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 October, 2016: Imagine you are having a gynaec examination. With his rubber-gloved fingers inside you, the gynaec starts a casual chat about why you should buy his home-grown brand of condoms and intimate products. Creepy? Yeah, well, but that's how HDFC Bank and other private-sector banks work. Actually, HDFC Bank is like if your gynaec collects real-time information about when and with whom you have sex, what kind of sex you are habituated to, exactly when you menstruate, what kind of lingerie and sanitary pads you are currently wearing, etc. and then this gynaec goes and hires a bunch of MBAs and college freshers, calls them "Relationship Managers", lets them hang around his clinic pretending to be gynaecologists themselves till you start feeling comfortable enough to tell them about your intimate problems.

Then your gynaec goes and gives these relationship managers access to your information on their computer screens, with monthly targets for selling you condoms, sanitary pads and other intimate products. They call you and make you feel important by calling you a preferred customer, and giving you a platinum card. So, if your periods are four weeks late, you get a call that goes like: "Good morning, ma'am, I am Nikhil, your personal banker. May I interest you in visiting our abortion clinic? Oh, you don't want to abort? My apologies, madam. May I take this opportunity to gift you an early booking in a maternity home with whom we have a tie-up? We also have a tie-up with Amazon for incredible discounts on maternity gowns and chocolate-flavoured condoms this Diwali. When can I come and meet you to book your orders?"

Bankers are routinely privy to salary details, annual income, etc. that it is their business to know. However, the salesmen and women who hang around your bank have no business to know your financial details. HDFC Bank branches have a bunch of glib young men and women who are very approachable and go out of their way to fill up account-opening forms, etc. for you. Just because they sit inside the bank, you think they are "bankers" and you never hesitate to ask them to access your account on their computers. So these sales people get to know private things such as a huge cash-flow into your accounts when your life insurance policy matures, or you take VRS, or sell your house, or book profits in the share market.

If you are flush with funds, your "personal banker" says, "Sir, can I interest you in our tax planning products to reduce your income-tax and capital-gains tax liability?" Alternatively, if you are struggling to pay credit-card bills, frequently overdrawing your current-account, breaking fixed deposits prematurely, etc., your relationship manager nudges you to take a personal loan or gold loan which he knows you are unlikely to repay in time. Loan disbursal lets him meet his monthly targets and earn commissions, and when you default on repayments, heavy penalties and foreclosure of your gold loan helps the bank reap handsome profits. Predatory lenders used to be called loan sharks and pawn-brokers! How the times have changed!

HDFC Bank is like if your gynaec collects real-time information about when and with whom you have sex, what kind of sex you are habituated to, exactly when you menstruate, what kind of lingerie and sanitary pads you are currently wearing, etc. and then this gynaec goes and hires a bunch of MBAs and college freshers, calls them "Relationship Managers", lets them hang around his clinic pretending to be gynaecologists themselves till you start feeling comfortable enough to tell them about your intimate problems.
Customers are set up for systematic long-term exploitation by HDFC's bankers and non-bankers acting in concert.

Here's a real-life anecdote: An elderly couple walked into an SBI Bank branch to fill up their 15H form, so that TDS would not be deducted on their interest income. A friendly-looking lady sat them down at her desk, filled up their forms for them, and persuaded them to invest Rs 3 lakhs in SBI Mutual within 15 minutes. The only reason that the elderly folks trusted this woman is that they thought she was a full-time bank staffer, whereas she was actually a freelance sales agent! .

Another anecdote: ICICI Bank organized free Aadhar Card camps in the foyers of a residential building in a posh Borivali neighbourhood. While one solitary minion sat in in the foyer taking fingerprints, mugshots, etc., half-a-dozen bank officials hung around persuading the waiting people to open accounts with ICICI Bank, and visited their homes on various pretexts. And they were pushy – it was very difficult to say no to them! Why are banks so keen on opening lots of accounts? Because it "provides customer base for ongoing cross-sell through branches". In other words, every account holder is a potential customer for credit cards, loans, etc.

