Monday, August 14, 2006

The Sivakasi of the West

I have heard a lot of derisive comments about India and the Indian IT scene by relations who are settled in the US and are US citizens. They scoff the so-called development saying that we are the sweatshop of the West. Do I smell a hint of uneasiness or are they aware of another reality, something that I don’t see?

We have foreigners arriving at our office everyday. They are picked up from the hotel by the taxis and bought to the office. Some are our US counterparts, some are customers, some are stake holders. Sometimes the Taxis come via a circuitous route to avoid the traffic on the main road. This means going via lower class neighborhoods. Over the years I see less exclamations on the level of poverty and a more accepting attitude. As soon as they land, they are at the office and work systematically to finish their business so that they can go back as soon as possible. There is visible relief at the thought of going back. I don’t blame them. The level of pollution in the air is exhausting and the dust and grime outside can sap even the hardiest among these people. They plow through each day with methodical efficiency so that they can pack as much work as possible during their stay and go back in time. They side step dirt, overflowing sewage lines and crap like practiced veterans, ignore the filth and squalor stolidly and go back the same way they came.

Which is what makes me wonder if we really are a sweat shop of the west. I am not talking of the IT companies and the scores of people working there. I am talking of the whole set up. The rush of investments to Bangalore inspite of poor infrastructure and the resultant overcrowding, lack of basic amenities. Bangalore now reminds me of the Sivakasi, where maximum work would be extracted out of cheap labor with minimum resources. While we enjoy the firecrackers and watch the sparklers as it lights our nights with a thousand stars, we blissfully ignore the filth and squalor in which it was made. And the little children working there and their parents thank their lucky stars for the blessing of a job.

Yes, it definitely reminds me of Bangalore.

Happy Independence Day to all who stumble here...


Alexis Leon said...

Happy ID to you too.

Nice and relevant post as usual. And the Sivakasi comparison is very apt.

quills said...

I think a lot of Westerners now genuinely respects and accepts India's talent, not only in IT but other fields as well. But you know, you do have a point. In our eagerness to get ahead and display our prowess, we neglect some basic problems at hand. I recall a reporter from North America, who wanted to do a story on offshore outsourcing and how India was profiting from the experience and to get his point across , he was insisting one of our senior executives from abroad, stand outside a very run down and seedy part of the area near the offices, so as to capture thoroughly (in his opinion) the difference offshoring is bringing to India and its people. Thankfully our execs refused. We still have a lot of problems in hand, but I think this boom will have some positive effect in the long run. With cities like Hyderabad as well as Tier 3 cities wooing companies to invest in their special economic zones, B'lore to survive against competition has to sit and think through ways to rescue its crumbling backbone.

I think, the companies/people who are profiting from this boom, should also get actively involved in understanding and implementing measures to save Blore from a fate like Sivakasi.

Happy Independence Day!

(Don't think I made much sense, but your article got me thinking a lot of varied thoughts).:)

b v n said...

I dont think we need to be apologizing to anyone for sivakasi or tirupur,sure there are issues like child labour but these are places we should be proud of . dust and grime are very much a part of our reality,do we need to put a facade over it,I'm sure we are pulling up...slowly and bangalore is heralding a new wave of wealth and empowerment - think thats what those parents in sivakasi will be celebrating - independence :)

alex said...

Happy Independence Day to you too.
It is sad to find Indians working in bad conditions to sustain the west. But most of them do not have any alternatives.
Hope we can make a difference to their lives.

quills said...

And to continue (:))I don't think we are ashamed of the poverty in India, but just that the administration, companies and citizens should each in their own way ( social responsibility) contribute to the betterment of society. Also I doubt India is regarded any more as just a place of cheap labour. Apart from the cost advantage, the outsourcing world knows we also deliver quality work. I mean, we have more intensive, specialized and highly skilled jobs being outsourced now, and the rise of sectors like KPO just goes on to showcase the availability of India's talented workforce in varied fields.

Silverine, good post as usual. :)

silverine said...

Alexis: Thank you :)

quills: To answer to both your comments… True we do have world classe labor and the fact that critical sectors are entrusted in our hands is proof enough. Besides it is cheaper too. Perhaps that's why they invest here despite the poor infrastructure. We have to ultimately look after ourselves with the spin-off of the nvestment we are creating. But the sad fact is that politicians lap up the taxes collected from us and not even a fraction is plowed back into the city. So I guess it is our problem. We are too busy being thankful for job opportunities to raise our voice against govt. ineptitude. Thanks for that comment quills, you added a new perspective to this issue :)

b v n: No one knows which way Blr is headed. At present the present CM has a daunting task of repairing the damage of years of neglect with a coalition partner that wants to make money while their lotus shines. Things are happening, roads are being built, but slowly as the last govt emptied the treasury.

Alex: They have no alternatives true. Hope something good comes out of all this when the dust settles down.

Mind Curry said...

