Fear

Particularly munificent and advanced sort of Indian bloggers often display partial affinity towards esoteric issues and if the cause doesn’t resonate with a complicated and disconnected socio-political state of affairs then its not worth moving your mouse over. In a manner of speaking, that is. There exists cosy sense of camaraderie between the definitive blogigentsia and highly remote and hence highly publishable stories, in the supposedly subversive blogoverse. Chechnya is noteworthy, Coimbatore isn’t. Common stories about local issues, like say, the brutal rape and murder of a 21 year old inPune(Maharashtra’s new youth capital) hasn’t really registered on significant feminist radars or on the plethora of supposedly “feminist” blogs.
Since I am a self proclaimed and an amateurish hack, I can write about issues as peculiarly indigenious(thats what a friend calls it) and uninteresting as these, without them tainting my street-cred.

Every news channel worth its weight in squelchy breakfast cereal boxes, across this country reported the story with as much zest as it could enthuse. A young contact center employee was raped and brutalized by the driver of her company vehicle, while on her way to report for her night shift. You might already have tch-tched your heart out before you proceeded to gulp your morning cuppa and then filed this story as one of the dreadful-god-forbid-it-doesn’t-happen-to-me type of thing in your memory’s unconscious vault. The missing section in the story is far more disturbing. The murderer and his cohort smashed the young girl’s face with a rock, collected her belongings and then calmly proceeded to ferry staffers back and forth for the Pune based outsourcing company till the grisly incident made headline news, the next afternoon.
Can you even begin to imagine the propensity to be evil?

Pure, unadulterated evil.
More importantly, can you imagine driving in the car with this revolting man, talking to him, asking him about his routine and welfare as you make way to or from work?
I can. And after am done imagining the sheer bestilality at work here, I want to pick a scepter and bring it down a couple of hundred times over someone’s head. This story scares and angers me in equal measures. The vile manner in which a young life was snuffed out, almost makes me incoherent with rage and pain.
I work in the outsourcing sector and my erratic deadlines often leave me no choice but to accept company-sponsored transportation. I am often told that I live in a fairly “safe” metro and yet I am not gallant enough to race my way home, alone in a rickshaw, after a conference call ends at 3 am. Primarily, coz I don’t think this is a safe city. The fact that my Chinese friend from Singapore was grabbed and commented upon in broad daylight outside the most famous and crowded mall in Bombay and that too in the most lewd and lecherous manner possible reconfirms my belief that the whole “My Mumbai Safest” slogan is  just another attempt by the denizens of this callous city to wallow in our own turgidity.
My company uses GPRS enabled vehicles in most of the cabs. Well, advertises actually, coz most of the cars are “supposed” to have the system even though they lack it. If you ask the driver, he’s most likely to burble something bout not getting payments on time and tying it to the lack of expected apparatus. No money, no show.
Every night when thousands of call center employees pour out into the parking lots of their multi-storied tech parks, they are usually too exhausted to check significant information about the cars they travel in. They don’t remember number plates or the contractor’s name. Unfortunately, a lot of them are trying so hard to squeeze their life into smaller packets of time, cell phones buzzing, mothers, fathers, friends, lovers at bay, checking drop lists to find their names and if the name is not on it then back to the cell phone for a round of incessant calls to the admin teams and somewhere amidst this commotion, they manage to find their “cabs”. Once you are inside the coupé, your Everest is conquered. You don’t think that something will happen now.

