THE MAGAZINE

When Darkness Falls in Delhi

By Matthew Harwood

In the early morning hours of November 24, 2010, a 30-year-old female employee of a call center operating 24/7 was kidnapped by four men in a vehicle in the Dhaula Kuan neighborhood of Delhi. The men then brutally gang-raped the woman as they drove around the crime scene for 40 minutes.

In response to the shocking crime, which was symptomatic of a trend, Delhi Police issued emergency orders requiring certain businesses with women working the nighttime hours of 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. to provide protection. The Delhi authorities were mandating a best practice voluntarily implemented by business process outsourcing centers (BPOs), or call centers, in India’s third largest city, Bangalore, 1,300 miles south of Delhi, after a similar incident five years earlier.

Specifically, BPOs, corporate houses, and media houses have to provide a security guard to accompany women to and from work if the women travel by taxi so that they are never alone with the cab driver. The security guards, according to the police order, should “as far as possible” come from licensed agencies that have completed background checks on their guards.

At the start of the ride, the order tells companies and their cab providers to choose routes that minimize the possibility that female employees are either the first or the last to be dropped off or picked up at night, thereby increasing security by increasing the number of male colleagues in the car. When dropping a female worker off, a taxi must do so directly in front of her home and wait until she has called the security guard or the help desk at the call center to verify that she has arrived inside safely. If there are no roads leading to a female employee’s home, the security guard must walk her to her door and get confirmation that she’s arrived safely inside.

Companies are also tasked with maintaining a database that includes all their employees, security personnel, cab drivers, and contractual workers for the police when needed. In addition, companies are required to ensure that their transportation providers have installed GPS tracking systems in their cabs so that the vehicles can be monitored.

Satish Showkeen, formerly general manager of physical security at IBM Daksh and currently a senior consultant at Keen Arrow LLC, said the crime and subsequent regulation are a result of changing times, both culturally and economically, for India. The problem arose because BPOs operate 24/7 to serve Western markets, especially the United States, forcing their many female workers to come and go during night hours when they might not otherwise have ventured out alone.
 

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