Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Needed: Women Drivers In India

In recent days the gruesome rape and murder of Jyoti Chaudhari in Pune has been in the news. Jyoti, a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) worker, was traveling – alone with a driver – in a company-provided cab, going to her office for her late night shift, when the incident took place. It appears that the driver of the cab and an accomplice were the perpetrators of this heinous crime. For more about this incident see this, this, or this.

This horrific incident – apparently not the first such case – has sent shock waves through the BPO industry in India. A large proportion of the BPO workforce is female, and many employees are required to work in late night shifts. Transportation of workers to and from late night shifts is usually contracted out by the BPO company to a fleet of cabs. There appears to be a general perception among women BPO workers, as well as in the media and the police that this kind of travel arrangement raises serious safety issues. Consider this chilling advice given to female BPO workers: “if you are in one such cab, never drop your guard, Avoid distractions like music, keep emergency numbers on speed dial and keep pepper spray or at least a bunch of keys handy” (link). For more see this, this, or this.

It appears that BPO companies have long been aware of these safety issues and have introduced some rules to prevent untoward incidents – the main rule being that female workers are not to travel in a cab unless accompanied by a male colleague. Some companies also put security guards in these cabs. However, in the wake of the Jyoti Chaudhari incident, it is obvious that the current rules are not enough. A number of new ideas to improve security have been floated. These range from bolstering the presence of security guards in the cabs, to increased night patrolling by the police, to improved databases for conducting effective background checks for driver, to installing Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in cabs to track their movements (see this, this, and this). While some of these suggestions are certainly reasonable, most of them will entail large financial outlays and are still not likely to be foolproof.

I propose a radical and elegant solution for this problem – a solution that is likely to be cost-effective as well: hire women drivers to drive the cabs that transport BPO workers. Think about it: the main security concern in a late-night BPO cab is the driver. If the driver is a woman then the fear of sexual assault is automatically eliminated. A security guard will not be needed in a woman-driven cab. Nor will there be any need to juggle pick-up and drop-off routes so as to avoid having unaccompanied female BPO workers in a cab. The possibility of drivers being drunk during their nighttime duty hours is also likely to be greatly reduced if BPO companies hire women drivers. Not only will this approach insulate women BPO workers from the possibility of sexual assault, it is also likely to have the very substantial side-benefit of providing new income opportunities for women from relatively poor socio-economic backgrounds. Of course, BPO companies may have to make some initial investments to train women drivers, but it should pay off financially in the long run.

BPO companies could be just a starting point for professional women drivers in India. I think there is great potential for women working as drivers/chauffeurs. As is well known, many car-owners in India employ drivers/chauffers. Why should women not be considered for this occupation? Many Indian women from poor socio-economic backgrounds work as housemaids, house-cleaners, cooks, child-care providers, etc. Their salary is generally rather low. If these women can learn the additional skill of driving a car, and if – a big if – the upper-middle-class families that employ them accept the notion of women drivers, then the income potential for these women is likely go up substantially. Driving the family car could also fit in very nicely with such women’s work schedules. For example, a housemaid could, in addition to her house cleaning duties, easily take on the additional duty of driving her employer’s kids to school, thereby substantially increasing her income potential, and providing a valuable service to her employer.

Some will say that women from poor socio-economic backgrounds will never be able to learn how to drive. However, the men who work as drivers usually come from very similar socio-economic backgrounds. In terms of education, etc., there is generally not a huge difference between male drivers and female housemaids (in terms of salary, however, a male driver generally earns substantially more than a female housemaid). I am sure female drivers in India will be just as capable as male drivers – if only prejudices and mindsets can be overcome.


Blogger ggop said...

This is a practical suggestion. Its depressing I feel safer in Hong Kong or Singapore at night and I never feel safe in any Indian city.

November 06, 2007 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Ottayan said...

Who will protect the woman driver?

November 06, 2007 6:45 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Ottayan, in BPO cabs, the main concern is of sexual assault on female BPO workers by the driver, not the threat of hold-ups by armed bandits. In cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, etc., law-and-order is reasonably good, and hold-ups by armed bandits are highly unlikely. In such places, by reducing the possibility of sexual assault by the driver, women drivers will enhance safety. However, in places where even basic law-and-order is non-existent and chances of hold-ups by armed bandits are a real possibility, such as parts of U.P., Bihar, etc., you are right, having women drivers will only lead to increased vulnerability.

