When Minakshi Sanyal, 58, currently an LGBTQ activist, tried to avail a home loan along with her same-sex partner in 1993 from HDFC Bank, they were refused and asked to submit a loan application mentioning they are cousins. But she said nothing has changed much even now. HDFC Bank refused to add her partner’s name as nominee in the savings account a few months ago, despite having no regulations that could prohibit that.
However, HDFC Bank clarified that while it did not exist as a separate entity in 1983, there being only the parent company Housing Development Finance Corporation, the lender now, as per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines, imposes no such restriction, and that any two individuals can have their accounts opened. HDFC Bank doesn’t have any LGBTQ-inclusive plans but it also follows the RBI guidelines, so there is no discrimination as such, it said.
Till date people from the LGBTQ+ plus community are facing problems like not being able to open an account jointly with a same-sex partner or availing loans and facing harassment while dealing with banks.
“Back then IPC (Indian Penal Code) Section 377 was not partially read down. We applied at HDFC Bank for a joint loan and we were asked to mention that we were cousins. We refused. Eventually, we managed to get the joint loan from SBI (State Bank of India) in 2003, but here too, we got the loans as friends," said Sanyal. As per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulations, there is no restriction on who can open a bank account. However, couples from the LGBTQA+ community still face problems while availing banking services like opening accounts, adding a nominee’s name or availing of a joint loan. Moneycontrol reached out to HDFC Bank regarding their current facilities for such couples, but they remained unavailable for comments.
In September 2021, Axis Bank announced LGBTQA+ inclusive policy for their employees and customers. On record, hardly any bank provides inclusive policies for people from the community, although various activists and couples said SBI has been at least a little supportive of such people. Being refused by several other banks, another lesbian couple from Kolkata approached SBI to open a joint account.
“Although we have been able to open a joint account at SBI, the regulations still don’t allow us to show our partner as ‘spouse/partner’ on any banking document. We have to open accounts as friends,” said one of the partners, requesting anonymity.
In many cases, the couples said there are no regulations that could prohibit them from availing certain banking facilities, yet the banks harass them. “Recently, one of the banks told me that I haven’t added anyone as my nominee in the account. When I asked to add my partner’s name as the nominee (as friend), they refused. When I challenged this, they failed to show such terms/policy. Later, I saw that her name has been added as the nominee of that account,” added Sanyal.
Root cause of the problems
Several LGBTQA+ activists pointed out that one of the major reasons such couples face problems in availing banking services is due to the lack of recognition of their marriage. “Gay or lesbian marriages or any marriage in the LGBTQA+ community is not legally recognised as they can’t be registered. Most of the marriages happening these days are social marriages and social marriages in such cases are not legally recognised. So it becomes difficult for such couples in banking activities too,” said Raina (Dhiman) Roy, an activist and co-founder of BDS Samabhabona, an organisation working for LGBTQ rights. Moreover, LGBTQA+ couples are often asked to apply for loans as friends or business partners.
The problem is that for LGBTQA+ people, their relationship cannot officially “come on paper unless marriage is legalised in India. This issue is now being heard at Delhi High Court through a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by many couples together,” said gender rights activist Bappaditya Mukherjee.
While Axis Bank has publicly stated its willingness to have partners from the LGBTQA+ community as customers, and many others don not have objections either, some public service banks like Bank of Baroda (BoB), too, have said such couples can add their partner as nominee, since the RBI allows anybody to be added as nominee and in terms of disclosing relationship details, they can opt for “other”, clarified an official from BoB.
Commenting on the LGBTQA+ policies, Harish Iyer, head, diversity, equity and inclusion, Axis Bank, said, “Society is a changing phenomenon; our policies need to be also in a constant state of metamorphosis to stay in tune with the changing face of society. We will be regularly updating the policies to keep pace with the changing face of the world around to make our workplace and banking more inclusive.”While on one hand the couples are dealing with issues of opening bank accounts or availing loans, another problem lies in the case of the sudden death of one partner. “There is no concept of auto transfer in such cases. Often, in case of the demise of the husband, the wife can claim the money by virtue of being the legal heir. But such is not the case for LGBTQA+ couples. Sadly, social marriages are often considered legal for cis-people but not so for trans or gay or lesbians,” said Roy.