And now, back to HDFC Bank. Let's look at their online behaviour.
As a customer, I have given my email address to HDFC Bank to enable them to keep me informed of my account balance, etc. Here's an example of an acceptable email from HDFC Bank:
But then HDFC Bank doesn't stop at that. Here's an example of a salesman-like email, which is tolerable only because debit cards are an intrinsic part of modern banking:
But HDFC Bank doesn't stop at selling their own products either, they try selling you other companies' offerings, earning advertisement revenues like a newspaper company. Here's an example:
Surely, advertising Amazon's festival sale is beyond the boundaries of the client-banker relationship. Advertising cannot be considered a part of a bank's regular activities. Is this why we give the bank our email address? Using the bank's customer base as a captive market for selling the products of other companies is abuse of trust and misuse of the client's information!
HDFC Bank earns a large proportion of its revenues from third party product sales, fees and commissions. See this slide from HDFC's investor presentation:

Bottomline: In their mad race for year-on-year growth, retail bankers are crossing over some boundaries of the client-banker relationship. HDFC Bank is abundant in examples of this unwholesome trend.

These may not necessarily be adequate grounds for filing complaints to RBI or the banking ombudsman, or for going to consumer court. But this distasteful behaviour shows a tendency to exploit the customers' ignorance, dependency and blind trust in their banks.

[Please share your experiences. Email or call me.]
Krishnaraj Rao

Suliman Bhimani


We say a lot about what the problem is with media, but we rarely look at what media could be. So.... of course, I write 😀

My main point in this is that media reflects reality, but media also influences reality. Media holds a lot of power to influence change. And it is power that is largely squandered in the present time. It could be used more actively.

Films (also Ad Films)

Films have a way of reaching out to the masses and creating memories. A film is a narrative that gets absorbed without resistance, because the conscious mind engages with the story, and the unconscious simply keeps recording. The unconscious never evaluates. Thus, an uninterrupted viewing of a film has the power to convey a lot of things without resistance.

As we struggle with women's rights, caste differences, violence, and so on, what nuance can be added to films to create new "normals" with little resistance? Is there a way to beat our stereotypes? Can we accommodate more diversity? This is a matter for directors. But surely it is not impossible.

Many say that a certain quality of cinema, with emotional power, haunting melodies, and real characters is lost. Others notice that from a time when Muslim women ruled Indian cinema, they are almost extinct. Certainly none of the female mega stars are Muslims anymore. Can these lost representations be revived?

At the same time, there is a side of modern that is barely explored. Intricate cinematography, special effects, story lines beyond romance... why limit ourselves to enhanced jumps, flying villains and morphing? What else can be done?

Gone is the charm of Waheeda's Hyderabadi accent rendered irrelevant with dazzling dances that no one else could do. Or Kishore Kumar's "extraordinarily ordinary" voice. Today, Indian accents are given to comic characters and unimportant extras and heroes are "flawlessly international quality". What is it that we say about India, with these choices? Are we not saying that the ordinary imperfect people around us are laughable and not admirable?

Egos, budgets, reputations... and we have narrowed our scope. As makers, as viewers. We are so unused to going beyond that stereotypical cinematic world, that even off-beat is off-beat within those gilded parameters.

BTW, where are children's films?

For advertising films in particular, there needs to be some looking at the stereotypes being presented. Mother's back aching from work, fair is attractive, etc. I agree that some is unavoidable - fairness cream, for example - you have no choice but to root for the primary quality of your product being advertized. If it can be mellowed so that it isn't a carpet demeaning of the standard color of Indian skin.... that would be nice, but I see your difficulty. There are many other stereotypes that could be challenged to lead change of thought + it will create ads that will be remembered because they caused double takes. How about the father who got the backache from changing the gas cylinder? Or the mother who leaves the sleeping husband and child and sneaks off for a lovely drive in the car you're trying to sell? Or a school teacher who is male?

Television programming

Kids know more about reptile species in the Amazon than the tiger in the Sunderbans. Discovery and NatGeo came to India, and we are learning the India of the West as a part of the world. We have the Mike Pandeys and Bedi brothers and all. We have tremendous media capacity. We are not interested in creating epic wonders, in our thirst for instant coffee. Use foreign programming, dub, sell ads, earn money, lather, rinse, repeat.

The "housewife programming" is another farce. Full of stereotypes and some very, very damaging thoughts modeled. Misogyny is ugly, and many of them are created by women, for women. The "good" woman, usually the bahu takes a surprising lot of shit. Why? Why must she be the victim without complaint? Why must the woman in the most stylish clothes have the worst character? Why must the elder "good" woman be gullible? Why must petty fights be fed into the minds of people day after day?

Why not the life of a nuclear family with both parents freelance professionals? Of people who make mistakes and recover from them creatively, empoweringly? Or a women's crime show having an anchor dressed in anything other than a sari/salwar kameez?

