By Neha Mayuri:
“Oh! So she works at a night call center!? Really? Wow! Then she must be easily available!”
This is what I heard while I overheard a conversation between two men. I was ashamed at the parochial mindset and male chauvinism. I bit my lips in anger, disgust, and helplessness. I walked up to them asking them what made them say this? They laughed remorselessly and walked away leaving me puzzled and infuriated!
The call centers are seen as a source of liberation for women due to relatively high wages and high-tech work environment. These BPO’s and MNC’s provide employment to a majority of women in India, women step out of their homes to be independent, self sufficient, and to support their family. Life is a bed of roses with a good pay and a nice atmosphere in these outsourced jobs. But, there is a hideous reality to it, even in the present era working in night call centers is looked down upon by majority of men! Women are looked at suspiciously when they work night shifts. I’m not saying just for the sake of it. The hyper growth of the transnational call center industry has its perks and its disadvantages too! Let me shed light on a recent incident which occurred and left me pondering with shock, dismay, and anger!
“For many young people, especially women, call-center work means money, independence, and an informal environment where they can wear and say what they like. Along with training in American accents and geography, India’s legions of call-center employees are absorbing new ideas about family, material possessions and romance.” –Wall Street Journal, 2004
One of my friends, a woman, works at a call center in Pune, India. Vaishali (name changed) is married and has two beautiful daughters, a single mother working to meet ends for her daughters. It’s heart touching and I salute the commendable spirit of this very fine young woman. She works night shifts and the cab comes to pick her up usually at 9pm IST every night, people are awake at this time and unfortunately she had to face the criticism of the men in the society where she stays and is a part of.
She spoke to me sobbing uncontrollably and I bit my tongue in anger wishing I could change the mindsets of men making them realize that working in nights does not mean you do not deserve to stay among the “reputed” members of the society.
Her version, and I quote “I work night shifts, usually it gets hectic and I leave home at 9 pm and get off at 6 am, I come home in the morning and that’s my daily routine. Six months have passed, I’m quite happy with my job and satisfied with the fact that I can contribute to the education of my daughters and pay their school fee, house rent, and daily expenses. I want my daughters to be happy and lead a prosperous life. Things were going fine till I was spurned by my neighbors and men who saw me getting in a car with different men sitting inside it every day. They thought I’m a sex worker and I started getting threat calls, lewd text messages, and moral speeches on how I should lead my life. Men, who were my neighbors, started knocking my door during the nights when I had off during weekends. I was traumatized and scared, I did not know who to approach, I cried, I shouted, I explained to them that I work at nights and I work with dignity to support my family and raise my daughters. But nobody cared and nobody listened to me. I was helpless; the security of my daughters was in danger. I did not have the courage to raise my voice and go to a local police station or an NGO for that matter. I feared if I approached the authorities, my life may be in grave danger. I feared the society. I cannot leave my job hence I’ve decided to leave the house I stay at, my daughters and I will search a new home, a secure place to live where I can work without stress and fear.”
I was shocked to hear this! I acknowledge the fact that she should have approached the authorities but will the authorities provide her enough security if she decides to raise her voice against the grave injustice and parochial mindsets? The male chauvinists will take revenge, she fears.
She says she will search for a new home, but the bottom line is where will she find this new home? She has to stay in India, where ever she decides to stay in the country there will be people who will raise their brows if they feel that going out in a car with different men inside the car every night is shameful! It’s beyond their morals! Though, they are not aware neither willing to understand that those men are her colleagues. The question is ‘ IfÂ a women is a part of the society, then why does she struggle to find respect, and a suitable place for herself in the same?‘
This is an unfortunate reality in many parts of India, women working in call centers are spurned by a majority of men even today! Despite wearing identity cards, women are accused of “prostitution” and “promiscuity” and oh, have we forgotten about the rapes of women who work night shifts? If we Google it, we are sure to find many such instances in many parts of our “democratic India.” Women leaving home at night to work are considered “absolutely inappropriate and disgusting”! The rule book created solely by the society says “NO” when it comes to working at night! As a result, these women face the consequences when they break the rules in form of rapes, threats, lewd as well as obscene calls and text messages, and often moral policing.
The cases of harassment while commuting to work and at office is a regular occurrence. A survey published in The Indian Express on May 8th, 2012 conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) stated “Majority of women doing night shifts feel insecure!”
The survey said that despite certain measures taken by the police to ensure safety, approximately 73 percent of women feel insecure in major hubs across the country, and Delhi was “the most unsafe” followed by Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Pune.
Why is a woman not safe in the civilized society she is a part of? It is us who can help change mindsets, attitudes, and beliefs. It is us who can shape the future of our country progressively. It is us who can work for women empowerment. We can make them feel secure and we can make them feel that they too, like each one of us, deserve to choose a profession of their choice without fear. We need to support women when they need our help. Though it may appear a distant dream but if each one of us starts today, I’m sure we will be able to make India a better place for women to stay!