Taking back the Indian Night

This disturbs me.

Women account for about 40 per cent of the 350,000 call centres employees in India. IT sector bodies, politicians and the police have now urged companies to offer better security to BPO workers.

Should women work night shifts? Or do you feel the Bangalore murder is just a one-off incident of crime?

Do you think women employees in call centres are given adequate security? What can be done to ensure better safety of BPO workers?

The BPO sector has changed so many economic equations. While there are those who compare them to slave ships and there are constant quips about those work work in the BPO sector, the sector mostly puzzles people. It’s changing so many things about the way jobs are found and lost, that it makes people insecure. The profile of this new workforce makes people uncomfortable. While the argument offered in the US is a whole different deal, within India – it symbolizes the creation of the second wave of middle and upper-middle class.

Do we remember what it was like just fifteen years back when jobs were so rare? My father came back one day from office, looked at me and said -“There was a queue outside Krishi Bhavan today – people with MSc and MA degrees who wanted the temporary job for three months. The job profile is to fill the water coolers with water twice a day.”

I somehow get the feeling that the queue outside Krishi Bhavan would no longer be made of those with a graduate degree. But there’s one more equation that it’s changing – that of women earning. More than anyone else, the government finds it an uncomfortable idea. It means reorienting their campaigns, their strategies and their votebanks. Because it is less likely that they will sit down and enjoy their coffee breaks while reading news about strange dress-codes being forced on women in colleges. Because crime statistics against women will mean that half their votebank will actually JUDGE them on the basis of their ability to ensure a better law and order situation for women.

Why is that the issue – from the FAILURE of law and order situation has become one of VIABILITY of working latenight for a woman. Why is that we see the victim’s identity and job profile splashed wide, but the identity and the failure to do a security check on the driver is relatively under wraps? Why is it that the government is not committing itself to ensuring that women have their right to livelihood and right to equality (in order to access the former right), instead of sending around police to various BPO offices to ensure that when it comes to women – there is a “no first pickup – no last drop” transport policy? (Oh no.. Wait! That’s cause they’re too busy with changing the name of the city and all. Because that is just SO much more important than ensuring safety for half the population.)

Tell me, how can you ensure that a “no first pickup – no last drop” policy actually means that there is no crime committed. How is a woman supposed to trust her male colleague over the driver of a vehicle? We have pathetic laws for sexual violence. Considering that women get raped inside their homes (more often) than they get raped outside, will they next ask women to not live in their own houses? Out-dated, victim-blaming and punitive measures for the victims instead. If women get raped on the street at night – punish the rapist by keeping him off the street, not punish the woman by thwarting her right to be on the street! Instead of regulating the movement of women, why aren’t they regulating the transport sector?

Perhaps India needs a few Take Back The Night rallies. Maybe it sounds like rallies don’t and can’t achieve much. But they can and they do. Because it’s about making one’s presence felt. It’s about being able to do what you want without the fear of violence. Being able to earn your livelihood without worrying that you will get raped on your way back home. Because you also have the right to party through a Friday night without worrying about how safe it is to walk at 2 at night. Irrespective of your age or sex. Irrespective of where you’re coming from or where you’re going.

13 Comments

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13 Responses to Taking back the Indian Night

  1. Not many people might agree with me, but I think the only way is the ultimate punishment-the rapist be hanged…Doing a background check is hardly going to help. The thwarting of one life and all the others linked to it just for that fleeting instance of pleasure is not just disgusting,it shows the decay of everything.. And the govt has to take action, the companies their share of responsibility to make sure that this doesnot become a forgotten momentary tragedy.

  2. when dog bite man it is not a news but when a man bites a dog it is a news. This incident is an exception lets not create anxiety by unduly emphasising on it.

    But this incident is an indication that wen as a society is yet to grow up. We should thin about this to avoid the occurence of such cruel exceptions.

  3. Sumz: Emotionally I agree with you. My rage and anger justify capital punishment for rapists (or those who commit sexual crimes) without batting an eyelid. Unfortunatley, the deal with capital punishment is that if you raise the severity of punishment too much, then judges are that much more reluctant to dish out the sentence. As a result – Conviction rate falls. I would say the biggest responsibility is that of the government. Because even women working in non IT sectors, or working as domestic help, in department stores, or women who just want to be out at night also deserve that protection. Not just women who work with an organisation that can afford that protection.

    Ximeite: CRAP! The incident is not an exception. I suggest you read some newspapers. Your comment indicates that being able to read alone does not mean a person is familiar with the world around them. Please take your dog, bite, man analogy elsewhere and use it with people who don’t understand how media, world and people work.

  4. Tell me, how can you ensure that a “no first pickup – no last drop” policy actually means that there is no crime committed.

    Security measures never completely ‘eliminate’ bad events. It only decreases the chances of bad things happening and adds a significant over-head to the ones who are supposed to ‘follow’ the measure. In this case: The cost of having to hire security guards who will have to be hired to make the ‘no last pickup, no last drop’ thing happen, Taking sub-optimal routes in order to pick up / drop men later, etc.,. sum up to the over-head.

