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BPO murder rings Calcutta alarm

Calcutta, Dec. 17: The rape and murder of a BPO employee in Bangalore by the driver of her office pick-up car has jolted Calcutta’s IT and ITES industry into taking a fresh look at its own safety practices.

Prathiba Murthy was attacked while being driven home alone late last night in a car hired by her office. For many women call-centre workers in Calcutta, the crime has driven home a chilling truth: that they could be equally at risk.

With most city tech firms situated in Salt Lake’s Sector V, with its poorly-lit roads and dodgy reputation for safety, senior BPO executives were today reassessing their companies’ security policies and the way these are enforced.

Most IT and ITES firms have watertight security on their campus with outsiders put through a round of questioning and frisking. But outside the campus, in the dead of the night, it’s a different story.

“I leave my office sometime after midnight. The roads are dark and deserted. We do spot police patrols' but the general feeling is they can increase the numbers of patrols,” Ratan Jain of BNKe Solutions said.

What’s worrying most techies is that Bangalore was considered as safe a city for women as Calcutta.

“We try and make sure that women agents aren’t the last to be dropped home,” said Atanu Guha Thakurta, head regulatory, Airtel.

“The Bangalore incident has given us a loud wake-up call,” admitted Satadru Sinha, senior executive (administration) with Cognizant Technology Solutions.

“At Cognizant, (we have) a supervisor and administrator present during all pick-ups and drop-offs. Every driver has a mobile phone to ensure constant contact.”

Giving the driver a cellphone, however, would not have helped in Prathiba’s case.

“We also run a thorough check on the backgrounds of the travel agencies and their drivers,” said Guha Thakurta.

Car rental firms said they, too, are particular about this.

“We get a police verification done on the drivers. All details about them are provided to the local police station,” said Surojit Mitra of Calcutta Cabs, which provides car pool services to IBM.

“We have a fixed set of drivers and the people they drive know them. Most important, the women never travel alone at night; male colleagues are always with them.”

Cognizant, however, has revised its work schedules so that women employees do not work late hours.

The industry feels the administration has an important role.

“There has to be more active patrolling by the police, along with proper and constant maintenance of the roads and streetlights,” suggested Suresh Menon, chief operating officer, BNKe Solutions. “The unauthorised shanties in the area (Sector V), too, are a hazard.”

“Though the rape and murder happened in Bangalore, she (Prathiba) was one of us, with the same working conditions,” said Piyali Jha, a senior executive with a leading IT company in Sector V.

“Even I work night shifts and return home in the small hours. I have decided that if I’m the first one to be picked up or dropped home, I would keep talking to my family over the cellphone.

“At least somebody would know what is happening if a mishap occurs.”

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