A recent advisory issued by the ADB asking female delegates not to wear short dresses that could end up baring their legs while attending the 46th Annual meeting of the Manila-based organization being held in Greater Noida, has once again served to reinforce India’s rapidly deteriorating image as a country best avoided by female travelers unless accompanied by male colleagues, or else covered from head to toe in “appropriate” attire.
While some of us may choose to laugh it off, and the advisory itself does its best to make sure we do-sample these gems,” “While travelling in India you might see a lot of men holding hands. This should not be taken as a sign of their sexual orientation, in all probability they are not gay,” while in a section titled: “Common Faux Pas”, it suggests that that kissing and embracing are regarded in India as part of sex, asking travelers to refrain from engaging in such activities, “It is not even a good idea for couples to hold hands”- the fact remains that in the general atmosphere of fear that has come to dominate India’s cities at large and the NCR in particular, forget expat professionals/officials, a large part of our very own female workforce has begun to seriously question the existing measures in place for ensuring their daily safety and security as they go about doing their jobs , travelling long distances, often at unseemly hours. Even as diversity hiring steadily climbs up the HR agenda for most large corporate houses, all organizations need to seriously start asking themselves whether they have the systems in place to provide the necessary sense of security that could assuage the justified concerns of a steadily rising segment of the working population.
Across the globe, with epithets like “Rape Capital of the World” and “Rape City”, amongst several others, fast gaining currency in the international media, even the most hard-nosed, ambitious woman professional is likely to think twice before considering taking up an opportunity in Delhi. While drive for success and the desire for a big leap forward (after all, India is still where the next big opportunity lies) may still prove enough of an incentive to attract the brave and the fearless, it’s hardly a conducive environment in which we can hope to attract the very best of talent from across the globe.
So what’s the way forward? India Inc. cannot realistically be expected to step in to address what is principally a societal malaise, a law & order problem, something in the clear domain of the state/local government. Setting up fortified office/residential complexes, 24/7 private security, chauffeured commuting and the works can only go so far, offering little more than a highly cocooned existence, one that would pale in comparison to the quality of life offered by competing urban centers across the Asian continent, i.e. Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or any of the West Asian island emirates( for all their conservative laws, Dubai, Doha,, Bahrain, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are much preferred destinations for most Westerners).
Clearly, there are no easy answers on offer and what’s needed is for industry heads to put their minds together on how they can best reach out–first, to concretely address the security requirements of the domestic workforce (their life-line), and thereafter to do some damage control in the wake of all the negative publicity that has come our way in recent months. Organizing self-defense training programs, door to door pick-up and drop facilities and the like, launching a PR campaign (unfortunately, the govt’s brilliant Incredible India campaign seems to be in disarray in the wake of recent events), sensitizing western audiences to the finer nuances of living in India (while avoiding questionable generalizations of the ADB kind) are merely quick-fix solutions, offering superficial remedies to a problem that runs much deeper.
What are the big-picture measures corporate India could undertake, solutions that go beyond the now and the immediate to foster a long-term, sustainable, safe and secure environment for female employees to thrive and succeed in, while concurrently positioning India as a sough-after destination for talent from across the globe? High time we put our thinking caps on and got down to the drawing board.