ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Saturday, November 3, was the last day at work for Jyoti Chowdhary. It was also the last day on the planet for the 21-year-old. The Wipro BPO employee was raped and murdered in Poona by the driver of a cab that Wipro had hired. An accomplice was with him.
While Jyoti’s friends and family, and the City she had made her home, were grappling with the tragedy, Wipro executives quickly swung into overdrive, working out an elaborate watertight strategy to defend the company from any allegations of neglect and/or dereliction of duty.
And to drive home how robust their processes were.
Soon after the incident, Wipro issued a boilerplate statement mourning Jyoti’s death and recalling her contribution to the company. So far, so good. It was only when Wipro BPO president T.K. Kurien addressed the media later that evening that the true colours of the “Numbers Obsessed Modern Indian Company” shone through.
Even from this distance, everything Kurien did and said was outrageous, obnoxious and positively insulting to Jyoti and the thousands of other Wipro employees looking for reassurances of their safety from their bossman.
Let me start with the way Kurien appeared in his weekend best: cheerful, carefree, and with a devil-may-care enthusiasm. Maybe that’s his default mode. But with a young girl’s life cruelly snuffed out? Kurien appeared smug and happy that the company’s seemingly well-rehearsed cliche-ridden defence intended to deflect any imputations of culpability seemed to be working so well.
Oh yes, Kurien did have a swagger—just that he was not walking.
Kurien’s on-air behaviour would have been normal except that he forgot that the occasion was to explain the circumstances and take questions on the rape and murder of a young employee, not to announce the gravity-defying quarterly performance of his company.
The media asked the right questions. How did Wipro allow the cab driver to have an accomplice, that too without a badge? What did the company do after they got to know of the incident? What does the company do to check antecedents of cab drivers they hire to ferry employees? Etcetera.
In response, Kurien glibly reeled out what seemed clearly like a much-photocopied company document in the event of such incidents. He pointed out how foolproof their processes were about employees travelling by cabs. How they have an ongoing education programme on personal safety and precautions. Etcetera.
So much so, that in his enthusiasm to perform with panache in front of the cameras, the Wipro BPO president even got the name of his employee wrong.
He called her Pratibha, instead of Jyoti.
A small, Freudian slip, maybe, but how many employees die in the line of duty that a company chief, most of whom can remember the details of company results down to the third decimal point, can’t even give a dead girl (and her grieving family) a modium of dignity in death?
Kurien also pointed out—proudly, repeatedly—that the cabs that Wipro hires, do more than 5 million pickups and drops every year.
What is that supposed to mean?
That it is not a such a big deal if one such pickup goes wrong?
That even rape and murder meets a Sigma Six standard in Wipro? (Sigma Six=3.4 defects per million.)
What was disgusting in the entire tamasha was that far from showing any sympathy or compassion about the death of a young employee, Kurien seemed to suggest that it was not Wipro’s problem that Jyoti got into the cab and invited trouble.
It was, after all is said and done, Jyoti’s fault!
Kurien’s tone, tenor and body language were absolutely offensive. He seemed to enjoy interacting with the media though he had no answers to several pointed questions.
IT India’s attitude (through Wipro’s via Kurien’s on-air demeanour) to the death of a young employee raise some simple questions:
# Are employees so dispensable to BPO companies?
# Where does such an insensitive and inhuman attitude to human lives stem from?
# Are processes more important than people?
# And of what use are “world class, water tight processes” if they cannot stop rape and murder?
More importantly, is such a nonchalant attitude all that its slaving employees can expect from a brand-leader like Wipro which employs thousand of people, most of them young women?
# Is this a reflection of corporate arrogance, immaturity or plain incompetence?
# Can companies be allowed to wash their hands off such incidents by saying it’s the cab companies’ fault, not theirs?
# Don’t they have any responsibility to employees and to society at large?
“Bodycount,” is a buzzword in IT, ITES and BPO companies. Do the rapes and murders of female workers, give the word a new meaning? After all it’s not all that difficult to replace one body with another.