When I started working the odd hours, I was still getting lessons in patience and compartmentalized commute and one chilly night both those ideas were tested in succession. I was on my way home, in a company car, with 3 other girls who’d just joined the organization and had been newly oriented into the ways of Corportedom(dumb?). Fresh faced cherubs just out of college, well scrubbed and starry-eyed bout the first job. They were also a little uncertain bout traveling in the night and yet given that youth often heralds a new, slightly unbalanced form of courage, or at least pretends to, they were comparatively sprightly. I wasn’t. My day was packed and I had to return the next morning, rather the same morning at 10:00 am for a client visit. This, after leaving at 12:30 am. The other nagging, irritating and positively shocking aspect of this commute was that they had let 4 girls leave in an unsupervised vehicle and, more importantly, these freshers weren’t provided with the numbers to the helpdesk for transport emergencies by the HR personnel.
The driver was particularly benevolent, owing to lack of sleep and possibly under the influence of some home-made narcotic since he insisted upon abusing into thin air at periodic intervals(this was half way home), and in a not-so cordial fashion refused to be directed by us. He missed a few red lights and took some rather swift turns. I could see the color draining from the faces around me. I politely (as much as I could be) asked the driver to slow down and possibly try and get us home and not the ER. With a loud screeching noise, the car came to a halt. In his infinite wisdom, the surly sack of potatoes declared that he wouldn’t drive any further since we girls were a nuisance. Apparently, a gentle assertion of getting home alive is categorized as nuisance nowadays. So there we were, at 1:30 am, in the middle of a deserted street, four young girls in a car with a stranger who appeared to be on drugs since he was almost yelling at us for no apparent fault of ours. Frantic calls to the office helpline from my phone went unanswered at first and then went to voicemail. This didn’t help the situation any, except add more ammunition to my general resentment for voicemail.
Schlepping my way back to work wasn’t an option given the general lack of light and camping gear around, so I discarded that thought, also, the three 19 year olds lodged in the car with me looked pale and close to death, stuck in a limbo. I tried to reason with the man without letting the fact, that he indeed was a gargantuan idiot, color my discretion. He turned his vendetta towards me. This was something he should have steered clear from. If I was to borrow from the lean mean green machine, I am the sort for whom “ You won’t like me when am angry” typa argument is written. A severe verbal lashing ensued and it ended with me threatening police action etcetra( not that that would’ve been very effective). The fact that we were approached by a patrol vehicle in the nick of time, may have aided his immediate change of mind.
The sordid situation ended with us finally getting a support vehicle from work to take us home after the police intervention. The girls were too scared to speak. I wasn’t. That’s Brooklyn in me(much pride!). I insisted we go back and write a formal complaint letter. This was unforgivable.
Upon our return, the transport coordinator welcomed us with a sly grin that usually accompanies Mumbai’s “chalta hai” retort. Except, I assured him that it wasn’t gonna fly this time.
I was shocked to notice that the errant driver was cornered and amidst effeminate giggles between the coordinator and him, the matter was reasonably resolved, that is, till I asked to meet the transport supervisor. They tried to convince me about firing the delinquent and after much cajoling, I finally relinquished coz my head was on fire and my asthma was aggravated.
The next day, an emergency meeting with my HOD was called. After the usual spiel of asking about my health and such, he supplied me with a glossed out and extremely fake apology on the company’s behalf and launched into a well-practiced speech bout the perils of bad hiring. He, of course, didn’t feel the need to do the same with the 3 young girls in the cab with me since, well, they are ordinary executives and I belonged to the hallowed echelons of mid-management cadre. So, his hour long schtick was essentially a prelude to pining it all onto the “bad driver”. Ah! That was an easy jump into the blame game. He had so cavalierly passed the buck onto the transport company and even his own admin team and essentially made this out to be a case of “bad hiring”. Bad boy, down down!

 To paraphrase his wise sermon, I should essentially be thankful for being alive and forget about the incident like a “bad dream”. It happens to all of us. And yes, I had displayed amazing courage, dignity and then some other forgettable epithets were hurled my way.
So, that’s all there was to it. We had hired the wrong kinda driver and we would probably fire him. That pretty much was the problem and hence getting that one guy out of the system would cleanse it too.
Nothing about a team wide discussion about this grave issue, no mention of stronger security procedures, not a peep about surveillance et al. This was all a case of terrible recruitment procedure. We should leave it at that.
My eyes were bulging out of their sockets with disbelief and my brain couldn’t comprehend as to which was worse. The quandary I was in now or last night? This Ivy League grad who majored in Human Resource Management and boasts 15 laminated certificates from some of the finest organizational training programs, who heads one of the biggest teams for one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) international conglomerates had just swept a particularly repugnant episode under the carpet with such little élan.
I walked out of the meeting feeling the smallest I have ever felt.
I wonder if the management at that young girl’s company had taken an equally inconsiderate approach to an equally bloodcurdling situation prior to this tragedy. We go through life ignoring hints and signs. Yes, you can’t predict but you can take steps to prevent. Perhaps, things were immaculately well-organized at her office and not as haphazard as mine was or maybe not. I can’t help but speculate. The innate tragedy of living is that we can’t go back and change things on time but  we are left with substantial amounts of it, time that is, to just sit around and wonder what the outcome would have been with a different set of variables at play. I can’t help but think, even if its a remote, improbable thought, that possibly, she’d have been spared her predicament if some preventive measures were taken. At the right time.

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~ by iconoplastic on November 5, 2007.

