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Why This ‘New’ Axis Bank Policy For Same Sex Couples In India Is Not Quite Enough For Real Change

On the 3rd anniversary of overturning Section 377, Axis bank announced a 'new' policy for same sex couples. But is it just more of marketing hogwash?

On the 3rd anniversary of overturning Section 377, Axis bank announced a ‘new’ policy for same sex couples. But is it just more of marketing hogwash?

On September 6th, Axis Bank announced their new policy ‘Come As You Are’ to make their practices “inclusive of queer employees and customers.”

Calling it #DilSeOpen, this is aimed at diversity, equity and inclusion. For their employees, they promise to acknowledge diverse gender identities and gender expressions through one’s choice of clothes, the right to use the restroom of their choice, and have also begun initiating all gender restrooms. The new policies also lets employees list their partners irrespective of gender, sex and marital status for Mediclaim benefits.

In addition to these, there are some other policy decisions aimed at the queer customers. Two of their major policies being rolled out that have caught the attention of the people is the option to open a joint account with your same sex partner and the option to make your same sex partner the nominee in your Savings or Term Deposit Account. These policy decisions, along with others like the option to us Mx. as a title for gender nonconforming, nonbinary and trans individuals, would become effective from 20th of September.

Are these ‘new’ options for customers?

While the first reaction to someone not closely acquainted with the banking system might be to applaud this new policy decision to let same sex couples open joint bank accounts, or make their partners a nominee, while the state continues to treat queer people as second class citizens. But this option is not new.

The banking system already allows you to open a joint account with any person of your choice. No requirement of proof of family or marriage is not necessary. You can open a joint account with your friend, with your partner irrespective of their gender and your marital status, with your family members, adult children, business partners or any other person. The bank does not require you to share your personal details, as long as you can fulfill their KYC requirements.

Then why does Axis Bank make it seem like this is a new idea?

While the provisions were not lacking, the actual banking process is conducted by elements of the patriarchal society that continue to pose hindrances. Instances abound where an unmarried couple or a same sex couple have been subjected to intrusive questions and comments from the bank authorities.

Legally, one has every right to open an account with anyone at all, but in real life, the road is littered with hurdles posed by nosy bankers, who feel they are entitled to know personal details about your marital status, or pass moral judgements about ‘lack of commitment’ in various kinds of relationships. So a reiteration of their commitment to inclusivity is never uncalled for.

The significant part of this is the fact that Axis Bank’s mention of same sex couples. In an environment that largely invisibilises and marginalises queer identities, any discussion initiated that speaks for inclusion would have been a nice gesture, if it wasn’t capitalising on the lived realities of marginalised queer lives.

Not all it seems

Therefore, this should not be looked at uncritically, even if prominent queer activists like Harish Iyer have been involved in the shaping of these policies.

As one twitter user puts the question, will Axis bank extend the right to apply for home loans to queer coupes, too? That could have been a sign of real progress and inclusivity.

Packaging existing provisions in the language of queerness is not woke or progressive. The queer community have had to deal with enough pinkwashing and rainbow capitalism as it is to be able to differentiate between performative wokeness of corporations and actual allyship.

Queer people’s struggle for equal civil rights

A lot of civil liberties that a cisgender heterosexual person takes for granted is unavailable to the queer population. While marriage equality may not be the next logical step after decriminalisation of Section 377 for consenting adults, legal marriage does bestow a lot of privileges on the spouses that are simply out of the reach of queer couples. From inheritance rights to the space to make decisions on behalf of an hospitalised partner, basic civil rights are denied to the queer community. 

In an environment like this, banking corporations like AXIS bank repackaging existing provisions on the 3rd anniversary of decriminalisation of Section 377 for consenting adults to appear inclusive is a cruel tactic played at the expense of the queer community. Same sex couples and trans and nonbinary individuals deserve actual progressive policies that would acknowledge their identities and needs, and not be simply hogwash aimed at gathering some woke brownie points.

Image source: a still from web series A Married Woman

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About the Author

Kamalika

An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy read more...

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