Karnataka govt panel mulls stopping women from working night shifts; city influencers slam the notion

Shubham Ghosh
Infosys downgraded by Nirmal Bang, IDBI Capital Markets over Q4 results, weak FY2018 revenue guidance

It seems controversy has become the byword for life under the Congress government in Karnataka.

Apart from various setbacks the party has suffered on the political front, now a fresh controversy has erupted, earning the government a black-eye. With just a year left till the next Assembly elections, the negative publicity could give Siddaramaiah's government enough reasons to be worried.

Now what's the issue?

A joint house committee of Karnataka Assembly has reportedly recommended that Information Technology (IT) and Bio-technology (BT) companies in Bengaluru and other cities not put women employees on night shifts.

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The committee, headed by NA Haris, stated in its report that only men should be hired for late shifts. The committee, comprising 21 members (seven of whom are women) inspected top firms like Infosys and Biocon to see the working conditions of women employees there, and concluded that the companies needed to put the women workers on day shifts.

Recommendation contradictory to govt's lifting curbs on women doing night shifts

The news sparked critical reaction from all quarters. Particularly after the same government had, only a few months ago, removed curbs on women working night shifts, the reports about the new recommendation left many stunned and disappointed. Although it's just a recommendation, people and bodies were casting aspersions on the mindset of the states political leaders.

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Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, CXO Search Consultant, while pointing out that it was still only a recommendation, said while the intentions might be good, the step itself was retrograde and patriarchal.

Chetty-Rajagopal, who also runs an online petition to improve women's safety in Bengaluru — the city has been slammed in the recent past for failing to protect its women — said there are far more important issues that the government should make recommendations on.

'Why not address issues like installing lights on dark streets?'

"Why are there no efforts to improve the conditions on streets that have no lights after dark? Why are there no recommendations on improving the transportation? Taking care of these issues will automatically improve the issue of women's safety," she told International Business Times, India.

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According to Chetty-Rajagopal, the January 1 mass molestations and the impending elections have made the authorities mulling such actions. "And of course, it's the mindset," she said, asking: "They are looking for safety in the office only. What about the dark streets?"

Chetty-Rajagopal was also disappointed in the government that had recently removed restrictions on allowing women to work night shifts in all sectors.

The government amended the Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961, and Factories Act 1948 to allow women to work in the night shifts. Earlier, women were allowed on the night shift only in IT and IT-Enabled Services.

Sudha Pillai, founder, A Sunny Square, also echoed Chetty-Rajagopal's views.

She told IBT India: "For any society, the safety of its citizens is mandatory. The government should take measures keeping in mind this singular goal — ensure the safety of all its citizens. Corporates and society at large should devise plans and programmes to ensure the safety of all its citizens."

Why use the term 'women' instead of 'citizen', asks another Bengaluru influencer

Pillai is even reluctant to use the word 'women' while speaking on this issue. According to her: "The reason I keep using the word citizen, instead of women, is because unless we look at women as a citizen — gender neutral — we will be devising plans that are regressive."

"Will the government restrict a man from working the night shift if it is not safe for him? No, right? Stop looking at it as women's safety. Look at it as a human being's safety — a prerogative of a citizen.

"These kinds of stupid rules such as restricting women working night shifts are taking us back in time. Instead of dealing with the problem holistically, they are looking at it from a gender perspective, which is wrong.

"Because when you look at problems through the gender prism it will give rise to taboos. We should be moving forward."

Karnataka banned women on the night shift in 2007

Indeed, if the Karnataka government gives the recommendation a legal shape, it will take the state back by a decade. In mid-2007, the then JD(S) government in the state banned the night shift for women.

Pratyusha Jain (name changed), an employee with an IT firm in Bengaluru, told IBT India that she was not happy with such a thought process.

"I am not from Bengaluru. I came here only because of this job and I am happy to do night shifts as I can balance my lifestyle. Now, if it becomes a rule that women can't work in late shifts, then it will become a big problem for me. As an outsider, I don't want any issue with my job prospects."

Bodies like Nasscomm also expressed disappointment over the government panel's report, saying it denies the women an opportunity to work. It also reiterated that if more opportunities for women's employment are to be created in the IT industry, then night shifts must continue.

The media is giving it an unfair spin, we are progressive-minded, says NA Haris

But, what are the leaders thinking? Haris, who heads the panel making the recommendation, had another version. Calling all media reports bogus, the MLA said they have only recommended giving priority to those women workers who prefer to work in morning shifts.

"Somebody is giving this a twist to taint our image. We have always been positive about approach towards women's safety. It was our government that had removed curbs on women working on night shifts. Our recommendation has been to accommodate the request of those women who prefer morning shifts," Haris told IBT India.

Is there any reason behind such a recommendation? To this, Haris said: "Some people approached us on this issue; hence we took it up." He also said that women need to balance their home and work lives.

Chetty-Rajagopal, however, had a major objection to the perception that women must look after children and homes. Why is it that women are only are responsible for looking after homes and kids, she asked.

IBT's take

Though this is just a recommendation and one hopes it will not see the the light of day, in terms of becoming a law, the government cannot ignore the fact that such thinking is regressive. It is a way of stereotyping women as those who struggle to balance their work and personal lives.

Moreover, job-related prospects like promotions can be dented for women if such a recommendation is followed through. Also, it can only widen the gender gap and reduce a woman's dignity of labour, in the eyes of their male counterparts. 

Just give the people safety, the rest they'll take care of themselves

So, instead of stereotyping women and doing their careers more harm than good through such recommendations (even giving priority to women who prefer morning shifts will only breed discrimination; what if a male worker also prefers a morning shift for personal reasons?), the government would be better of improving security on the ground.

Give people the right to feel safe and they will take care of the rest.

But in India, we often fail to see the forest for the trees.

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