Happy Independence Day!


p.s. i am not sure if i stumbled on the bad roads in blore or on your post..

i think there is a positive side to this boom..which is the simple fact that there is a boom. if we didnt have it and the whole of india remained in poverty, then we wouldnt be blogging today. but yes, now it is up to us indians to behave in responsible ways and utilize the benefits of the boom in positive ways. as you rightly said, sadly we dont see that happening from the local politicians. but i am glad we have a great team in the center as the PM and FM. Rest i am not sure.

silverine said...

mind curry: Me too stumbled on the bad road on the way back from church today :) And I prayed for the country and us and our politicians. Hope the CEO in Heaven heard me :)
Don't you think we have survived inspite of our politicians and because of the tremendous survival instinct of the Indians? But at one point of time we will need government initiatives to take it further. And therein lies the twist in the tale. Lets see where the twist takes us. Thanks for that second comment doc :)
And a lot of people are praying today for No 38 including GT ;)

Pradeep said...

One way is to loathe. The other is make the best of it. I only wish we'd much more goverance. We are just into the age of interdependence from one of independence. Probably these are the pangs of a new age.
Let's hope for the best. Happy Independence Day to you as well.

neihal said...

Happy Independence Day.
We are the first to criticize ourselves and last to praise...and I dont mind's good not be complacent.

Jeseem said...

the work is shipped to india to reduce cost. there is simple economic here. terms like sweatshop are more political words. will u buy a cheaper good or a pricier one.
so does outsourcing effect products. definitely yes. a product developed with a few members of team away from the marketing and sales force input, has its problems. but the cost benefits are there. there are few products , that are moved to india, 'cause india has higher skilled people.
what is wrong in cheaper production. india companies have pioneered in large scale software project outsourcing , just like china has large scale manufacturing. and that is good skill.
on independence day, i wish india would have a real leader, someone who can rise above the small caste/religion wrangles and push and maybe even force people to development. till then we hav to suffer potholes.

kickassso said...

most of my friends have been bundled off to join the league of the indian sweatshop coders.My future also seems to be the same, though right now , i do have a choice. It is an assembly line , though a five star one. no matter how much you wrap something n glitter, it will not make the actual thing any better.

Here's to making the rest of india better :)

silverine said...

Pradeep: Exactly..wish we had more governance. Lets hope as you said it is the pangs of new age.

Niehal:At least some of us are not complacent. Thank god :)

Jeseem: What I was trying to say is that Bangalore as a whole resembles a sweat shop now, with the crowd, squalor, filth etc p.s. I like the pink dubya moneky :p

kickasso: Welcome to my Think Pad :) True...the package remains the same under the glitter. The sweatshop where you will work will have a pleasant ambience, it is when you come out into the street that reality will strike you. Many of my techie collegues complain of boredom in their one room tenements and the fact that there is nowhere to go due to the traffic jams. So they work late and sometimes on weekend to kill boredom and avoid the mosquitoes :)) I wish you best of luck and here's to making the rest of India better :)

Mind Curry said...

lol..lot of people praying today for No 38? why today? hmpf! i shall proclaim self-abstinence from the OR for today!


Arti Honrao said...

Happy Independence Day!!!!
Let us pray together for peace


silverine said...

mind curry: today, because I got the replies for that mail today :)) We are all praying for your patients so go ahead and chop chop er.. I mean operate away without worry lol :))

Arti: Amen :)

Sreejith said...

Lots of similarities between sivakasi and bangalore! in sivakasi u get a lot of stuff that goes bang bang. In 'bang'alore u get maximum bang for the buck :P

mathew said...

and what did they say..silicon valley of the east!!!!

starscream said...

A different view on what everybody else terms progress and boom. And an apt comparison.

silverine said...

sreejith: lol that was a good one!!

mathew: True, I dont know where they get that comparison from!!!!

starscream: Thank you :)

G said...

It's like this. Have you ever travelled on a highway and stopped at some seedy dhabha to eat? The food's fresh, the charm rustic and the service is friendly. Then you visit the loo. It's FILTHY. But you still go! Sidestepping the muck and squalor and what have you. And you don't think about it again because that's just the way it is.

Having said that, most foreigners who come here now are pretty cool about the place. Maybe they're younger, more adventurous and open minded. They don't act like the foreigners we met 10 years ago!

As far as being a sweat-shop for the West, we all go where we get a better deal, don't we? I still download my music (and tons of it) because its cheaper than buying it, I buy tickets using check-fares because why should we pay double for the same thing and etc, you get the point. So why shouldn't the white man come here?

I'll tell you why. It's because we, as a nation, will work cheaper than anyone else. When GE started the call-centre culture, someone should have stood up and charged them more.

Maybe I'm just rambling :P

silverine said...

G: I agree with all that you is in. And we are responsible for our mess. Thanks for that insightful comment :)

Jiby said...

i wouldnt do IT work in India yet am happy all this growth happened here...we will continue to be the IT sweatshop until our domestic sectors and e-governance and other stuff begin to tap our software expertise. the alternative is to wait for the biotech boom to hit the world like IT did so in the early 90's.

u cud take me as a lab rat for this post...for many years i grew up with a mentality to do coding despite not liking it...nowadays i sort of belatedly struggle to give my creative side some sort of expression!

didnt realize i had missed so many good posts from you in a couple of weeks...i read thru all of them and they are all just wonderful.

Ganja Turtle said...

And a lot of people are praying today for No 38 including GT ;)Duh?

silverine said...

GT: Your last 'wish' to the medical bloopers genius, rings a bell? Or shall I spell it out here ;)

silverine said...

Jiby: It's never too late to give your creative side a chance to express itself :) And I for one am hoping to see more of it in the coming future.

GT: DING DONG! :p Guess it rang a bell for you :p