WOMEN AND CALL CENTRES

Friday 9th January 2009

The following is an emal I sent an activist Delia Maria of Poona, in response to her circulated email (also given, far below).. It was about the rape and mruder of a callcentre employee Jyotikumari Chaudhary at Poona in November 2007.

The logic in Delia’s circular email was somewhat feminist and also impulsive, and so I replied against each of her arguments.

— Nigel J. Shaughnessy
____________________________________________________________

Monday 12th November 2007

To Mrs. Delia Maria – Poona, India

(Copies to Ms Madhavi, Ms Vasudha, Mr Satish Khot, Ms Sheila Christian, Ms Feroza Saran, Ms M Rahirkar, StreeMukti, Navbharat, Ms Kavita Kowshik, Ms Madhuri Singh, Adv SV Prabhu)

Re: thoughts on call centre employee’s murder

Dear Delia,

Thank you for sending me a copy of your activism emails.

As I promised, I would send my tips and suggestions and opinions on the subject, with copies to interested activists. I have numbered your paragraphs wherever not originally numbered.

(I have also attached them as an MSWord file).
— Nigel J. Shaughnessy
Poona, India
___________________________________________

Your Para.1: (“I am shocked that not only do women of my city now have to work night shifts, but they must also have to face the possibility of extortion, rape and murder as an added occupational hazard!”)

In my opinion, your reaction is more emotional than intellectual, which is naturally because of the rape and death of the poor girl Jyoti.

Rape is a cruel and inhuman and despicable act. I too am disheartened at the rape and murder of Jyoti.

Men are also likely to be harmed (robbery, etc.). Taxpayers’ money go for security for men also.

All over India esp. in big cities, call centres have sprung up. Many ladies work there. How many instances of rape, robberies, murders have taken place upon them? And compare it to those upon the society at large.

In your youth and childhood, and my youth and childhood, had we ever seen women go out after 10 o’clock at night even for night duty (other than nurses)? Now, in the IT industry women and girls fearlessly go out at any hour of the night. We never thought of it in our dreams. So, from such an environment as night duty for women on a large scale, problems are likely to take place, which can take place in any industry and any society. No matter what checks you put, crime will find a way.

In Poona 35,000 are employed in the IT sector. In India there are many more.. How many incidents of rape are there against or upon them? In Poona? Or even in the whole country? (I came to know that a pregnant callcentre employee was killed by a cabbie in Poona; Another cabbie was wooing a cc lady, was rejected and so threw acid on her; and Jyoti is the third case in Poona, as we know. I admit there may be a few more, hidden or suppressed cases). Probably this was the first rape and murder of the industry in Poona. What is the ratio? What is the ratio and number of cases in the rest of the society and industries? How can we stop that? Why only favour call centre women and why only tighten call centre cabbies? Because call centre women are rich? Or beautiful? Or educated? And because call centre cabbies are poor? Many maidservants are raped and molested by their masters. The fact rarely comes out. Even when it does, what, in your opinion, should be done about it and to prevent it?

Not only in the callcentre industry but in any industry, any society, there are problems for women. The government has to think about these too. Many women who work in STD booths, xerox shops, small school teachers, lawyers office workers, salesgirls, tuition teachers, dispensary staff, nurses, ayahs, domestic servants, etc. are paid Rupees 1,000 to 3,000 a month. The salary is used up in their travel itself. That is why even their marriages are delayed. Such women, if in call centres earn Rupees 10,000 to 30,000 a month, their lives will be financially secure and secure. Was this security there before? In such security, they can purchase good housing, get married, purchase vehicles, and take care of the expenses of their families. Also, the travelling expenses are saved because of the company providing conveyance. Also, their time is saved. So, do call centre women benefit or suffer because of the call centre industry? What is your opinion?