November 06, 2007 7:12 PM  
Blogger Sachin said...

While hiring women drivers might be a good idea, but knowing the general demographic (read : predominantly male) of the driver population in india, i think this suggestion might be a bit impractical to implement. What really needs to happen IMHO is there needs to be a watchdog (city/region/state/country) for all the cab operators in India. Each driver needs to have a license to drive cabs specifically and the passengers when boarding a cab should demand the identity proof of such drivers and the company that is operating the cabs. It should be a legal compliance requirement for Cab companies to keep track of every driver and every single job (pickup or drop off) that they go for. if such incidents do recur, this process will facilitate easy tracking down of the assailant and hard punishments being metted out will hopefully become deterrents for others with criminal minds.

November 07, 2007 2:40 AM  
Blogger Niket said...

What about the possibility of sexual assault on the cab driver?

Are women cab driver supposed to drop-off male BPO workers too? Are we sufficiently comfortable with background checks of the BPO workers?

November 07, 2007 4:02 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

In India, professional women drivers is a new idea. So there are bound to be some issues. One issue would be the possibility of sexual assault on women cab drivers by male BPO workers who are traveling in the woman-driven cab. This possibility will certainly exist, but I think the likelihood of this is much less than the current fear of women BPO workers being sexually assaulted by male drivers. In fact one of the security rules that are currently followed is that a female BPO worker should not be alone in a cab with the driver - she should be accompanied by a male BPO worker colleague. This indicates that the likelihood of a male BPO worker assaulting a female BPO worker is considered to be low. So the chances of a male BPO worker assaulting a female cab driver is going to lower still, given that many of the female cab drivers will likely be middle-aged and will likely to be from poor socio-economic backgrounds (less "fashionable" backgrounds). But yes, some cases of harassment are likely to happen, and some training of how to handle sexual harassment should be provided to women cab drivers.

I think the biggest problem for women drivers will be attitudinal. As Sachin pointed out, the current population of professional drivers in India (which is 100% male) may not be welcoming towards women drivers. It may be difficult to persuade women themselves to become drivers, since this occupation is seen by all as a male domain. However attitudes can change. Ten years ago, almost all police constables in India were male. But now, one can see quite a few women constables in India, even outside of "women only" roles like performing security checks on women passengers at airports. I've seen women traffic police offices in India directing traffic, to give one example. Also, click here for pictures of Indian policewomen on UN peacekeeping duty.

November 07, 2007 9:46 AM  
Blogger Dhruva said...

innovative solution, but as ppl already pointed - in this solution the women driver will be at risk - not only from roadside gundas but from BPO employees as well!!!!

when I read the news, I was thinking about some GPS solutions installed in cabs and somebody monitoring all cabs to make sure they are travelling on predefined route and do not alter route or stop somewhere.

November 07, 2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger das said...

Every night when thousands of young Indian women leave home to work in the "US or UK shift" at a BPO, their family members skip a heartbeat and remain tensed till these women return safe the next morning.



October 07, 2008 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not buy a nano and drive yourself?

May 08, 2009 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Allen said...

You are right, but there are many problems with women drivers. GPS system is also good with radar system for monitoring the cabs like traffic police. One more thing rape is not a easy way for single person. That executive would have the mobile also, she could have been done a one call. When driver stop the car, she can go down another window and call somebody.

August 28, 2009 4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anuj said...

i agree to your article,it was very interesting topics about this blog.

July 21, 2011 5:00 AM  
Blogger Praful Agarwal said...

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September 12, 2013 11:55 PM  
Blogger Govardhan Avvaru said...

Everyone should agree the change when both men & women has equal rights in the society and firstly men should respect the women for their desire to work, thanks a lot for sharing the article and hats off to you!
Regards, cabs in hyderabad

June 03, 2014 10:02 PM  
Blogger Safe Trax said...

Thanks for sharing this information..
Women Employee Safety in India
Employee Safety Solution in India

October 09, 2014 12:40 AM  

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