Or is it?
Pratibha was the girl who was murdered similary in Bangalore. thats why the slip
An employee is just another number or a statistic on their spreadsheets gleaming and teeming with profit and more of it. IT companies and their likes pride themselves on the so-called processes that neither serve their purpose nor help people who work hard to put them in place. Interestingly, such water-tight processes are lauded by all and sundry when these same companies report profits that are skyrocketing faster than India’s population or the Sensex of late! Nobody including media stops to ask a simple question ‘are people so easily expendable?’ In this knowledge driven economy of ours aren’t these same people treasures of knowledge? Isn’t treating them better and providing them a safe environment to work and grow any company’s responsibility?
Such a hopeless situation begs unionism and leftist behavior to be considered seriously even though that is a devil in a princely robe. But this same devil promises to get people what they deserve in a just society.
i smell another round of nice IT bashing here…
People notice this only because everyone is IT/BPO obsessed. Not one word of outrage from these people for the hundreds of industrial accidents that happen each day in small and medium companies.
With due respect to the departed, me agrees with vinay and G3S.
If some very manufactured stories—rising divorces, falling dowry, rising suicides, falling sperm counts—can make it to newspapers and TV only because it features IT professionals, should a real story about the rape and murder of a real girl be buried? Because it involves IT? Because it is not good news? What’s the logic here?
That said, what did Ms Ashwini expect? That T.K. Kurien would appear in a black suit with a black shirt and a black tie and a pair of dark glasses, with tears rolling down his cheeks? Come on. The media cover this story like the end of the world because they think it appeals to their kind of readership/viewership. And the companies react the way they do because they want to reassure the world that nothing is wrong.
The truth is bitter. But in a country like ours, rape and murder is not a new story. Nor sadly will it ever be. What we can only hope is that such coverage and response prompts other industries, companies, sectors to also react likewise in making the workplace safer for women.
IT companies “outsource” transport among other facilities to outsiders, thus avoid depreciation and keeping overheads low. This creates jobs outside their circle of competence which is good. Incidents like these only underline why the cash-rich companies should shell out a bit more cash to ensure that their contractors are not cutting corners by employing the unemployable like in the case of Pratibha Srikantamurthy or Jyoti Chowdhary.
i posted a comment that simply dissapeared. not even a message that says you are in moderation.
AS well put.
Here is a story of Renuka, Padmavathi, Ratnamma and Ammu
(The Hindu, Oct 17, 2007)
According to garment workers’ union representatives, Renuka was berated by the general manager and manager of the factory unit in Goruguntepalya. She was made to stand near the security cabin at the workplace for half the shift, with no work to do. She was told to leave the factory premises in the afternoon, they alleged.
At about 3 p.m. she left the factory and went home and hanged herself.
The union representatives pointed out that Padmavathi, a 39-year-old worker, had collapsed and died last month near the apparel factory in Timber Yard Layout where she worked. She was allegedly kept waiting for leave to visit a doctor. In February, 27-year-old Ammu committed suicide within the factory premises run by the same management that employed Renuka.
The union representatives added that in March this year, Ratnamma, a pregnant worker, lost her baby she delivered on a street near her factory in Timber Yard Layout after her request for leave was not granted immediately. In April, Jagadish, a garment worker in the Yeshwantpur industrial area, was attacked by a supervisor with acid.
These cases, the union representatives said, pointed to “the continuing practice in the garment industry of squeezing out higher productivity through harassment of workers”. They alleged that factories routinely set “unrealistic targets and force workers to work well beyond their mandated eight hours, without any time for breaks during the workday, often without overtime payments”. Any attempt at resistance, they said, was met with harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and arbitrary dismissal.
I think this website is owned by a bunch of communists!!
