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Apr 25, 2019

Call Centers Fuel Social Change in Traditional India

Published Date: 08 Jul, 2004 (9:32 PM)

Mumbai, June 10: Cranky U.S. talk-show hosts, John Kerry and powerful British union leaders have all had their say. Now it's the turn of a Catholic priest in India's money capital, Mumbai.

Outsourcing has a new critic.

From a church pulpit in a middle-class suburb one sultry Sunday morning, Father K.T. Emmanuel spelled out the biggest danger facing the city's young men and women: call centers.

In the congregation were scores of 20-somethings who spend their nights fielding calls from the customers of U.S. multinational giants such as General Electric and Time Warner.

"The lure of money is making youngsters drop out of college to take up call-center jobs," Emmanuel said in his sermon.

"They blow money on the latest cars and cell phones, while their middle-class parents struggle to save money," he added, as several parents nodded vigorously in agreement.

At a Bombay call center at about 1 a.m., 21-year-old Reema darts out of work during a break to share a smoke with her male colleagues, looking forward to a late night out at a disco -- all shocking behavior for some conservative Indians.

"My family life, social life, health ... Everything is screwed up because I work nights," she said. "But the money is so good that I'm willing to compromise."

These Indian "customer relations executives" (CREs) are part of an outsourcing industry expected to employ more than one million people and account for $25 billion in exports by 2008.

They may well force a tradition-bound country to rethink its age-old social mores.

"In this age of globalization, where young women step out of homes to work at night, the attitude of Indian society will have to change," said sociologist Myrtle Barse. "Otherwise, it will lead to plenty of conflict between the generations."

The change has already fueled a conflict half-way across the globe. After a U.S. political backlash, it has become a prominent issue in the presidential campaign. In Britain, bank and telecoms unions have led fierce protests against jobs going to India.

But four-fifths of the world's 500 largest companies already outsource some work to India. With so many English speakers and 1.5 million university graduates each year, it makes sense for Western companies seeking new ways to cut costs.


Graduates entering the industry earn between 8,000 and 10,000 rupees ($175 to $220) a month, only a tenth of their U.S. counterparts, but a decent sum in a country where the average annual income is about $500.

So each night, while the rest of India is fast asleep, thousands of young men and women wearing headsets talk to customers around the world in call centers in New Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. Most are hip dressers and drink in pubs until dawn after their shifts.

"Youngsters in call centers have big spending power and this gives them the sort of independence young people in India usually do not have," said psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria.

Reuben Fernandes, 20, earns 13,000 rupees a month, and says he will settle for nothing but the best. His shopping list includes the latest mobile telephone, a car and the best liquor.

"And now, I want to live on my own," he said firmly.

This is rebellious talk in India, where the family is considered the bedrock of society and young people are often expected to live with their parents until they get married.

"Indian parents tend to be doting and demanding," said 23-year-old Lakshmi, who works in a call center in the country's technology hub, Bangalore. "Parents threaten to commit suicide or jump off buildings, but in the end they come around."

Call-center bosses insist their offices are hardly hotbeds of revolution. "Software and back-office centers have brought in a world-class approach to work in India," said Raju Bhatnagar, chief operating officer of ICICI OneSource, part of financial services giant ICICI Group.


But for students barely out of their teens, the money is great, so many wonder why they should "waste time" getting a university degree.
"No other job in India offers this kind of money to graduates and undergraduates fresh out of college," said Harmeet Singh, a 23-year-old car-owner whose father has never owned a vehicle.

Middle-class Indians have traditionally scrimped and saved for decades to send their children to the best universities, but 19-year-old Karen Fernandes managed to convince her parents it was a good idea to drop out of university after a year.

"She (Karen) is earning a good amount and taking care of all her expenses, so I won't insist on her going back to college," said Wanda Fernandes, her mother.

Father Emmanuel, in the suburban church, takes a longer-term view, however.

"A good college education is vital in the long run for career growth," he told his congregation.

"What if the call center bubble bursts one day?"

- Reuters

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Mark Quadros, India Jun 14, 2004
I do not agree with the views expressed in this news item against Call Centres in India.

With the commercialization of education and the corruption in examination system, the competitive careers like civil/defence services and management has become the prerogative of either a few extraordinarily brillient persons or the ones who can buy question papers before the exams. Others have to pay heavy fees either to become Engineers or Doctors and most of these persons even after their degrees are capable of workintg as technicians only. Let us note in this context that graduates are working as Sweepers, sweeping roads in Mumbai in the employment of Mumbai Municipal Corporation.

The globalization of Indian economy in the last ten years has resulted in virtual death of the manufacturing sector creating large scale unemployment including among highly educated persons and this fact is known to the persons living in India in the last ten years. In such a situation God was kind enough to create Call Centres in India which are providing employment to thousands of graduates (including Engineers) offering better working conditions and above average salary. If shift working is the concern of the opponents of Call Centres let us not forget shift working is prevailing in other sectors of emplyment also.

Let us remind ourselves that the ultimate objective of all learning is not only knowledge but the higher income generated by application of such knowledge for ones own betterment. Today in India, only Call Centres provide such opportunities.

Mark Qauadros
Avrella, India Jun 11, 2004
My sincere appreciation regarding the article which spoke volumes about the pros and cons of the call centre.

On the onset of globalisation and threshold of modernisation this era is rightly called as the boom period particularly when we witness several call centres mushrooming in the prime areas of our country.

It is true that the monetary benefits are promising but working in a call centre has its own drawbacks particularly speaking in terms of health and career. These are the hidden loopholes which the youth of today fail to take note of. They do not realize that in the longrun the perpetuity of these so called "heavenly abode places of work" are not certain.

Thanks so much for bringing this article and illuminating our minds and thus enriching our knowledge.

Please keep us updated with such knowledgeable articles.
Deepak D'Souza, India Jun 10, 2004
Whats even more worrying is that there seems to be an absolute lack of ambition(rather an absence of it). This is especially acute problem in Konkani Catholics. Nobody wants to do BE/MBA/PhD etc anymore. Half the boys will drop out before they finish 12th and join shipping. The rest will mostly do BCom and join call centres. A measly handfull will aim for Masters. The girls are equally bad. For a community where girls have greater access to education that girls in some communities can only dream of , most will become dumb receptionists or telephone operators.

I visited a call center 3 yeas ago on some field work. Nearly half the faces were from my parish I.C Colony.
Call Centers have only added to an existing problem.
Joy D souza, India Jun 10, 2004
Father K.T. Emmanuel... thank you for showing the Fuel Social Change in Traditional India.

Yes i agree with your comments on the lack of education interests among the students and the habits that are been taken over by the associates. But Has anyone thought about the good that has happened to the Traditional India. I am sure many are employed earning their "bread and butter" of their life.

"What if the call center bubble bursts one day?" I Am sure there will be Un employment all over the trditional india. Not only the one working in call centers. But yes the travel industry, Hotel industry, the construction agencies, these are a few to be affected in large numbers.. So what might be the unemployment rate of INDIA.??

"I am proud to be a part of the industry".

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