Nearshore Americas

Rapes Shock India BPO and Many Female Workers Want Out

By Narayan Ammachchi

Many female employees of BPO firms in North India are refusing to work on night shifts or  are considering quitting their job altogether, says a newly released report from India’s federation of industry associations, ASSOCHAM. The report was developed from a survey the industry association conducted after a medical student was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi two weeks ago.

“We have spoken to more than 2500 women employees across the country; nearly 40 percent of them are either refusing to work on night shifts or considering quitting the job,” said Manju Shree, a senior officer with ASSOCHAM. Given the report, the rising tide of rape cases have hit hard the BPO industry across the country, including Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai –– the cities home to thousands of BPO firms.

There are about 2,200 ITES and BPO units in Delhi alone and they have employed over a quarter million women aged between 18 and 45 years. The BPO workforce is relatively young in India, the majority being less than 30 years.

In the survey, nearly 82 percent of female respondents said they had now started leaving office early after the sunset. More striking still, a majority of respondents said they were not ‘comfortable’ working in BPO sector, which requires its employee work on nightshifts.

In the survey, some female BPO employees said they have often received telephone calls from anonymous people talking indecently. “Women working for BPO firms are the most vulnerable and prone to both physical and non-physical attacks after their duty hours,” said ASSOCHAM Secretary General D S Rawat.

“Security is one of the major concerns for the women who are working in the BPO, KPO and ITeS sectors. The odd hours of work and the long distances of travel make women quite prone to difficult and often dangerous situations,” Rawat added.

But BPO firms NSAM spoke to seemed to downplaying the report. All they have said is that they have stepped up security around women employees.

“We don’t allow any female employee to go home alone after 8 o’clock in the night. We send them in a car escorted by security officers. We have hired thousands of security guards,” said Smita Gaikawad, a spokesperson at the BPO firm Firstsource.

Most of the vehicles hired by BPO firms to ferry their employees is equipped with GPS systems. And Smita says her company has set up a helpline to monitor women employees traveling their way back home after night shift. “We make sure that the security officers do not leave until she gets into the safety of her house,” Smita added.

Rape Cases & BPO Industry

Recent high profile rape incidents are clearly worrying the sector. Barely a day after ASSOCHAM released its report, a call center employee was found dead nearby her house on the outskirts of New Delhi. The 21-year-old employee, according to police, left her office at around 9 o’clock in the night and headed in the direction of her house in Delhi’s industrial district Noida. She did not reach home. Someone kidnapped her on the way, raped her and later killed, say police.

Analysts say such incidents happen quite often in India.  Nearly two years ago, a gang of criminals in Mumbai kidnapped a BPO employee in the middle of the night seconds after she was dropped off by her office vehicle. She was found dead the following day. Post mortem reports later confirmed that she was raped before being killed.

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Earlier to this incident, a 30-year-old BPO employee was raped and killed in Bangalore by the driver of a car which her office had hired to ferry employees.

“Women employees must be in groups during night shifts; they should not be the first to be picked up from their homes and the last to be dropped home by the drivers,” suggested ASSOCHAM in a note issued to outsourcing companies.

Interestingly, the number of female employees in India’s BPO sector is rising. In 2011-12, the IT-BPO industry had 52% women in its workforce compared to 32% in 2008-09, according to figures released by the industry body.


Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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