IT super-power or IT super-shame?

The rape and murder of Hewlett Packard call centre employee Pratibha Srikantamurthy in Bangalore in December 2005 not only shocked the whole country, it also brought to light the indifference that even a company as big as HP has regarding the welfare of its workers.

Shocking as the incident was, what was more shocking is the way crucial details have been glossed over by the media, and HP’s role in the incident has barely been discussed. For HP’s transport department knew that Pratibha had been picked up from her home by the “wrong” driver. Yet when she did not turn up for work, they marked her absent and got on with life!

Pratibha’s shift started at 2 A.M., and she was picked up an hour earlier by the “wrong” driver. Some time later, when the duty driver called her to report in, she told him that she had already been picked up. The duty driver asked to speak to the “wrong” driver and was informed that he had in fact been allotted the route that day.

The duty driver then called up HP’s transport department to demand an explanation. Thus, HP knew that Pratibha was alone in a car around 1 A.M. in the morning with a man who was not supposed to be on duty, and they did nothing. To add insult to injury, she was marked absent for the day.

Such gross negligence—criminal negligence, for if HP had acted, they could have saved her life—shows exactly how much even a multinational corporate cares for its employees. Of course, HP released a press statement where they ducked under their so-called rules and procedures, and made all the right sympathetic and outraged noises about what they are going to do about reviewing staff safety. In this case, they said, as no alarm was raised regarding any sort of misconduct or an untoward incident having taken place, the transport department didn’t take the matter further.

Yes, that is absolutely correct. Pratibha Srikantamurthy was busy being raped and murdered, remember? This is a wild assumption, but I do think she would have found it hard to take a few minutes out to report “misconduct” or “untoward incident”.

In any other country HP would have probably been sued for millions. But here, given the inefficiency of the judicial system and the fact that the media and the politicians have sold out big time to corporates will see to it that they are absolved of any blame.

Security, or the lack of it, for late shift workers is something they have to deal with every day. No matter what the companies say or how many code books they flash at us, the truth remains that this is a problem that is not going away in a hurry.

In a country where women are regarded as lesser human beings, where crime against them is attributed to causes such as “provocative dressing”, where mothers and fathers kill their own daughters before they are born, we have all grown reprehensibly tolerant to crime against women. The papers report cases of rape and molestation every day, and each time we go out, we are subjected to some sort of sexual harrassment—something that most of us have worked out ways to deal with, and those ways rarely include attempting to get justice.

One can only hope that Pratibha didn’t die for nothing. That her murder will actually see companies doing something for their employees’ safety. If nothing, at least change shift timings so that no one has to report for work at 2 A.M. in the morning.


3 Replies to “IT super-power or IT super-shame?”

  1. Thank you Payal for filling up the spaces that the traditional media had left unattended.
    As for the conduct/misconduct of HP in the said matter, I think what you have already said should be suffice.
    I can only hope that the government and the so called watchguard of IT/ITeS industry Nasscom wake up before it’s too late and do something in the desired direction.

  2. The entire episode also shatters the myth that MNCs are great employers. They are just like politicians – fool the constituency, get their votes and then try to make as much money as possible. Actually, they are worse than politicians – at least the latter can be held publicly responsible or voted out. As for HP, I am not really surprised by their lack of concern for their employees. Heck, this is a company that is attempting to fool customers through an ad campaign that shows that a wider computer screen will display more of a picture!!! I mean, they fool the people who pay for their products. Why would they be concerned about those whom they have to pay? I am never buying another HP product if I can help it!

  3. Payal, this was wonderfully written. Succinct and loaded with outrage as it should be. I work late night shifts and I think ultimately the only way one can work towards increasing women’s safety is if women themselves assume full responsibility for it. The companies, the governments dont give a damn for all the noises they make about it. Only women can ensure a safer environment for themselves. How it is to be done, I don’t know.

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