Indian IT Sweatshops Exploiting Cyber Coolies? Riaz Haq, Haqs Musings Blog

India’s IT sector business is essentially driven by low-cost call centers, first-line tech support, simple repetitive code writing, and execution of pre-defined test suites. A typical Indian IT worker is increasingly being called a “cyber coolie” or sometimes a “code coolie”, the former term having been coined by an astute Indian columnist Praful Bidwai back in 2003. 

India has become the world’s top provider of business-process-outsourcing (BPO) call centers, with revenues nearing $50 billion a year by selling cheap back-office services. The call center revenue constitutes the bulk of India’s IT exports.

Harish Trivedi of Delhi University has characterized India’s call centers as “brutally exploitative” and its employees as “cyber coolies of our global age, working not on sugar plantations but on flickering screens, and lashed into submission through vigilant and punitive monitoring, each slip in accent or lapse in pretence meaning a cut in wages.”

 

 

 

 

An Indian blogger Siddarth Singh says that “one cannot dispute the fact that our IT industry is at best a glorified labor provider, and our feted “IT Giants” have failed to provide even a single proprietary product which could create waves in the global IT industry (perhaps except Finacle, a banking and finance solution by Infosys, and which is used by a number of MNC banks around the globe).

Siddarth asks the question, “So, what does Indian industry actually excel at?” Then he offers the following answer: “Well, we are the leaders in the so-called IT Enabled Services or ITES. These are basically services such as BPOs, call centres, KPOs etc, which extensively use IT to provide backend and customer services to primarily overseas customers. That our ITES industry is hugely dependent on foreign clients is also not a secret anymore, with hardly any Indian company enlisting the services of such companies”.

A recent letter from a Bangalore based Indian IT worker addressed to the editors “The Hindu” newspaper read as follows:

This is how people in the West have started referring to people in developing nations. In the old days, of course, we Indians were referred to as “coolies” because we provided cheap labour. Nowadays, we are being called “cyber coolies”.

Why? Because most software companies find it cheaper to get their job done in countries like India and other developing nations. There are many people in the U. S. and Britain who raise a hue and cry when jobs get exported to countries like India — especially jobs related to call centres and the software industry.

The fact that they refer to us as coolies show that they haven’t lost their imperialist outlook… 

People and the media are often misled by “R&D” in the name of some of the western companies’ locations in Bangalore.

In reality, Bangalore appears to be the code coolie capital of the world…it’s not about tech, it’s about cheap labor performing low-level tasks at rock-bottom wages. It’s just cost arbitrage in the service sector.

I have no doubt there are some smart techies in India doing leading edge high-technology work, but these are exceptions. The overwhelming majority of the so-called IT work in India is call centers or low-level routine software tech support, maintenance, testing, etc. which is widely described as code coolie work. It’s mostly about cost arbitrage, not advanced tech.

The call center business in India is unregulated by government, exposing workers to working in small spaces for long hours, close monitoring, and harsh working conditions. This is of considerable concern to some of the call center workers in light of the Bhopal tragedy and its aftermath which are symptomatic of how little Indian democracy cares for its people…be they industrial workers or cyber coolies in bondage who are exploited, held back and their lives totally controlled by foreigners under the “high-tech” and “IT” labels.
Most India Call-Centers Located in Gujarat are Perfused with the Smell of Masala Dossa and Idli. The results of which also translates as Flatulence and the resulting smell.
Even the identities of call center workers are changed in the same way as were those of the African slaves in the West. They are forced to take on western names and put on fake accents to please their customers in the West for a few bucks. The sad part is that, after over 60 years of independence from the British, some of the Indians still crave western approval and boast about the polls showing high approval ratings of India in the US. It shows that Indians’ mental slavery after “globalization” is much more powerful than the physical slavery they endured for over a thousand years.

There are reports that some of the cyber coolies of India are beginning to revolt, according tthe Times of London. They are creating “e-unions” and are planning to target British and American clients in a campaign to improve their working conditions.

Some of them are now protesting over low pay and aggressive management that will not negotiate with traditional trade unions, according to the Times story.

Instead of appealing to the deaf ears of Indian government or unresponsive managements of Indian-owned BPO firms, their strategy is to approach their British and American clients for support. Those who refuse may face a sabotage campaign by the same workers who have helped cut their costs. 

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