believes had aggravated in the digitization era and drastically impacted her knack and enthusiasm to shop.
“My former husband would not let me shop using anything except the add-on card given by him or bank transfer using our joint accounts. The moment he felt that any bill amount was slightly more than what he would have liked, he would check the receipts in detail. I was questioned for even buying a certain brand of shampoo as it was more expensive than another brand which wasn’t available. This minute scrutiny of all expenditures affected me so much that I was constantly so wary about even opening my wallet anywhere. I would always think about what he would say, even before buying a Bindi packet worth ten rupees.”
Last year, Hema Das found the strength to walk out of her abusive marriage and currently, she lives with her mother and her daughter. Though she now has complete liberty to take decisions about all the financial aspects of her life, she still feels hesitant because her confidence was severely marred at the hands of her ex-husband.
36-year-old Rashmi Srivastava, a Banker and a Certified Zumba Instructor, feels quite positive about cashless transactions. She believes that mobile wallets have the potential to give more agency to women and empower them because compared to a card or account transfer, these payment options give more privacy, sense of ownership and flexibility.
At times, digital payments affect the way women shop by making the shopaholics addicted to it. This can lead to superfluous purchases from time to time and can also disrupt the budgets set by a family for their expenses. Maneet Gulati, a 38–year-old blogger, concurs and shares how she began to consciously keep a check on herself to avoid going overboard.
Digitization can be both a boon and bane depending on one’s situation. Digital payments affect the way women shop in multiple ways and we all, with our varied experiences, find a place at different spots in this wide spectrum.
Image source: YouTube
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I did my engineering in computer Science and went on to do MBA in systems
This is a very dicey issue, and to be very frank it is for the women to take charge. There is a huge emotional gredient and drama attached to the money factor. We need to look into it.
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