Amid so much talk of women’s empowerment, most eminently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a leading private lender ― ICICI Bank ― has refused to entertain a loan application of a boy as the bank thought her sister, the guarantor, would get married soon. “You will marry within three years and then your parents will be liable to pay the loan,” the bank told the woman, declining her brother’s application.
The loan amount sought from the bank was Rs 7.5 lakh while the woman guarantor earns Rs 6 lakh per annum. She says she has a sound Cibil score.
Stunned by the despicable remark, the customer shot back an email to ICICI Bank’s education loan department, saying, “… I did not expect such sexist reasons from your bank and this just reduces me to marriage even after having a good, paying, permanent job…”
The woman had to pitch in as a guarantor to help her brother out because, she says, it is her duty as an older sibling to help see her brother’s dream come true. She says ICICI Bank has been disrespectful not only to her but to all women who support their families with hard-earned money.
Smriti Dholakia (name changed) is not alone at the receiving end of authorities’ sexism. And it does not happen in India alone. In 2019 in the US, a financial scandal had rocked Apple that showed the gender of the applicant or guarantor might be a factor in the acceptance and rejection of credit applications. Reports showed curiously that Artificial Intelligence was making these discriminatory decisions.
There were complaints, including from Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak, that algorithms used to set limits might be inherently biased against women.
But it was no AI that made the sexist remark while speaking to Smriti. It was an official of ICICI Bank and no computer program that told her, “You will marry within three years and then your parents will be liable to pay the loan.”
Editor’s note: In the case of Apple, a US financial regulator opened an investigation into the allegation of sexism in credit card offers. Will the plight of Smriti and other women in her kind of position make the Indian authority move? While the New York State Department of Financial Services found no evidence to support allegations that Goldman Sachs unfairly discriminated against Apple Card credit applicants, there is recorded evidence in support of the charge against ICICI Bank.
Regardless of all this, the main issue remains that under the nose of the Finance Ministry, headed by a lady no less, financial institutions in this country continue to discriminate against women on the basis of the ability of their gender.
All our lives women have heard that it is the male member of the family who will look out for them. As this archaic notion changes, especially in the case of Smriti Dholakia and her brother, is it not the duty of the system to come forward and help bridge the divide?
What makes it worse is that, in this needless procrastination by the bank, the boy has lost valuable time and eventually may not be able to attend college abroad. Who will be held responsible for this loss?
Sirf News contacted the victim of ICICI Bank’s sexism who fell short of words to express her dismay. The bank has not responded to her email. Her brother had posted a complaint on LinkedIn, which was viewed by thousands of people, but the bank did not respond to that either.
Two calls at the contact number of the official of ICICI Bank who had made the sexist remark disconnected immediately each time. The official responded with a message, saying that she was on leave. No further response could be obtained from the bank before the publication of this report.