Before callcentres, nobody less educated could dream of getting such a good salary. Because of such salaries, the society in general benefits, as the purchasing power goes up. Not only does the industry benefit the employees and cabbies, but also the surrounding society and industries. Because of this unfortunate incident is it fair to attack call centre managements and cabbies? Unemployment has been lessened because of callcentre jobs, and it has benefited callcentre employees also the food contracters, cab drivers, etc. At least 35,000 people have got jobs because of the IT sector, in Poona. Unemployment has been solved to an extent. Unemployment is the country’s biggest problem. I am sure you agree with me.

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Your Para.2: (“Pune being a boom city, the call centre business is but naturally attracting our women, mostly young, with its high salaries and other perks. However, not only is unionization still not allowed, but other civic problems have been the fall-out of this industry. For instance, Intelligent Pune tabloid a few months ago had a report of how there are accidents on the streets because of speeding call centre cabbies. We on Airport road have been time and again bringing to the attention of the RTO about the multitudes of call centre cabs being parked on the streets or pavements posing a risk to pedestrians.”)
Almost all top call centre employees, including women, have their own cars. THAT creates congestion and problems. So many car and twowheeler showrooms have come up. So many reachable auto finance and auto bank loan schemes have come up. There is no control on the purchase of vehicles, and no control with regard to ratio to population. The auto industry is now solelya profit business without regard to pollution, traffic or other problems. They do not care what happens to the country.

If callcentre cabbies allow other passengers than the company employees, many other public including ladies hike a lift and pay some fare. This is also a big security risk both for the outsider passenger, and also for the cabbie (if the outsider or outsiders turns out to be a rowdy). Also, even from the company, many cabbies give their own friends a lift. Many callcentre cabbies pick up people from busstops. (The public likes to go in such cabs as the bus service in Poona is poor and time taking, and there are no local trains in the city as in Bombay.) These practices should be firmly stopped.

The cause of traffic congestion is city roads badly planned, vehicle overpopulation, unlimited and unplanned constructions, and drainage problems and civic workers at work. To this you mad add a drop of call centre vehicles, but not solely call centre vehicles.

Your Para. 3. (“The rape of Jyotikumari Chaudhary is yet another dimension of how this industry will destroy the life and safety of citizens in this city. It is a wake-up call to all of us women that it is becoming unsafe to move around at night. It is time that womens groups take up the issue with the RTO, the Police and the government to put pressure on call centres on these issues”):

Your Para. 3(a)&(b): (“warn the cabbies against speeding and confiscate their license if they do so). (have all cabbies registered with both RTO and call centres with full information of any criminal history, etc; today’s papers even suggest that they be forced to wear an i-card/billa.”)

In addition to callcentre cabbies, why not put the heat on rickshaws, private cars, two-wheelers, handcarts, idlers, beggars? About the I-card/billas, bus conductors are also issued billas but hey hide it behind their pockets. Who catches them, even when they quarrel with women passengers? Also, do private vehicle riders have billas? And two-wheelers? Truck drivers? The actual problem is more general to traffic problems than specific to this industry.

In Poona, only PMT bus conductors/drivers, rickshaws, taxis, have billas. How can we identify all the others? Other than these and call centre cabbies, there are many, many more people (including you and your son, and myself).

Your Para. 3(c): (“ensure that women do not travel alone in the cabs no matter what the work pressures be”)

No matter what the work pressures? When our unions have been crying foul all these decades or centuries, what will any other groups do for enforcing labour laws? If labour laws are to be made, it should benefit all, men and women alike.

I myself have worked in call centres. I know what instructions are given by the managements for the benefit of their women employees. It is possible that in the information you have received you have been misguided.

Call centre managements themselves insist that women not travel alone. Jyoti, as the other lady employees, was given instructions that when a cab comes, not to go before telephoning the company. And without another colleague in the cab, not to go. And if her stop is the first stop, she should tell the cabbie to pick up somebody else and then come to her place.

Your Para 3(d): (“if such incidents occur again (God forbid), then the call centre be asked to close down for not being able to protect its women employees”)

Why should the call centre close down? If there is such a burden, it is best not to allow women to work at night. But when this is done, some women (and even organisations) will fight for the right of women to work at night, and then demand extra protection for them. Other companies should also close down if their male or female employees meet with any mishap on the way in the company bus. Will you agree? If not, then what logic can we use for closing the call centres?

