Indian companies struggle to make their voices heard on LGBTQIA + rights



MUMBAI: In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India in September 2018 overturned parts of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which characterized sexual relations between two consenting persons of the same sex as an “unnatural offense”. But homosexual Indians remain behind their heterosexual peers. when it comes to financial rights.

On a host of issues such as opening joint bank accounts, insurance coverage, and mortgage eligibility, LGBTQIA + Indians are at a disadvantage. Companies have started to recognize and celebrate their gay employees and customers in marketing communications, but verifiable actions in the field remain rare and sometimes stumble on execution.

Axis Bank, one of India’s largest private banks, is ahead of most of its peers when it comes to gay rights. He hired a well-established gay activist, Harish Iyer, as the head of diversity and inclusion. On September 6, 2021, the anniversary of the Johar affair, the bank published a “Charter of Policies and Practices for Employees and Customers of the LGBTQIA + Community”. Among other things, the charter says that clients will be able to open savings accounts and term deposits with their same-sex partners.

Anisha Sharma, 33, and Bhakti Chachada, 29, both residents of Mumbai, have been in a relationship for six years. After hearing the press release, they entered a branch of Andheri West of Axis Bank on Friday, October 29. The branch employees refused to open the account even after receiving the press release of the new charter. On Sunday, October 31, Sharma posted a tweet calling on the bank to disregard the stated policy. The tweet went viral and Axis Bank was quick to respond, with a slew of senior officials reaching out to the couple. The bank finally opened the savings account.

According to a senior financial services professional who declined to be named, the Reserve Bank of India’s rules on this issue are ambiguous and banks interpret them differently. Many banks allow friends or even strangers to open accounts together without the need for any blood or marital relationship. This makes the issue of same sex status moot. The challenges facing same-sex couples in India go beyond opening joint accounts in banks.

Insurance companies do not allow same-sex couples to be covered by the “floating family” policies that apply to heteroxex families. Same-sex partners also cannot be candidates in each other’s life insurance policies due to the legal concept of insurable interest – the legal interest that a dependent spouse has in the income of the spouse. breadwinner. Although Indian law allows same-sex couples to be mutually beneficial in their wills, just as friends or even strangers can be beneficiaries, these privileges do not extend to “intestate inheritance” – laws on intestate. inheritance that apply when a person dies without a will. At this point, “personal laws” based on the religion of the deceased come into play and these do not recognize same-sex couples.

The root of the problem is the state’s failure to recognize marriage or same-sex unions in India. A case filed in the Delhi High Court was scheduled for a final hearing on November 30, 2021. Some of the petitioners in the case also raised the issue of citizenship, arguing that same-sex marriage practiced under the laws of foreign nations should be recognized by India under its Overseas Marriage Act and the same sex spouse of an Overseas Indian Citizen (OIC) should also be entitled to an OCI card.

For the Sharma and the Chachada, a common account would save them from having to record and divide their household expenses separately. It is also a test of the financial system at large. “A savings account is the basics. If it was such a struggle, imagine how other financial problems will be and how difficult it will be for people less privileged than us, ”said Chachada. Even if companies change policies on paper, broader societal awareness poses another challenge.

“Our employees come from the same world we all inhabit. This episode is a grim reminder that despite training and processes, cultural change takes time and effort. We had the opportunity to meet our new clients, Anisha and Bhakti, and we have apologized to them personally. At Axis Bank, we are determined to be a true participant committed to promoting inclusion and such collaborative participations will help us work together to contribute to an inclusive society ” said Harish Iyer- Head -Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Axis Bank.

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