Many IT workers said that Bangalore did not provide a safe enough environment for the working woman, though it was relatively better off compared to cities such as Delhi and Chennai.
The renewed debates on crimes against women, in the wake of widespread protests after the Delhi gang rape, has brought the spotlight back on safety of women working in the technology sector in India’s IT capital, Bangalore.
However, industry focus remains largely on the bigger IT companies and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) firms, which have over the years, after the 2005 rape and murder of BPO employee Pratibha S. Murthy, put in place basic security measures for women on commutes, on campuses and on the night shift. But this focus leaves out of its ambit the many small and medium-size technology and software services firms scattered around the city.
Naina Kulkarni, a 24-year-old who works in an IT security services firm, says her work day never ends before 8.30 p.m. Her eight-member team has three girls, all dependent on public transport to get home. Located in a residential layout in J.P. Nagar, her company has nine women workers. “Technically, we are not a call centre, so asking for transport is out of the question. The roads are often poorly-lit and security is certainly a cause for concern,” she says.
Her colleague, Amrita, who lives in Hebbal, says she takes buses and autorickshaws late at night. Both say that though officially bosses may grant them permission to leave early, project deadlines are tight and require them to clock the extra hours.
Hetal Shah, who works in a technology start-up in Koramangala, says that smaller companies have “impossible project deadlines” and “highly competitive work cultures”.
“So the problem can't be solved by saying we leave early, because our performance tends to suffer. No girl wants her career to lag,” she says. Aarthi R., a senior analyst, agrees: “I get irritated when people tell me to leave early, because I know it puts me at a disadvantage. Why can the roads not be kept safe?”
Even large IT firms have issued directives that women staff leave early. Dell Inc., for instance, recently told employees to leave office before 6.30 p.m., but extended it to 8 p.m. Another employee says when “business is low” or projects “un-billable” taking cabs is not allowed.
A recent Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry survey found that productivity levels of women in the sector had fallen by a third after the Delhi rape incident, and that Bangalore, which has over 1,800 BPO/ITeS units, is the “worst affected”. The survey, which has been dismissed by a section of the industry, says that their commutes are bad and unsafe.
Many IT workers The Hindu spoke to, confirmed this. They said that Bangalore did not provide a safe enough environment for the working woman, though it was relatively better off compared to cities such as Delhi and Chennai.
Indifferent to some of these realities, IT industry bodies in 2011 wrote to the Labour Department seeking extension of the deadline for working hours for women employees from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. This was turned down, however, after the Women's Commission and IT employees welfare groups expressed opposition.
The motive here was to enable employers to escape liability of their women employees till 10 p.m., alleges Suresh Kodoor, a member of ITEC (IT/ITeS Employees Centre), a support group for IT workers. “Basically, many companies offer services to companies in the U.K., and those shifts end at 9 p.m. This extension would help them dodge that responsibility,” he explains.
Pronab Mohanty, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime-West), concedes that there are indeed “logistical challenges” to monitoring a sector that, unlike traditional industries located in clusters, are spread thin across the city. But, he says that following the Delhi rape the police have been re-auditing safety practices for the sector. “Our beat officers keep tabs on small companies and paying guests accommodation where working women live,” he said.