    Will BPO companies really continue to follow this ‘no first pickup, no last drop’ thing after, say, a year from now? I doubt it. Lethargy is a characteristic feature. Be it in the kind of food your company’s cafeteria serves, or in sticking to security measures.

  5. Why is that we see the victim’s identity and job profile splashed wide, but the identity and the failure to do a security check on the driver is relatively under wraps?

    I’d like to say that there has been a good deal of coverage about this aspect in the newspapers and the TV channels in India, at least the ones that I’m reading. In fact, I read one report where the Taxi Drivers association said that the driver was not registered with them or something of that sort. The coverage has been there.

    What upset me was something I read in TOI yesterday or the day before. I think it was someone from the police department issuing guidelines. A couple of the guidelines were: 1) Wear appropriate clothes 2) Don’t behave in an inappropriate manner with other guys because the “profile” of the cab drivers is such that they may misunderstand this sort of behaviour. I’m paraphrasing but that was the essence.

    Once again, the focus comes back to the woman, which is ridiculous. Rapists will commit crimes whether the woman is wearing a burkha or a salwaar kameez–the clothes don’t matter. And the issue of the behaviour of the woman, it smacks of ignorance and seeks to deflect the blame from the rapists more than anything else.

    Security needs to improve as a whole for women everywhere. Travelling in the night isn’t safe for women in most cities in India. It’s tragic that it takes a death of an innocent person to highlight something that everyone already knows.

  6. @Percy:

    Once again, the focus comes back to the woman, which is ridiculous. Rapists will commit crimes whether the woman is wearing a burkha or a salwaar kameez–the clothes don’t matter. And the issue of the behaviour of the woman, it smacks of ignorance and seeks to deflect the blame from the rapists more than anything else.

    Thank Mr.Bal Thackeray and Co. Its a very easy, simple ‘end of it all’ solution.

    Here is one from my side: I suggest people not to put their money in the banks because it tempts me to rob the bank.

  7. Suraj and Percy: Point taken. I guess it’s more cultural than situational. Victim-blaming is grilled into us. It’s in our movies. Inked in our textbooks.

    For the record, there was a disgusting comment here which I have deleted. Please do not deface this blog with misogynistic comments, victim-blaming or talk about how women are the ones who have to be locked up because we cannot get rid of rapists anyway.

  8. Neha,

    Best post on this issue I have seen so far. You reflect my thoughts, exactly in same order. Thanks.

  9. Agree with U – people have got two things mixed up here. Its a Law n’ order problem… suddenly there is a spurt of robberies in the night time in Blore..on techies ..BPO staff..and this one was waiting to happen…

  10. Wings

    Beautiful post, Neha.

  11. Neha, you wrote about the changing equation of women earning and the government not being comfortable with it. However I did not see you pursue that line of thought further.

    I wanted to say that growing up in Kerala in the 70s and 80s, it was the _norm_ to see women working and earning: my mother, and almost every single one of my classmates’ mothers, all worked. All my aunts (save one) were employed. All my female cousins (those in Kerala anyway) are employed.

    Kerala was always supposedly one of those states where women had a better status in society. They certainly were better educated and had better jobs and so on. Despite that I don’t think women escaped this sort of situation at all. If my memory serves me, crimes against women (such as these) were disgustingly common. And in the 90s there was a disturbing series of indicidents of trafficking in women.

    Ultimately these things happen because of lack of law enforcement – the offender commits the crime because he thinks he can get away with it. The prospect of being caught and punished certainly seems to be the deterrent that works in western countries where the level of policing is much much higher than in India.

  12. Thomas: I think my point about general discomfort with women’s independence (linked to financial muscle) is more to do with areas that are traditionally more patriarchal. While Kerala is definitely not matriarchal by any stretch of imagination, the presence of some strong matrilineal communities, a very strong culture of education for women – have meant a better bargaining position for women. But things have changed in Kerala over the last 10 years, where they have increasingly tried to become like the “other”.

    The situation of Kerala is curious. There is some excellent work done on the rise of patriarchy had a lot to do with emulating expected “macho” behaviour seen outside. The Malayali man was made to look at his own position in the Kerala society through typically Victorian-Age eyes (thanks to the severely Gender Biased education system and cultural hegemony practiced by some communities). While crimes against women were definitely present and pervasive, they have increased in the last ten years – in fact, I would say that the equitable position that women had achieved is actually seeing a reversal in many towns. I would say North India was ALWAYS worse for women, and South India was relatively better, though the way things are going – the distinction is becoming very blurry.

    And you’re right – Law Enforcement is high on my list as the way to control crime. Which is why I place more responsibility on the Government – to ensure that citizens can enjoy fundamental rights. But the problem is within the deeply patriarchal construct of police in India. They are the vestige of the Raj, and they are not as much keepers of the law, as much as exercisers of authority. And the laws themselves are so bloody loose – that even when enforced it will not do the needful.

  13. Law enforcement is the key to reducing the incidence of violence against women irrespective of their economic status. Criminals get away scot-free because the system fails to work effectively.

    Women are vulnerable to such crimes anywhere in the world. Unless we have a serious and workable deterrent in place,rapists both potential and actual will roam the streets and lay siege to their prey.