6 Responses to “Fear”

  1. I’m glad you addressed this issue – and I have to agree with you that bloggers tend to go for stories with the widest possible appeal, which kind of defeats one of the points of blogging from around the world. I don’t think I ran into a lot of posts on the Nithari serial killings case, come to think of it. And the local news I watch in Kolkata has horror stories almost every night about hospital staff killing patients out of sheer callousness or even malice. Rape is a staple item – there’s been a lot of publicized anxiety over police corruption owing to the Rizwanur case, but the news of a female homeguard being brutally raped by a superintendent in the police station a five minute walk from my home has gone unremarked upon.

    It goes on and on.

    My mother told me when I was very young that I should never get into a cab if there are two men driving the cab (i.e. actual driver and someone else riding shotgun). Now that I think about it, I’ve been a cautious, dutiful daughter, never getting into cabs alone, always using mass public transport. Flies in the ointment, though. I’ve arranged my life around and behind a lot of fears (which are not even irrational, just not foolproof) and caution and I know very well that it doesn’t matter how careful I am. I hear this from people who are supposedly educated and reasonable every time I read about a rape – ‘She should have been more careful.’ ‘Why was she walking home alone that late at night?’ It’s not about me – is it possible to use this word in the sense of ‘the generic me’? – it’s about a system that enables these crimes and to all practical purposes condones and actively encourages them. I can’t win. If I can be in blamed in any way, I will be. And I’ve heard of too many incidents of women being abused verbally, sexually, on crowded buses while the other passengers studiously look the other way.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. […] Iconoplastic on the recent rape and murder of a call center employee in Pune and her own experiences with company-sponsored transport. Linked by aishwarya. Join Blogbharti facebook group. […]

  3. a very timely and well-written blog. i just hope more people in “power” read it. but, over the years, i’ve resigned to the fact that it’s not the people but the “positions” who decide. so person a in position b will decide very differently than person a in position c! so what is the way out? employee’s insisting on these measures more an more vociferously?

  4. @Isheeta – I absolutely agree. I woke up this morning to find another tragic news story in the local paper about the cops mercilessly beating up an adolescent girl for 2 straight days because an allegation made against her by a flippant teacher, something bout stealing a gold chain/mangalsutra. Just an allegation. Again, no “feminist” ire has been raised in any visible forum online. At the risk of sounding extremely crass, I love it when ethnocentric feministas go hoarse about some dead white woman’s burden in Eastern Europe. As always, I do see tremendous outcry about the Korean-mother-on-stamp-symbolic-of-patriarchy. Surprisingly we are supposed to suck it up and get on with it. The message is clear.
    I am glad that some of us are talking about. Its a good start. 🙂

    @Asuph – Most employees aren’t encouraged to establish forums to address these issues. Contact centers rather spend time, money, energy sponsoring “Halloween” and “Thanksgiving” charades than actually invest in the safety of their employees. Want to know something even more horrendous, in the event that something as disastrous as this occurs, the executive VP will probably send across a condolence email, neatly typed and conceived by his secretary. Thats the reality of the situation and I see it around me all the time.

  5. Hi, read the post. Liked it. It hits on the nail. Well, can we do much. Liek you talked about your friend who was bugged in the mall, well, the more and more people come in bombay, its going to continue to become more and more murky for singaporeans, firangs or say shillong girls. How ar eyou going to help the divide. grin and bear it. the common man, wat much can he do, stand up and rant about it in blogs. Liek we are doing now. WEll, a few girls liek you and me, actually don’t care if we’re drawing attention to fight for our rights be it, the lewd rickshawalas, or the driver in your case. A call centre employee doesn’t have much choice, they evidently do the job, for the money, well most of them, however the ones who are of your calibre, would be the only ones who would feel agitated aginst such an atrocity the driver harried on you. The common man, me mumbaikar, what of them, what of bal thakeray ? what of R K Laxman. Your grin and ” chalta hai” attitude would prominently be seen in all of his takes on the common man in INDIA. Movies liek ” Dombivali fast” are made on the common man, but finally after the frustration is out, practicality slaps at you. And you wonder what now? what now?

    why do you think the affluent , educated Indians, leave India?

  6. Hi there!

    Very thought-provoking article mam!

    I chanced upon your blog through Blog bharti..

    Anyways..I liked your presentation and how you put across a point..have added your blog to my favs and now I would b a regular reader of your content 🙂 Maybe I would learn something good every time i read here!

    Take care!

    Cheers

    Ravi

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