By B. Sivaraman
Chetan Vasantrao Jayle is a 26-year-old young man hailing from Amravati, Maharashtra. His career prospects brightened up when he completed his engineering course in IT from Government College of Engineering, Amaravati. Bright future opened up before him when he landed a job at Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS), Pune, an IT multinational with headquarters at New Jersey, USA, and joined the ranks of its nearly 200,000 workforce in India.
Among IT majors in India, Cognizant is among the highest paying companies and getting a job in it is the dream of any IT graduate coming out of the campus. The young Chetan moved to the posh Balaji Housing society in Balewadi, Pune. On 10 April 2019, he was found hanging in his flat. What snuffed out the life of such a young techie when a whole beautiful and colourful life was about to unfold before him?
Chetan left a suicide note. The note says, “Hi, Ravi Achalla and Hemant Khadake are responsible for my death. They are subjecting me to a lot of mental harassment. Request police to give them strict punishment. I request the HR department of Cognizant to take strict action against them so that such an incident does not happen in the future with other employees.”
Chetan didn’t have any financial stress or love affair problem. He hails from a well-to-do family and both his brothers are also engineers. The only problem he had was workplace harassment. “He used to be very vocal about the issues he faced at the workplace and had been very frustrated in the past eight-ten months. Chetan complained of office politics and disliked his team in Pune. In December, he got a chance to join another team in Mumbai. He became all the more unhappy when he had to shift back to Pune a few months later,” said a close friend of Jayale, who is also an IT professional.
The Pune Police have filed FIRs against Ravi Achalla and Hemant Khadake under Sections 306 of IPC for abetment to suicide and Section 34 for acting in concert with common intention to cause harm but have not yet arrested them.
Alienation at work and job stress has become the topmost problem of tech workers today. The stress not only takes out any charm from the work and makes it an ordeal. Beyond work-life, it takes a toll on the entire family life of the worker. The cheerful youngsters—both boys and girls—coming out of exquisite tech campuses full of life and joining work-life with their flowing hairs and casual jeans and tops in IT firms that are otherwise dream destinations very soon find themselves as burnouts with their dreams snuffed out early. The cascading tension not only affects their work-life but has far reaching impact on employees’ life-partners and children as well.
A few days earlier to Chetan’s sad departure, another techie from Pitney Bowes India, another IT MNC in Pune, committed suicide due to threat to job security and the pink slip menace. R. Priyanka, a 27-year-old woman employee of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) ended her life on 3 July 2018 by jumping from the 9th floor of the TCS office at Thoraipakkam, Chennai. On the night of November 27, 2017, Moses Ranjan Raj, a techie working at TCS’s SIPCOT Siruseri campus, was attending a conference call related to work in the office late at night when he suddenly collapsed and died due to heart attack. The IT workers’ union FITE alleged that had he been rushed to the hospital without delay he could have been saved.
“Unmindful of whether it is day or night, IT workers are forced to work for extended hours and the workload leads them to stress. Many times they skip their meals and are also deprived of adequate sleep. Due to this, they fall prey to depression and fatal health problems such as heart attacks at a very young age,” the FITE said then in a statement. Another 36-year-old TCS techie Apoorva Chaturvedi, transferred to Hyderabad TCS, office was found dead in a lodge in Gadchibowli in Hyderabad on 15 November 2018. A few Indian TCS employees posted to TCS offices abroad have also met a sad end—26-year-old Hari Sudan from Chennai died in Finland in September 2017 and 30-year-old Krishna Chaitanya from Telangana working in Cognizant in Texas, US died there.
Hush is a new HR start-up which conducted a survey among 3000 employees from IT and hi-tech manufacturing and fintech firms and tech start-ups called ‘India Employee Survey’, and released its findings in January 2019. It found that as many as 22% respondents felt that their productivity was low due to overwork and stress. Unfortunately, this angle on how their declined performance affected the revenues of the companies was highlighted more but not the more shocking finding that more than half of the respondents said they suffered from some kind of workplace depression. This means half the tech workers in India are under depression. This finding has reiterated the conclusion of an earlier Signa 360 Well-Being Survey among tech workers conducted by Signa Corporation in July 2018 that Indian tech workers are the most stressed globally. The problem has received inadequate attention as a human issue and still less as a labour issue. The fledgling IT workers union is just beginning to pay attention to this serious issue and is exploring the options of creating support systems both at the workplace as well as in personal circles among friends and colleagues.
Dr. Ranganathan of National Institute of Mental Health and Medical Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore says that they are getting increasing number of IT patients suffering stress. He points to the fact that the number of IT employees attending the yoga camp of Art of Living guru Sri Sri runs into lakhs and the IT companies themselves are arranging special buses to herd them to the yoga camp at Yelahanka in Bangalore North and the cubicles in IT offices in South Bangalore remain empty those days.
Unfortunately, unlike in the case of sexual harassment the labour laws and regulations do not make formation of a grievance cell compulsory in tech firms and do not specify what forms of bullying and bossism constitute workplace harassment punishable under the law. Even where such grievance mechanism exists, the top management do not act on the genuine complaints of employees. Labour departments refuse to act on complaints. Dumping excessive and unfamiliar work on employees, marginalising them from important areas of work, demanding longer working hours and asking them to work on holidays and abusing employees and ill-treating them are the usual forms of harassment. In the case of women employees, often there is a thin line between general harassment in work and sexual harassment and one turns out to be the instrument for the other.
The FITE President Ms. Parimala says that they had taken up Chetan’s matter with the National Human Rights Commission and asked them to make some institutional arrangement to monitor whether the complaints on workplace stress and harassment filed at the grievance cells in tech firms are properly being acted upon by ensuring that a copy of such complaints can also automatically be transferred to such a cell in NHRC. They seek such a cell in NHRC as the labour departments in the States and Centre are refusing to do anything about it and such harassment is not just a labour issue but an issue of human dignity and hence a human rights issue as well. The Labour department in Tamil Nadu has widely publicised the personal phone numbers of five senior labour officials and asked the IT employees to contact them and complain if they were forced to work by the IT firms on the polling day during the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. Why not make a similar arrangement when the employees are forced to work on weekends and do compulsory work till late in the night without overtime even at normal times, the organisers of IT employees are asking. Ms. Parimala cites the case of a woman employee of Lyca Tech, Chennai where a senior male-chauvinist official, who didn’t want any women employee to be assigned to his project, was ignoring her complaint registered with the grievance cell about sexual harassment by a younger colleague even when she was in advanced pregnancy as the firm had not formed any complaints committee for sexual harassment as per law but hushed up the matter and assigned her to work with the same harassing man to work till late hours alone in the office and thereby forced her to quit.
The FITE had filed a memorandum with the Labour Department demanding an enquiry into the episode. FITE is also currently handling many such workplace harassment cases including one in an IT company which ranks fourth among the top IT companies in India and another in the Chennai plant of a California-based American Fortune 100 company that is into logistics and manufacturing of heavy equipment and has an IT wing as well.
Even big names in the IT sector that boast of relatively stress-free work atmosphere are not getting good job orders and even highly skilled employees are forced to do low-skilled data entry work which tells upon their nerves. IT workers who have just started organising would hopefully find an effective collective response to this murderous menace of workplace harassment and bullying and ensure there are no more Chetans. (IPA Service)