I forget the name of the serial - I saw in glancing, but something about the daughter being attacked by her step sister or her boyfriend choosing to not say anything to the father for fear of hurting him... What? That the "good" daughter keeps quiet about a physical injury so as not to be an inconvenience to her father? And of course, the "man of the house" is invariably a poor, misguided, blind idiot who can (and mostly does) run business empires, but is clueless about what happens in the home he lives in? How about a shot where the husband and wife are speaking with each other in the kitchen and the wife chats at dining table, while the husband expertly puts on some *gasp* coffee as he listens to her? Must a man always be incompetent in his own home?

Where are all the single mothers, gay sons and daughters, office dramas, smart and sassy "good" characters who will nip rubbish outstandingly? Why can't the good character be hep and rebel who sees problems but can't be tactful enough to get results, and gets misunderstood while the pious and tolerant sounding one is actually the venom? Where are the soaps about the working women and husbands who lovingly care for families?

News Channels waste a lot of time. Show packagings run for ten seconds in some cases. Meaningless swirls of graphics wasting my time. There should be at least one programme created for say ten minutes that will cover top 20 issues - fast. Just hitting the main points - watch the lengthy programmes for more info. No micro details, no packaging, no nothing. Just the heads up on the most important things happening.

I want to know where the news for the deaf and dumb is. And why can't I see it.

We have debates on TV, but while they inform about basics, they are largely superficial affairs severely restricted by time available. In the end it becomes the anchor conducting brief parallel interviews rather than true interaction. Most of these debates are on subjects crucial to the country. Also subjects people are interested in. There should be a separate channel with entire days devoted to an important issue, while smaller issues and interesting debates that aren't really issues can fill smaller slots like half a day or four hours, etc.

It will create opportunities to include presentations, further references or evidences etc as a part of the debate, so that people really understand important things happening and their nuances and form informed opinions. Maybe people can message/comment/shortmail/tweet/etc their questions or even add information to the debate.

Like I said there... let's blow this thing wide open - start meaningful national conversations. Information is vital to empowerment.

The potential is vast.

Newspapers and online news

Very important to cover news of the country as a whole. Perhaps there needs to be a job created for a "leak catcher" who can keep an eye out for the kind of news that slips through gaps. Rural areas and smaller towns particularly have a lot of totally invisible suffering no one bothers with till too late. This could be more sensitive, professional, caring.

There needs to be some serious reviewing and at least editorial understanding of the values the organizations stand for and those values must be meticulously lived up to. It is becoming a culture of lynching and finger pointing and sensationalism. My angry post after Delhi's Besharmi Morcha highlights the differences in the coverage possible. A lot of the social psychological impact of the event was destroyed in how it was reported - reporters were simply unable to think beyond "sex sells".

Let loose in a news scenario, the media seems to gravitate to first masala - be it bare stomachs at the slutwalk, or detailed descriptions and character judgments of people. This seems more common with print/web than TV. There needs to be some consciousness raised and skills built for identifying when this happens, so that it can be corrected gradually into more real reporting - de-addiction from masala thinking and sensitizing on ethics and social responsibility.

Another point seems to be a problem with the country in general, but the reading media is well placed to lead a change - learning to identify and stop using logical fallacies as a part of the reasoning process. Thoughts can be sharply focused on issues and lead to clearer thinking. Straightforward skill building.

Online social media

A lot seems to be happening and most of it is very democratic and life affirming and very good. There is a possibility for us to use the medium more actively to learn interaction. To learn to manage differences and disagreements. But I see that happening too, and where it doesn't, it seems more a choice than any lack.

Important is that the social media resist attempts at censorship, or breaches of privacy, or if under unavoidable pressure (our government can "charm" the socks of any corporate with its "soft" power), then at least this must be transparent, and known to the netizens.

Actually, I had a few more points, but the electricity went off, and I am not able to remember them well right now, so rather than waste your time, I end here. I will add if I remember. Feel free to contribute your ideas in comments.

What remains to be seen is how this history will be written. The 'masses' are getting their dose of scandal and assuming that 'someone' will fix things now that they are blown wide open. But is this true? The country waging wars to impose democracy on assorted regions with assorted psyches about authority is standing boldly as a dictatorship and there is not a single squeak from any other world authority, including the UN, who seem content with asking for some explanations on comparatively trivial matters. Queries that are apparently utterly ignored by the US government.

