The Signature Parody

05 Dec 2010
Posted by Kiran

We have all learnt that it is imperative that we read any document in its entirety before we sign it. By affixing our signatures on any legal or contractually binding document, we effectively affirm that we agree to every word that is written on it.

However, how many of us really stop to read and understand every word on that document before we sign it? Most of us don't.

What is more amazing is that people have come to expect that you don't read the document before signing it. In fact, I have had multiple experiences in India, where people clearly got irritated if I'd stopped to read the document before signing it. Somehow people in India seem to believe that we must simply put all our trust in them and sign the dotted line. They seem to believe that by reading the document first, we would be wasting their time.

I recently purchased a house. And predictably I had to avail a rather expensive loan. The Loan agents — personnel from the Loan Agency — who helped me fill out the forms were all very courteous and helpful. However, when I insisted on skimming through all the documents and reading parts of it before I affixed my signature on them, they repeatedly told me that what I was signing were standard papers. Clearly, they were trying to pass on a message. It was very evident that me stopping at every page to read through parts of it that seemed important was irritating them to no end.

This experience got me thinking. Firstly, I would have found it extremely difficult to read through all pages of all those documents. Secondly, even if I did manage to read through all those papers, there was no way in hell that I would be able to assimilate all that information, make sense of it all, understand the legal intricacies involved and make an educated decision. What I really needed was my attorney reading through those volumes and then helping me understand the legal implications of each of those terms.

And that is what I suppose was the cause of the agents' irritation — why bother reading when you can't make sense of the stuff anyway?

Most of the contractual documents we sign are pretty similar. The wording is intricate, convoluted and at times incomprehensible to normal human beings.

And then, there is the language barrier. For instance, the Karnataka Government in all their wisdom believe that all Government business should be carried out in Kannada. Buying a house in Karnataka involves many legal documents, many of which are written solely in Kannada. As usual, you are just expected to sign them without batting an eyelid. The fact that the guy signing the document isn't able to read it never seems to bother anyone.

Other countries, I know, have laws which make it mandatory for the person to be presented with a valid translation in a language they understand, which they can then sign. India doesn't seem to consider that necessary. Government officials here demand automatic respect and trust. They give you a stare and even laugh with ammusement if you insist on understandng what you are signing up to.

Fortunately for me, I am yet to encounter a situation in which something I signed before understanding, then came back to bite me. I pray that never happens. However, I don't see that as an impossibility. And I fail to understand how our legal system can be considered fair when it allows something as basic as "read before you sign" to devolve into a farce.

Are we all blissfully signing away our future peace of mind? Is it just a matter of when rather than if?