The reward of Rs. 1 lakh by Hindustan Times in recognition of his outstanding community service has brought more misery than joy to Banwasi alias Banarasi Musahar.
A change of fortune still awaits the 58-year-old brick kiln labourer, who overcame all odds in his Akrohi Mahadalit Basti, about 40 km from Kaimur district headquarters town of Bhabua, opened a school near his thatched roof house and changed the destiny of scores of members of his Musahar community.
Banwasi was on cloud nine when he was handed over the cheque for Rs. 1 lakh by Buxar MP Jagadanand Singh at Ramgarh in the presence of HT deputy executive editor Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra, HT (Patna) senior resident editor Mammen Matthew, Kaimur district magistrate Jai Singh and superintendent of police Uma Shankar Sudhanshu, on October 17 last year.
His happiness was, however, shortlived.
Banwasi’s trouble started the moment he went to the Ramgarh branch of Bank of India to deposit the cheque. The bank manager allegedly not only refused to accept the cheque, but also passed casteist remarks against Banwasi.
“Tum apane ko Mahadalit kahte ho, garibi rekha se niche batakar zero balance par khata khulwate ho. Ek lakh ka cheque kahan se aa gaya (You call yourself Mahadalit. You have opened a zero balance account claiming to be the member of a below poverty line family. From where did you manage a cheque of Rs. 1 lakh)?” the manager is reported to have asked Banwasi.
After visiting the bank almost everyday since October 18, Banwasi managed to get the cheque deposited on December 12, but only after a local photo journalist, Sanjay Kumar Jaiswal, intervened.
The branch manager, however, said the amount would be credited to Banwasi’s account only after he submitted details of his Permanent Account Number (PAN).
Finding no other way, Banwasi applied for a PAN card, which he received on January 7, 2013. But when he reached the bank with the newly acquired identity proof, he was in for another shock.
Despite showing the pay-in slip for the cheque, the bank branch manager asked him to produce a photocopy of the cheque he had deposited on December 12.
The photo journalist again came to Banwasi’s rescue. When Jaiswal enquired about the status of the cheque from the manager, he was told that it had been sent to the service branch of the bank in Mumbai and a clearance from there was awaited.
The manager, however, refused to consult the Mumbai service centre branch.
When asked for a complaint book and telephone numbers of senior bank officers, the branch manager said he had none.
Lead bank manager (LDM) M S Tuly told HT that a complaint book and a board displaying the names, addresses and phone numbers of senior officers were a must at every branch of banks governed by RBI rules.