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In world history, how many wars and revolutions have been fought (including the French, American, Russian, Chinese revolution and the two world wars? How many people have died in total in such wars (since the beginning of history)? More people have died in automobile accidents (which is of only 125 years span) than all the wars and revolutions for more than 5000 years. So can I say, stop the automobile industry? Is it practical or not? Is it justified or not? With the fall of the automobile industry, the whole nation’s and world’s economy will collapse. (The food and medical industries, which depend on transportation, will collapse). If the call centre is to close down, and consequently their cabbies, and the callcentre employees, what are the other consequences? Have you thought of that?

If you were in the call centre industry and/or dependent on it, would you consider closing

In world history, how many wars and revolutions have been fought (including the French, American, Russian, Chinese revolution and the two world wars? How many people have died in total in such wars (since the beginning of history)? More people have died in automobile accidents (which is of only 125 years span) than all the wars and revolutions for more than 5000 years. So can I say, stop the automobile industry? Is it practical or not? Is it justified or not? With the fall of the automobile industry, the whole nation’s and world’s economy will collapse. (The food and medical industries, which depend on transportation, will collapse). If the call centre is to close down, and consequently their cabbies, and the callcentre employees, what are the other consequences? Have you thought of that?

If you were in the callcentre industry and/or dependent on it, would you consider closing down the industry because of the incident? You would surely say, “Because of one incident why should I suffer?” How many ladies in call centres would want a call centre to close down because of an incident?.

Many poor, illiterate or backward girls become bar girls, cabaret dancers, or prostitutes because of lack of jobs or insufficient earning. Better than that is the call centre industry, is it not?

If in a train, or plane, or PMT bus, or defence base, or hospital, a rape or murder takes place, can we shut down the railway, the airlines, the buses, or the hospital, or the army? Many students (including girls) die in college due to ragging. Should we and can we close down the college?

In our jails (e.g. Yerwada jail near your residence) many prisoners are kept, who are murderers, robbers, rapists, and such. How many of them are call centre cabbies? Even percentagewise? I feel that such crimes do not seem to be a callcentre speciality. For thousands of years there have been jails and in them prisoners, including murderers and rapists. Were there cabbies then? Or call centres? By your logic, if we ban call cenres, crime in India and the world would stop!! Including rape and murder!! What else will you stop in the effort to prevent rape and murder?

Your Para 3.(e): (”have company buses that will carry more employees at a time and thus decongest the road as well as ensure safety for women employees”)

I strongly disagree. What if my daughter or sister or your daughter or sister stays deep in the interior of a colony. The bus would not enter there firstly because of the size of the bus, and then it would have a fixed route which would stop at the main road. What you imply is that she would have to walk to and from her house from and to the bus stop even at 3 o’clock in the night. In the case of the cab, she is picked up from dropped at her doorstep. Which is safer? Even if a family member or somebody has to accompany her to or from the busstop, that person would be in danger while returning or going to the busstop alone. So, the cab is still safer than buses with regard to female safety.

Your Para.4: (”We in the women groups, on our part can:”)

Your Para 4(a): (”Demand union/association rights for women working in call centres”)

Are you sure that unionisation is not allowed in call centres? Unionisation is certainly discouraged because of the large stake involved, but I think it is allowed by law. We should go against the corrupt government who oppresses and suppresses labour laws and labour movements, and give some support to the socialist and other groups who sincerely fight for the cause of oppressed women and men workers, rather than worrry about unionisation only for callcentre women.

The demand for union rights in call centres should not be only for women. It should also apply to all employees.

Your Para. 4(b): (”Create awareness among women working in call centres of their working and other civic rights”)

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There are many civic and civil rights common to both men and women. There are many men in call centres also who are unaware of their rights. There are many women, and men, in other industries also. We should educate them also.

