Jyoti’s murder: Who is to blame?
The murder of 21 year old Jyoti Chowdhary, a has sent has sent shock waves through and and it has also started off the blame game. The police blame the company and the company the cab operators and carelessness of employees. The employees have no one to blame as the companies are their bread and butter.call centre employee
What happened in the case of Jyoti was that it was her ‘regular’ driver and his accomplice who kidnapped, raped and murdered her. There have been incidents earlier and a well publicized case was that of Vikram Poddar who was drugged and murdered by a cab driver and an accomplice when he was on his way to Mumbai from Pune.
The cabs hired out by BPO’s to ferry their employees home are not owned by the companies themselves but hired on contract. The company has no idea whether the profiles of the drivers are checked and usually they are not. Why, just earlier this year a cab driver threw acid on the face of 22-year-old girl working in a Pune BPO when she objected to his getting fresh with her! And in 2005 there was an incident in when Pratibha, a 24-year-old-employee of HP Globalsoft, was raped and murdered by a person posing as her driver.
What news channels and news reports are highlighting is that cab drivers could come from dubious/criminal backgrounds and no one’s checking.
As it says here:
Background check and reference check of the BPO drivers is the weakest link in the entire BPO operation. All our unsafe transportation issues are arising from here…
Security measures by companies are weak/non-existent
The fact that Jyoti’s murder was pre-planned shows that the security measures by companies are weak and cab drivers know it. The cab driver who killed Jyotikumari seemed to know that he would get to drop her when she was alone. It must have been a regular thing.
Companies don’t want to own responsibility
Although drivers with dubious backgrounds are being hired company executives don’t want to take responsibility for it. In fact even the CEO of Wipro refused to accept that they were negligent in this case. The companies go also go as far as to say that the contractors are responsible for the behaviour of the driver. Not them.
What’s shocking is that senior company officials have not only only washed their hands off the situation, they also seem to feel that the employees themselves are to blame! The outrageous reasons given for this is that there are rules in place which are mandatory for employees to follow. Rules such as ensuring that the employees travel with a security guard provided (and who is to say that guard is not in connivance with the driver?) and that women should not get into cabs if there is another man with the driver, or that women should ensure that they are not the last one to be picked up and dropped…
So does this mean that once these rules are put on paper and bound into company manuals, the company can shrug off responsibility? Not that I am saying that all companies even have written rules. There are companies which hold ‘safety seminars and /or simply hand out verbal instructions.
If the responsibility of the company ceases once employees are informed of the rules and safety precautions I wonder why companies need to ensure that workers in hazardous industries wear helmets or gloves? They ensure it because otherwise the could go to jail! So this means there should be some sort of urgent regulation forcing companies to ensure that employees adopt safety measures.
Companies have a duty
In Hindustan UniLever for instance senior managers are severely reprimanded if anyone reporting to them does not wear a seat belt or helmet. If there is an accident, and it comes to light that the occupants of the car were not wearing a seat belt or that in the case of a two-wheeler no helmet, the manager is reprimanded, could be denied promotion and is often humiliated. This is what BPO companies need to emulate.
Blaming victims isn’t right
I read in a news article that BPO executives feel that the employees should change their behavior:
…employees are guilty of not behaving professionally with drivers, the BPO executive, who declined to be identified, said. She said unacceptable behavior includes not being punctual and forcing drivers to speed, becoming over-friendly with them, requesting drivers to drop them at unscheduled spots and getting into quarrels with them.
Now, why has this BPO employee declined to be identified? Why, because she knows that she is biased. Because she knows that criminals will be criminals. Will any normal driver rape and murder a girl because she is over-friendly with him? Or because she is rude to him? Sure, there are cases where normal people can kill if pushed to the limit, but this only happens with constant and severe harassment.
What’s even more alarming is that drivers feel they can get away with crime despite being on the travel agency’s rolls.
The authorities are facing their share of flak
Apparently many of these ‘cabs’ are not bonafide cabs! In fact the Pune City Autorickshaw Federation has demanded a crackdown on ‘tourist’ vehicles functioning as call center cars.