If there is one thing worse than a veiled dictatorship, it is a veiled dictatorship that no longer needs to keep up a pretense and things in America seem to be getting uglier by the day. Some things off the top of my head, which seem extremely dangerous for world safety and peace:

  • Hillary Clinton conveyed her regrets to the UN. Please notice the use of words. We can regret anything without being accountable for it. There was no apology. In fact, there has  been no apology for anything (ever?). Why is this on top rather than the more horrific things? Because its an alarm about how easily it was swallowed without any questioning.
  • Sweden, which has an extraction arrangement with the US has suddenly developed from a country with sorry figures for the proscecution of rape to one that issues international red alerts and arrest warrants for the questioning of a suspect who can't even be called a suspect, since there are no charges. Suspected of what? Yet Julian Assange spent 9 days in prison for being a flight risk - this in spite of the fact that he hadn't hidden from the police in either country and had left Sweden legally and was open to communication on the matter. He was denied bail at first, and then when he was granted bail, it was delayed by another two days because of some mysterious process where it got contested. Sweden lawyers say they didn't contest it, but the UK guys did. Apparently the UK has an interest in keeping him out of commission, which was quite evident in the nature of his imprisonment. For someone imprisoned only to prevent flight, why deny him company, exercise, communication... his lawyer had to struggle to meet him. Why? Why was he prevented from seeing the TIME magazine (His face was on the cover, but apparently the entire magazine was destroyed, not just the cover)? The Swedish lawyer protested that Julian coming to Sweden will only complicate America's access to him, as they will now require the agreement of two countries. Are we fools? He can't be held in the UK for long, since they have nothing on him, while it is Sweden that does. And who in the world thinks that Julian needs to be brought to the US for US to have access to him? This is the country that has used the UK fields for renditions against the express stated directions of the Queen herself. This is also the country that is already fixing for other countries to hold its prisoners. All it needs is for Julian to be off the streets, which is not possible without a really monstrous farce in the UK (where he also has a lot of support), while a really big farce has been possible to rig up in Sweden. As simple as that.
  • A multitude of companies have cut off services to Wikileaks in an economic stranglehold, while its virtual existence has been threatened in other ways ranging from removing its domain name to censoring the reading of the documents it released. We have already experienced two days on this site where the account was suspended for hosting  a mirror. All these companies Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, EveryDNS, Amazon, Bank of America.... and our very own Mochahost have done this without any legal directive, based solely on their own choice to interpret their Terms of Service to fit their action.
  • Censorship of Wikileaks in the US is rampant ranging from implied threats to career choices with the government to outright blocking of over 25 media sites including newspapers.
  • Politicians and public figures have called for Wikileaks to be declared a terrorist organization, for Assange to be pursued like Osama bin Laden, for his assassination, etc. Utterly illegal. Crass. And no one has managed to get any of this retracted. Not the citizens, not other politicians. To me, it sounds remarkably similar to terrorist videos - this guy has wronged unacceptably - kill him. Yep. Its a so called democracy's leaders delivering such evil speech.
  • Bradley Manning, who is suspected to be the source of the leaks, but not charged of anything has been imprisoned in solitary confinement under conditions described as torture WITHOUT CHARGE.
  • A splinter group of Wikileaks claims to promote its values by not making leaks public, but offering them selectively to (state-controlled) media. Yeah right. Who got sold? Check out the contact page when the site launches.

On the other hand, we have public figures standing up solidly for Wikileaks and Assange. People offering their homes, reputations and money to see him out on bail. Anonymous citizens of the world beginning with rage and illegal DDoS attacks called Payback, but maturing into more and more thoughtful and determined responses. Politicians, journalists, national heroes speaking out in condemnation of America's disproportionate and illegal response. Street protests.

Yet, things are pretty much where they stand. America is suppressing information to its citizens and employees, and projecting Wikileaks as a rogue/terrorist/virtual guerilla type organization. People are objecting. Small battles are happening on many fronts. Bradley is still in prison, but Assange is out for now, at least.

It is time to be a part of history to whatever extent we are able. To have a stake and exercise it in shaping our world and the legacy we leave our children. To participate in whatever way you can. Some suggestions (in increasing order of difficulty):

  • Be informed. If you do nothing else, you owe yourself this - a firm basis for your stand and understanding.
  • Share good articles or information you think the world should pay attention to on your Facebook profiles, Twitter, Buzz, whatever.
  • Speak out. In real life discussions. Online. Write articles, opinions on Facebook... if you don't currently write, but would like to write something, but don't have a place, feel free to submit it here.
  • Join the Anonymous operation Paperstorm. Print out cables and hand them out, stick them on walls...
  • Influence your society and government to insist on transparency, lawful behaviour and human rights.

Seeing as how no country in the world (or the UN) has really confronted the US on anything about the injustice we see unfolding, no matter where you live, current events are going to cascade on your freedoms - by virtue of becoming acceptable - its only a matter of time.