Your Para. 4(c): (”Offer legal aid, counselling to women working in call centres for their problems”)

Legal aid and counselling for women? Not a bad idea. But why only in call centres? And should not priority be given to other oppressed women? Like domestic servants, factory workers, smallscale & largescale industry workers, schoolteachers, nurses, private office workers, women at home (housewives)? I suggest you have a talk with Mrs. Kiran Moghe of Poona who will enlighten you about the general plight of women (not the call centre women, but the majority of the masses, many of whom are domestic servants).

Mrs. Kiran Moghe is well educated and has studied in the UK. The organisation she is a part of is Janwadi Mahila Morcha, which has 18,000 members in Poona, and it takes up the cause of oppressed women. She has a lot of experience. I suggest that if you you keep in touch with her, it would help.

It is the so-called “bechari” call centre women who are the most pampered and who least need or want any sort of help from NGOs. In my experience it is quite some of these call centre women who do the most politics and do not want to sit with males in the cabs and quarrel and defame and make false complaints against their colleagues and play the dirtiest politics. What can you do about such women? What should be done? What is your opinion and action plan? In your opinion what is to be done in the matter?

Your Para. 4(d): (”Research and study what the fall-out of this industry is on women and ask government to make policy decisions and strictly enforce them.”)

Women want to work in call centres. They will have to expect certain discomforts. Make and enforce all the policy decisions you want. Especially for security. Talking of security. Have you ever seen policemen as a routine patrolling the streets at night? When that happens, the women’s problems will be solved to a great extent. Enforce the government system first, wipe out the rot in the police and administration first. Do you know that a lot of the rapes in India take place in police custody/premises? It would be helpful if we pay some attention to these women also.

Two women died in a Kanpur hospital a few days ago because they did not pay Rs 1000 as bribe to the hospital staff for delivery, and they died. Even if the case were in Poona, I doubt if groups would do anything about the case. Even in Sassoon Hospital, Poona, many patients, especially women, die for want of proper treatment or treatment at all. Death, whether due to rape, or medical neglet, or accidents, is still death. Many nurses illtreat their patients, especially female patients, leading to their death. What is to be done against such nurses and hospital staff? Or shall we protect such staff because they are women?

__________________

Delia, there are two points, in addition to by above tips, which I would like to add:

(i) Rape is a crime committed by men upon women. There are other crimes, injustices and cruelties (both physical and mental) done by women upon women, and also upon men. Like mother-in-law and sister-in-law upon the “bahurani”, stepmother upon stepdaughter (and stepson), mistresses upon their maidservants and child workers, female pimps upon prostitutes. What is to be done about such women criminals?

(ii) Indira Gandhi, Kiran Bedi, Maneka Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi were/are all famous and strong-willed and powerful women. But none of them did anything for the upliftment of women. The supreme court of India once ruled that women priests be allowed in Hindu society. What a lovely idea! How will allowing women priests uplift the lot of women? People who are thrilled at the thought of permitting women priests (thinking that this is a boon for women and a plus mark for their country) should be told one thing: WHY NOT ALLOW WOMEN OF ALL AGES TO ENTER THE CONTROVERSIAL SHABARIMALA AYAPPA TEMPLE? Also, both you (I suppose) and I are Catholics. Should we not allow women priests, bishops and popes also?

I am confident I have not bored you with all the above. Let me know your opinions and feedback on my above tips and suggestions and opinions.

I appreciate and commend your efforts and good work for society. What I am concerned is that your efforts do not go waste and with little effect on the society at large.

One thought on “WOMEN AND CALL CENTRES

  1. Nigel, well-written! It’s a classic study.
    I’ve an additional point to make. Working during the night is an unnatural duty, especially for a non-emergency or life-saving job. Studies recently have concluded that working during night-shifts alters the circadian rhythm (due to disturbances in secretion of the hormone melatonin), leading to insomnia, changes in libido, etc. It is recommended that people in night-shifts work only 6 hours at a time, utilizing the other 6 hours to sleep.

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