Symbolic Men

Walby (1997) discusses public patriarchy in the form of segregation and subordination of women within the structure of paid employment which is distinct from the private patriarchy visible in the domestic regime including exploitation of her labor, sexuality and exclusion from public arena. The experiences of respondents represent an extension of public patriarchy visible during their travel embedded in their access to public space.

Initially, to provide transport to the agents many call centers outsourced their transport demands to local providers. This in turn brought a new sector of transporters which provides a cab with a driver to the call center organizations for commuting of call center agents. However, the Bangalore rape and murder case brought the issue of reliability of drivers employed for the transport needs of the call centers to the limelight. The instructions were given to not keep any woman first to be picked-up and last to be dropped-off, so that she is not left alone with the driver for any time during the travel and a male colleague is always present to avoid such situation.
Another measure adopted for the security of women agents during the commute is the employment of security guards to accompany the women agents if they happen to travel with the driver. The security guards are hired from independent security agencies. However, after getting affiliated with the call center they are perceived as call center’s security guards and they represent that particular call center for which they work.

When security during the travel was discussed with the parents of women agents they confidently highlighted the presence of a security guard in their cab. One of the father said,

“The company not only provides the cab but also provides a security guard in the cab so that nothing wrong should happen during the travel in the night”.

When the father was asked about the reliability of the guard then he responded by saying that,

"Guard is from the company, he is company’s representative for the security of women. We have to rely on him since he is provided by the company to its employee. If we trust the company as a workplace where our daughter is going to work, we have to trust the facilities provided by it as well."

The presence of a security guard and other male colleagues to accompany the travel in the night has been viewed as a continuum of protection and surveillance of women’s bodies (Patel, 2006). However, the presence of other men does not ensure safety, rather being symbolic. To quote a respondent from Delhi:

"The guard in our cab does not carry any weapon and he is neither strong enough to handle any tough situation, most of the time he sleeps during the travel. But my parents feel that I am safe when I am coming with a guard but I think he is good for nothing."

A shift from private patriarchy to public patriarchy for the women agents while accessing the public space is apparent when the presence of security guard and male colleagues are ensured for the safe travel. According to another respondent:

"Earlier, going out in the night used to always be with a family member but now it is accompanied by a male from the organization where we work. But with family members we used to feel safe but not with these males. For an outsider we have a safe journey with all safety measures but the presence of a guard with a driver can be double the risk."

The need to access the public space due to the changing workplace temporalities is also modifying the extant form of patriarchy through the inclusion of other men. This form of inclusion of other men creates a form of patriarchy which is ‘in public’ and ‘for public’. It is ‘in public’ because it is ensured in the presence of other men representing the public regime rather than the family members representing the domestic or private regime. It is ‘for public’ because it is created for the public regime out of the semi-private mode of transport, the glimpse of the presence of guard and other men inside the cab reflect a secure travel for women to the viewer who happen to look at these women traversing the urban space in night.
However, the personal experiences of the respondents reflect a different picture. According to one respondent from Gurgaon,

“For an outsider we have a safe journey with a security guard but we know that it hardly makes a difference”

A respondent who stays in Safdarjung in south Delhi said:

"My house where I stay on rent is in a narrow lane where my cab cannot go. I feel the need for security when I de-board my cab and walk through that narrow lane in the night. A guard will never take the initiative to walk with me through that lane and drop me and I am not sure how safe I will feel walking with him in the night."

However, from the organization’s and parents’ perspective adding more men in the cab will counter misdemeanor as the men will police each other and random placement of security guard in the cab avoids any nexus between the driver and the security guard.

The requirement to transport women to/from workplace at night adds another dimension into the public patriarchy, travel time, which is outside the workplace yet representing an extension of the same. However, this form of patriarchy shall be viewed in the context of constructing/manufacturing respectability for the women as their movement in the night might continue to be a deviating action in the Indian society.

Shelly Tara , Vignesh Ilavarasan