Bangalore March 11, 2015: For any one who has covered the Bangalore IT scene for some years, there is a tired feeling of deja vu in the manner in which Mindtree seems to be reacting to the tragic death of one of its employees while walking home, late, after performing her duties in the Sydney, Australia, unit of the India-headquartered IT services and solutions company.
The violent death on Saturday last, of senior Analyst Prabha Kumar who seems to have been attacked while she took a short cut at around 9.30 pm, through a wooded area that lay between the suburban railway station of Paramatta and her home half a km away, was heart wrenchingly poignant -- she was speaking on her mobile phone to her husband in Bangalore and he could hear her pleading with the unknown attacker before she was violently cut off.
The news made headlines on television and print media all over India and Australia.
( Sydney News Facebook; Memorial page, Facebook)
But other than a bland and anonymous statement of regret that one Bangalore newspaper carried, there has been stupefying silence from the leadership of Mindtree. Maybe they are working to help the bereaved family -- but once an incident like this is in the public domain, one would expect the senior-most executive of the company to show his or her compassionate face to the public not hide behind a press release.
Where is Subroto Bagchi now -- the Chairman of Mindtree? He delivers his thoughts and wisdom often enough -- through his regularly published books of advice. Where is N Krishna Kumar, the CEO. Is it enough to surface at financial results time?
I am particularly disappointed at Mindtree's action or rather lack of it, because this is one of those high minded enterprises who from start have made no secret of the fact that they are 'different' in many human ways. Indeed Bagchi, if I mistake not, was designated "Gardener" -- cultivating the delicate blossoms of Mindtree's skilled work force. Would it have cost too much to put a face to the company's collective grief?
As of this moment (9 pm on March 11) , the Mindtree website is innocent of any mention of the passing away, in harness, of one of its senior consultants, while carrying out the company's business, 9000+ kms away from home.
Chairpersons and CEOs are tested at such times: when an airplane crashes, as has happened sadly 2-3 times in last 12 months, the entire public across continents, expects as a matter of course, to hear from the head of the operation and see him or her lead the relief. We would be outraged at anything less.
Why do Indian IT companies like Mindtree think they are exempt from such normal impulses?
And why am I not surprised? Subroto, will understand my reference to a 19th century French phrase: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose . The more things change, the more they remain the same. About ten years ago in December 2005, another female employee -- Prathibha Murthy, 28, a BPO worker of HP Globalsoft was raped and killed by the driver of the cab sent to pick her up for the night shift. Then as now, the company concerned -- and its MD, Som Mittal, avoided media and public and never presented a compassionate human face of the employer. I remember at the time, media colleagues saying this was to be expected from HP -- where Palo Alto, USA exercised an iron grip on all announcements anywhere. I know; I have tried to get the most mundane clarifications about technical matters at media events and have had to wait for weeks till the India guy's statement was whetted and cleared. But surely Mindtree doen't suffer such a debility?
In that particular event, Mittal challenged in the Supreme Court (unsuccessfully) the complaint lodged against him in his capacity as head of HP's India BPO, by the local police for not providing effective security to employees required to work the night shift. I am not aware of the current status of this particular case, but it didn't hurt Mittal professionally -- he went on to serve a full term as NASSCOM President.
I have seen in the media, some insensitive remarks made by other IT honchos and head hunters last week, when quizzed after the Prabha murder. Their mercenary mindset doesn't rise above the stiff costs and logistic problems of providing to Indian professionals serving in the foreign arms of the IT outsourced services business, the same security, transport and comfort that government has mandated to workers in India who work the night shifts. I do believe this is a fit case for the government of India to intervene and examine the working conditions of the hundreds of thousands of young Indians who are the life blood of the India brand of IT enabled, offshore services.
My long standing admiration for Mindtree as a company , from the days it was founded by a group of motivated Wipro executives, will only be reinforced if its leadership, emerges from the shadows and takes the lead in this current tragedy, setting standards for the rest of the Indian industry to follow, of employee safety and security -- where ever in the world they may be posted. - Anand Parthasarathy, Editor IndiaTechOnline