It is mandatory for vehicle owners to have public service badges and a numbers of requests have been made to police commissioner Jayant Umranikar and the RTO (Road Transport) authorities to carry out checks of whether the call centre vehicles were in possession of the public services badges…
No one has bothered to regularize these cabs so far. The reality is that just about any tourist vehicle can be pressed into service to ferry BPO employees and just about anyone can get a job as a taxi driver!
The police have also delayed making that data base of the cab operators and their cabs which they had promised to do. They had asked companies to provide this data (when there were terrorist threats against IT companies) but there was no follow-up with the companies. The police are promising they will do it this time for sure…
On a television channel today there was an interview with the Pune Police Commissioner. He said that there was only one policeman for 1000 citizens in Pune and so he did not think it was the responsibility of the police to provide a guard in every cab. But no one has asked the police to provide a guard in every cab! In fact even what the reporter suggested to him, nakabandis (roadblocks) and random checking, may not work…what will work however is if the police come down heavily on the BPO’s in their area to ensure that safety measures are followed. What will work is if the police keep a database of all the travel operators and their cab drivers and make it mandatory for drivers to be verified by the police. What will work is if the police take away the licenses of the travel agencies if rules are not followed.
But ofcourse when it comes to the individual safety of employees there is no doubt that the company has to take responsibility.
Can BPO employees expect better transport arrangements in the future?
Well, there are demands for mini-buses and company buses with female security guards and/or female drivers. Even a change in shift timings. Well, company buses are a good idea but I doubt whether many companies will go in for this expensive alternative. Only a strong demand by employees can make them consider this. They might find it easier to change shift timings.
While a slight change in shift timings is fine, what must not be tried in any circumstances was what the tried after Pratibha’s murder in similar circumstances. They wanted to ban women from working late shifts! In my post on this subject I had mentioned how instead of asking companies to provide better security to women employees and improve policework, the government indulges in propaganda tactics to show to the public how ‘concerned’ they are about the safety of women. And there are enough regressive thinking people who support such moves. Luckily women’s groups poured cold water on this idea.government
Now now that this murder has happened, companies are bound to go into over drive – checking drivers, making long-winded company documents detailing security measures, holding safety seminars, putting up warning notices, hiring more security guards, threatening employees of disciplinary action if they don’t follow the security drill…but how long will this last?
The Bangalore have police have said that more than a 100 crimes were registered in Bangalore during the past one and a half years concerning incidents of call centre workers being targeted by those who work in the transport services. No statistics are available country-wide but on an individual level it’s best to keep in mind some of the rules which the BPO industry is supposed to follow. If you find your company is not following them, you can bring it to the notice of the concerned people:
- Women should not be picked up first or dropped last by company vehicles at night.
- If male-colleagues are not around, women workers must have security escorts (women security escorts*)
- Vehicles ferrying women should be equipped with GPS (global positioning system).
- Companies should submit a data-base of taxi service operators and drivers on duty to the police.
- Cab drivers ferrying women should not be changed frequently. No ‘substitute’ drivers should be allowed.
- The ITES-BPOs must ensure that transport operators employ drivers with police verification certificates.
- All drivers should carry identity cards which should be thoroughly scanned each time by company security to ensure that someone else is not using them*.
- The firms should draw up route maps and schedules of drivers every week.
- Car pools hired by firms to work should not have tinted windscreens.
- Senior security officials of every firm should check vehicles and frisk drivers for weapons.
- All drivers should undergo testing for alcohol consumption each and every time they get behind the driver’s seat. Breath-analysers should be provided to company security guards.*
- These firms should not assign work for 14-16 hours to drivers as is the norm.
- Arrangement for overnight stay should be made in case there is an emergency and a vehicle is not available.*
*These are my own additions.
(Photo linked to the original)
Update, 15th Nov: Xylene sent me a link to a news story which gives the latest on Jyoti’s murder. Apparently she was told that the other man in the cab was an employee. She was lied to. This shows how easy it is for a criminal to manipulate the situation in the absence of checks from the company.