CHENNAI: A small group of women sat at a table in the Prajnya office in Kodambakkam, sipping tea and munching on biscuits, listening to Mathangi Krishnamurthy at the Prajnya Women’s History Roundtable Series, held every alternate Saturday.
At her talk, titled What’s Love Got To Do With It? – Emotional Labour, Call Centre Work, and Romantic Love, the assistant professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras shared some of her observations she had made when she worked at a call centre in 2007. All of her work is recorded in her ethnography, 1-800-WORLDS, which spoke of the call centre culture in Pune. She explained that 18- to 21-year-old college students were recruited by call centre companies, with the promise of a job. “Money was a corollary benefit for most of them. It was the experience, of how to be a worker, and how to be a global citizen — essentially, what college failed to do for these students,” said Mathangi.
The companies were attractive to most students due to their casual atmosphere. Mathangi explained that for those who came from villages or lower-income families, this job signified modernity and development.
“Working there gave people pride, confidence, individuality, but it also gave them the capacity to pass as a class higher than theirs. For those moving from the rural to urban, this was a big deal,” she said. Adding that with transport services provided to them, class barriers were modified and changed with the introduction of what Mathangi called the ‘new rich’ to the community of the ‘old rich’.
She said that these patterns are seen in the Philippines, where call centres have shifted their operations to. “It’s for the same reason they came here — they’re more hospitable, gentler and we can fake the accent better,” she said.
Dreams and hopes
Armed with education and progress, tools that their parents did not have, the call centre job posed for students from villages and lower-income families a chance for a good life, something that was similar to the American Dream.