Employee is a NUMBER weather its India or USA or any other place. This is the plain truth. Combined with a weak government run by corroupt scoundrels is a blessing in disguise in India.
ensure that their contractors are not cutting corners by employing the unemployable like in the case of Pratibha Srikantamurthy or Jyoti Chowdhary.
WTF do you know about them to judge like that!?
I bet these BPOs’ clients would hardly care about they conforming to Six Sigma and would hop onto Papua New Guinea or such, for cheaper and equivalent services.
These incidents cannot really be compared to industrial accidents. Cab company employees who create chaos on the street and on the side commit crimes, ‘security’ staff who organize robberies and murders and prey on the employees they are supposed to protect etc. – If a whole cottage industry of crime has arisen due to the cost-cutting practices of BPOs it is as much a social issue which is to be questioned as just a mere statistic in the industry.
The call center may just shift the blame on the ‘company’ they have outsourced the work to, but doesnt running a business also mean you keep a track of who you deal with and how your practices are effecting the community you run the business in? The cab mafia which has sprung up in Bangalore feeds off the call centers who just want to cut costs and run away from any responsibility. But the cab mafia, the traffic accidents or the murder/rape would not happen if the call center had taken care of this issue. If it is just a matter of profit and cost cutting – then we could start justifying anything – child labour, slave labour etc.
Check out an article on the recent court verdict against ICICI hiring musclmen for loan recovery after selling the loans by any means:
“ICICI, however, refused to own up the act contending the agents were employed separately by the recovery agency and it could not held culpable for any such act as it had asked the agency to conduct themselves in accordance with the law. Quashing the bank’s argument, the Commission said “for every illegal acts of the collection agency, the bank is directly liable,” adding the consumer had no concern with an internal agreement between the bank and any other agency and they could not be made to pay the price for it.”
At least the BPO companies should show some sincerity in solving a real problem caused by their business practices. If there is no internal solution to the problem and the whole situation is new – the government has to step in and set standards by means of legislation which will force the companies to do business in a way not harmful to society. After all the government seems to be laying ground rules for things like intellectual property etc., cant they address new issues due to new industry like BPOs? But for that our legislators should sit down and think and come up with the right balance which does overall good to everyone – businesses, employees, society. But that is a dream isn’t it :) Why would the BPOs even care to get their act right when our legislators are more interested in making money by running cab companies (and other illegal businesses) rather than looking at the overall need of society?
It’s not only shameful and shocking to read that a woman was raped and killed, its even painful to read several of readers here do not seem to acknowledge or understand the “standoffish” behavior of the firm and a socially inept BPO President (Kurien) is simply not acceptable.
Agreed, there was a screw up outside of Wipro’s realm but Wipro as a firm either providing or assisting employees with transportation services has some responsibility of offering condolences and respect for their dead employee. And when you field a press conference for the dead, understand the gravity of the situtation and behave likewise.
I guess the problem lies with the whole fucked up system, people have no respect for each other or the law.
I think in a situation such as these, the solution is not to say “oh, would this be an issue if this was a manufacturing industry” or “another IT bashing event”. But rather to hold people, firms and authorities accountable.
How does this Kurien chap come on air, representing a firm to whom the girl has dedicated the best years of her life and infact lost it, and act with no dignity? Wipro as a firm must take responsibility. I guess if Aziz Premji instead of saving up had he have dedicated a few thousand dollars he would have saved a life and perhaps will in the future.
Guess, I’m loosing focus, got to headhome, but the point is don’t show up here and leave comments that mean nothing and offer no solution. COME UP WITH SOLUTIONS NOT MORE QUESTIONS AND THUS PROBLEMS.
Remember, companies like WIPRO, Infosys are part of ‘India’, where there is a very little value for human life. As long as we don’t change our fundamental view on life, things would continue to happen.
Question for all – Can you tell me the date on which terrorists blew up innocent civilians in Hyderabad amusement park? (wink, wink)
Your numbers are not correct.
