Budget 2013-14: What’s in there for women?

1 March 2013 | Shruti Kohli | NEW DELHI


Women are the focus of the budget this year. Good! But women are so used to attention that they tend to get choosy about which attention they would allow to woo them. The finance minister has made two very significant announcements in the current budget. One is to set up an all-women bank where the staff will comprise only of women and they will cater to only female customers. He says that the reason behind such a proposal is that female customers are sidelined in banks and men get priority in transactions like borrowing etc.


Well, I wonder how will setting up this bank help women get priority in transactions? The finance minister would do well to spend the R1,000 crore of allocation to train his existing banking staff so as they don’t sideline the women customers.


The other announcement is of the Nirbhaya fund for the safety of women. Again, the existing policemen and women can well be trained to shed their apathy when it comes to dealing with issues that concern women like sexual harassment.This fund is also getting R1,000 crore. Huge money! Well, so much to for their reaction to the ongoing protests which started after the gang rape and murder of a young student in Delhi on 16 Dec.


Both are very populist gestures in an election year. But if they seriously want to make it a success, they need to do some real groundwork. To begin with, how can the finance minister be so sure that having a female staff deal with female customers make things easy?


Consider this. Last year, my mother went to this public sector bank where she has had an account for a very long time. As she extended her passbook to get it updated, the lady behind the glass partition snatched it from her hand and after opening it roughly, told her, “Why don’t you all listen when you are told something? Why haven’t you pasted your photograph here yet?” My mother was taken aback for obvious reasons and also because she couldn’t have pasted the photo already as she had just received her new passbook.


The other officials, including the bank manager, heard the woman snapping. One of them came literally running to my mother and apologised for his colleague’s behaviour. He then handed over the passbook to another gentleman and within five minutes my mother had it back in her hands, updated.


I have personally had many such experiences at various government offices. Not that all men are polite and helpful. But as compared to the female employees in government establishments, they are more forthcoming to help customers whether men or women.


Also, there is a missing enthusiasm to work among government employees. A few weeks back, I had gone to meet a director-level official at a union ministry office in Delhi. As I sat there in his personal secretary’s room, waiting for the buzzer to ring, I saw one woman employee reading children’s general knowledge book! Although it was her job to attend to me, she barely looked up. The man, her colleague, who took my details and forwarded them to the director, did so absolutely unwillingly. I felt guilty like an uninvited guest who was unwanted too!


There is no denying that the general attitude of government employees, men or women, is lethargic and reluctant. That leads to rudeness. I hope that the R1,000 crore allocated each for the all-women bank and the Nirbhaya fund, goes towards providing sophisticated staff and infrastructure. Well, that’s assuming that the funds never find their way to the pockets of the netas and babus involved. No, no, I’m not blaming the  the netas and babus. It’s the money! Gets influenced by the keepers and gets lazy! Who wants to work anyway? It’s so cosy in those pockets! Err …but it’s election year. So, maybe they’ll make this money work this time around.


Let’s hope these funds don’t find a cosy sack in our netas’ bedrooms. After all, politics makes strange bedfellows and money is no stranger.

shruti kohli

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