Cabs and Respectability

The discourse of safety for women can actually be discussed as the discourse of sexual safety, where the concern is not that women will be killed or even run over by vehicles but that they will be sexually assaulted. The gendered safety then is inextricably linked to the manufacture of respectability (Phadke, 2007).

The cab is not only a mode of safe transportation in the night hours but it also plays a latent function of manufacturing respectability for employment in the night hours for the women employees. Working in night shifts attaches disrespectful connotations such as prostitution and lower class/caste status (Patel, 2006). In this context, staking a claim by the parents for the safety, of their daughters, is to demonstrate that one is worthy of being protected.

This demonstration takes varied forms including the presence of protective men as mentioned in the next section. This also highlights the perspective of communities and families about the preservation of women’s respectability and honor implicitly, where a clear message about their daughter’s access to public space for a respectful purpose is sent out.
When asked about the anxiety involved in his daughter’s access to public space, one respondent’s father explained:

Whenever some relative or neighbor asks about my daughter’s night travel, I tell them that the company takes proper care of their travel during the night; they are given home pick-up and drop facility and a guard also travels with them to ensure their safety.

Neighborhood also contributes in restricting the movement for women, putting concerns over their reputation and respectability (Phadke, 2007). According to one respondent

“When a cab comes to drop us, it gives an indication to the people around that we are not in any immoral business. We also put lot of hard labor in our work and earn money”.

The cab implicitly also gives out a message in the neighborhood about the employment of women in an organized sector. In the absence of cab there could have been questions regarding the women’s mobility in the night hours and her employment. However, the findings reveal that the class structure of the neighborhood brings variation on the issues of restrictions.

Accessing public space with colleagues and friends for recreation is not encouraged by parents when the transport and safety from the organization is not involved, as it can raise question about the respectability about their access. The mother of one of the respondent insisted on the fact that her daughter does not go anywhere with the colleagues where the transport facility is not provided by the organization:

“My daughter only goes for work in the night and we do not generally allow her to go with her friends in the night because nobody is there to take the responsibility of transportation”.

A father of a respondent said,

"When they (employees of call center) go out on their own for recreation in night, I discourage my daughter to go to such parties because the office cab will be missing there. When my daughter is out of home in the night a cab has to be there for safe and respectful travel."

Along with the increasing employment opportunities, the persistence of an environment where women’s respectability is needed to be constructed and maintained actually reduces woman’s capacity to access a public space and increases her struggle to negotiate with it. In this struggle the cab plays a crucial role to maintain safe travel as well as respectful face for the employment. The presence of high priced cabs, mostly sports utility vehicles, make people accept the authenticity of the employment of women who travel in the night hours. This depicts how the cabs provided by the organizations are used as a mode of negotiation that addresses the demand of travelling in the night hours, embedded in the employment in call center.

Shelly Tara , Vignesh Ilavarasan