5 mil per year translates to 136000 per day
and that means every employee is transported back and forth by cab..
That is not true. Cab is used to drop the employee when he/she misses her bus on account of company work.
So your figure of 5 mil is bloated beyond proportions.. Probably total drops are only 1 percent of that figure.
Why didnt the konga rag wail at the loss of life or criticize the demeanour of the official? Did it have something to do with the small matter the official was christened kurien and the Boss of the company is a certain Azim Premji?
I agree with Rohith. Managers in enterprises in general and multinationals in particular( even if it is a recent MNC like Wipro) mostly masturbate on their spreadsheets and forget their responsibilities to their employees. The incident in Bangalore must have been an eye opener for these morons. And these are the bastards who talk of how people must be proactive. But that’s in relation to the global market conditions. As far as India goes they are running mostly bodyshops. So what if one body gets raped and killed? Shameless pimps
@Not a Witty Nick
“WTF do you know about them to judge like that!?”
Well, WTF do you know to NOT judge them like that!? Two women lie dead. What more do you want? An autograph on their vaginas like the brave foot-soldiers of the Hindutva movement?
The dictionary has a number of words to describe those who miss the woods for the trees when it hits them between the eyeballs, and instead find cover under the “judgement” alibi. You can choose what fits you best.
Why are we wasting simply writing or reading…any way we can not do any thing for the damage that is already happened. Atleast try to learn form this mistake and make sure atleast you ensure proper precautions will be taken to your sisters and friends.
Just see my note,
We will take all precautions. And continue to write and read too…
BTW whose ‘mistake’ do you think we should learn from?
If this had happened in USA, employers (Wipro and HP) will be sued for millions of dollars by the families of the victims and they will easily win because the employer is responsible. Millions of course will not bring back the lost lives. Can you imagine the agony the poor girl went thru during those horrific moments…The Wipro executives involved with safety and the business unit should summarily be fired. I expect Wipro Chairman (and in the previous case HP’s head honcho) to go and console and own up to the victim’s family – not make statements to the press. It is absolutely shocking behavior if the company tries to hide behind lawyers and attorneys. It was unfortunate, it was an accident, it may happen in the future but a company that I would admire will do what ever it takes to first provide relief (mental, moral and financial) to the grieving family and the reassure other employees and tighten the security well beyong the six sigma norms. Otherwise Wipro or HP is just another company with low values and worse a cowardly organization.
Wipro treats all employees badly, I know for a fact. So you can well imagine the plight of one who is dead and gone. I think Churmuri should start a blog for all workers and work-related issue in different sectors: IT, manufacturing, auto, media, films, government and so on. It should feature a special question for each sector at a time. You will stumble upon a mine of shocking facts. It is also a way of keeping workers “unions” alive in the age of liberalisation and corporate manipulation.
The supreme court rejected Mr. Som Mittal’s appeal challenging the dismissal of his petition by the Karnataka High Court.
Let’s see how this ends. And if it causes a change in the callous attitude of BPOs towards their employees and society – at least out of fear of the law.
The problem is we do not want to accept our fault.
Loss of life is the most shocking event to any one of us, as they are someone whom we relate as a sister/brother/mother…..
It’s high time to be proactive and take action so that it never happens. taking the dirt of the shoulder can never solve a problem,rather creates few more. For a country like us we have rules,laws….but all in paper.
vinay i think plz talk sense and not ease the tone , or the seriousness of the issue. the it companies like to go for the huge profits and not care for the employees, the big bosses are too busy to make policies and decisions and not to intaract with the employees even a mass events, and speak to employees to boost motivation. they are the kings and feel its trivial to speak to common employees (peasents).Which is why they are not bothered about the consequences about their employees.
Ashwini, Congratulations! Your article has stirred up so much discussion in the past 3 years, you are selected for the post of Reporter for the “TIMES of INDIA”, the glamorous IT gossip-paper of India! :-)