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Bangalore rape: When will our Silicon Valley take its foot soldiers seriously

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 8 October 2015, 15:53 IST

Gruesome Bengaluru

  • A 22-year-old girl was gangraped by a driver and his helper in Bengaluru on Saturday
  • The duo dropped the girl near her PG after she begged for mercy

No lesson learnt

  • Bengaluru still remembers the rape and murder of a BPO employee in 2005
  • Several guidelines were set but not followed by the IT companies

How many more kidnappings and brutal rape, or even murder, of young, innocent girls shall Bengaluru tolerate before asking cynically profit-oriented IT companies to put in place basic security measures for their employees?

How long shall 'India's Silicon Valley' go on winking at IT and BPO companies flagrantly flouting labour laws just because they contribute handsomely to the nation's GDP growth?

Such troubling questions beg urgent answers as another BPO employee was abducted and gang-raped in a moving van in Bengaluru on Saturday night. Fortunately, she survived to narrate her horrifying tale, which is reminiscent of the 16 December Delhi gangrape case.

The 22-year-old rape survivor moved to the city two months ago to take up a new job. On Saturday around 9.30 pm, she took a Tempo Traveller on Hosur Road to get back home after work. There were three-four more passengers in it.

After the others alighted the van, its driver - drunk - and his helper locked it from inside, shut the windows and put on loud music. They then started harassing the woman from Gwalior while driving around the city.

They tore her clothes, molested her and then took her to an isolated place and raped her for over three hours.

After the woman promised not to tell anyone and begged for mercy, the duo dropped her in the Madiwala area, where she lives in a PG accommodation, around 2.30 am.

Recovering from her semi-conscious state, the woman then called a friend who rushed her to the nearby St John's Hospital.

A medical examination confirmed rape, but the survivor did not want to file a complaint, being mortally scared of her assaulters. The police eventually persuaded her to do so and started working with some sketchy leads about the vehicle and the accused.

According to the police, her condition is now stable, but she is badly traumatised.

By the time the news broke on Monday, the police were busy with the security arrangements for the visit of German Chancellor Angela Markel and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Still Police Commissioner NS Megharikh put in place three crack teams to look for the culprits.

"It was almost a blind case - the woman was not in a position to recollect anything clearly. Getting the vehicle number was most important. Our team did crack that after looking at various permutations and combinations," said Megharikh.

The cops started with a list of Tempo Travellers plying in the city, gleaning some clues from CCTV cameras along the route the van had taken on Saturday night.

The commissioner said the two accused had moved to Bengaluru from Chikkamagaluru district about four years ago. The duo operated the hired vehicle from the Hosur-Bommanahalli IT corridor to several parts of the city, as hundreds of private vehicles do, with or without valid permits.

"They have confessed to the crime and we are happy that we are able to catch the culprits. But it is an unfortunate incident and our focus is on making it a water-tight case so that they get punished rather than us taking any credit," said Megharikh.

Bengaluru has not yet forgotten the gruesome rape and murder of a Hewlett Packard BPO employee. Shivakumar, a cab driver on 13 December, 2005, took her to a desolate place, raped and murdered her. Her mutilated body was found in some bushes on the outskirts of the city three days later.

'Male employees refuse to remain in cabs until women colleagues are dropped'

After Prathibha's murder and the public uproar that followed, there was a flurry of activity for some time as the state government and the police drew up a list of guidelines regarding security measures to be taken by companies employing women in night shifts.

Goaded by the National Association of Software & Services Companies (Nasscom), several IT, ITeS and BPO companies drew up new security policies. Some of the major companies set up transport departments, introduced internal hotlines and SMS services to monitor commuting employees and even equipped vehicles with GPS.

Some top companies now provide reasonably safe transportation to their employees, but thousands of others have gone back to the old ways of drastically cutting facilities or letting employees manage their own transport.

One of the measures that the police insisted on and followed for some time was that a male employee should always be present until the last woman employee is dropped to either the office or home. This is now followed more in breach than in practice.

"The problem is not with the rules, but with their implementation. Male employees refuse to remain in the cab till all women are dropped. It is a typical Indian mentality on which we have no control," confessed an HR manager.

After the Prathibha murder case, the security scenario for employees would have changed drastically had the Karnataka government and the courts vigorously pursued the case filed against Som Mittal, the then managing director of HP GlobalSoft Ltd for culpability in the offence and taken it to its logical conclusion.

Mittal, who also chaired Nasscom, approached the Supreme Court, seeking quashing of the case against him. The court refused, but the case is now buried in some dusty cupboard of a lower court. Meanwhile, the vital issue of safety and security of employees has gone for a six.

The IT industry, over the last two decades, may have become the darling of the government, raking in revenue of $130 billion in 2014 and employing around 10 million people. but that is no reason to treat them with kid gloves.

They continue to enjoy phenomenal tax benefits, nestling in tax-free and special economic zones, and are offered completely irrational export sops. More scandalously, they are allowed to flout all labour laws regarding hours of work, working conditions, including hiring and firing.

Indian companies as well as multinationals are happy to pay around one-fourth of the salaries they offer to their employees doing the same work abroad as long as the government is ready to turn a blind eye and let them rake in the moolah.

There is a flicker of hope. If Narendra Modi's 'jadoo' works on the czars of Silicon Valley - if the Zuckerbergs and Pichais seriously consider his invitation to invest in India, here's hoping they bring the best practices of their 'valley' to our 'valley'.

First published: 8 October 2015, 15:53 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.