Indian Feminists ki Jai!

While I enjoy reading Feminist Blogs from around the world, I always felt bad that there is so little Indian content available, which addresses our unique concerns based on the situations we live in.

So, via Blogbharti, I was thrilled to see that there is a new (and very promising), Indian feminist colla-blog up – ta da! Ultra Violet!

Read and Support please…

Workplace Ugliness

In a tragic incident, Shylaja Praveen, an employee of ING Vysya Bank in Bangalore committed suicide, with the alleged cause being the sexual harassment that she faced at the workplace. While the complete details are not available, it appears that Shylaja had repeatedly complained to the authorities at work as well as taken her case to the Karnataka State Women’s Commission, only to receive no concrete help. .

Tragic as the situation is, it perhaps throws light on some ugly things in our society, beyond Shylaja’s fate itself. Atleast as far as urban India is concerned, and especially in sectors like financial services, we are living in a fairly buoyant job market. If Shylaja felt that the harassment was intolerable, and she could not fight against it anymore, it is not clear why she did not look out for another job. (Note, I am not advocating that the onus of moving away lies on the victim, simply that it seems to be a better solution than killing oneself). If she chose to kill herself instead, one can imagine the anguish that the harassment must have caused her, perhaps compounded by the knowledge that she could not do anything about it. It also shows what a stigma harassment is on the victim. In a fair society, it would be the harasser who would have to hide his head in shame. In our society, it is the victim who feels ashamed.

This young woman, had the courage to take up the case and go up to her superiors as well as the state women’s organization. And for having the courage to speak out, in a situation where these things are often hushed out, she pretty much got nothing for her pains. Is it any wonder that the majority of cases never even come to light. The case also shows how these complaints are handled. The State Women’s Commission says it asked her to go speak to her superiors. But why could they not have checked with the organization whether there was a mechanism in place, and being followed, to address such complaints? Now ofcourse, they claim that the organization has no so such mechanism in place, while the company on the other hand has issued the standard diplomatic speak about having policies in place.

Theoretically, India has fairly strong laws in place against workplace harassment.
This article provides an excellent overview of how the ‘Vishakha Guidelines’ came about, and what mechanisms they prescribe for addressing sexual harassment at work.

As the article mentions, the Vishakha Guidelines clearly state that, It is the duty of the employer to:

– Prevent sexual harassment
– Provide mechanisms for the resolution of complaints
All women who draw a regular salary, receive an honorarium, or work in a voluntary capacity in the government, private sector or unorganised sector come under the purview of these guidelines.

Unfortunately, organizations mostly honour these in the breach. While Shylaja’s end was terrible, I hope cases like these will atleast motivate companies to take such issues more seriously.

Update: It seems as though evidence in the case has been tampered with – a suicide note left by Shylaja as well as sms messages sent by Bharath (the alleged harasser) to her. The police are obviously not revealing all the details, how they came to know this, for instance, but it seems logical that someone who killed herself due to harassment would want to point a finger at the culprit. The absence of a note is therefore puzzling, I guess.

Entrepreneur Watch – Personalized Gifting

I said I had a fun interview coming up and here it is! In the previous instalments of the Entrepreneur Watch series, we met an off-beat travel firm and a mid-sized company in the business of editing and related solutions, catering mainly to the East Asian market. This time, we have a relatively new launch, that promises to spice up the gifting market with its creative, personalised solutions. Most people like to give and receive gifts, the trouble being that we often end up scratching our heads as to how our gifts could possibly stand out, among the hoards of things available off supermarket racks. That is where Myntra comes in. Here is my chat with Mukesh Bansal, a co-founder of the company, where he talks about the genesis of Myntra, why competition is good, and what people want from gifting, among other things.

Let’s begin with the idea for Myntra. Why customized design? Where do you think it fits into the market for gifting?

People want to use or gift personalized items, something that reflects your personality. Or – even apart from gifting, use things that reflect who they are, for example, if you support a cause and would like to express that. The idea then is to put the decision making in the hands of the people. Let them design, decide. This basically is the idea of Myntra. Gifts are about memories and they are personal. We want to provide a platform for personalization and we also want to provide a service of printing and delivering, because one without the other is incomplete.

Who are the heads behind Myntra? What skills/background do they bring?

There are 5 heads, some work, some don’t! So we have a good backup strategy in place!!
But seriously, we have a great team of passionate people who have worked in big companies before and have come together to build something. There is a great commonality of goals and purpose. All of us have degrees from some big name colleges but what we bank on is not the name but the drive and the energy to build Myntra. There are 3 core areas to our business where we put our heads together, in the product development, in our operations and in our marketing and sales.
I have 10 years of experience working in various development and marketing roles in 4 different early stage start-ups. Vineet has architected multiple systems in his career. Ashutosh has managed various teams for software development.

Did you face any troubles starting up?

You know what they say about having a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. You look for trouble, you will find trouble. Sure there are issues that we have had to face and we will have to face. But what we have managed to do reasonably well so far is focus on execution and this is our number one priority. So every “trouble” is basically a test of our execution capability and we hope we will be able to manage most of these risks.
It was self funded by one of the founders so funding hasn’t been any issue. If there is any issue, it would be to execute faster than our resources allow at the moment. We see a big opportunity in front of us and we just can’t go fast enough!!

How big is Myntra now?

We launched in the end of May and we are still in Beta. Our registered user base has grown 100% month-on-month and our orders are up 50% month-on-month. We have also handled a few big corporate orders so far.

What is the biggest challenge you face now? How do you plan to address it?

Our biggest challenge is to get our customers to love us and get us more customers. We want to delight our site visitors and customers; the only way we can do this by exceeding their expectations over and over again, and our plan will be focused on providing the best value to our customers.

Some critics may say that with the number of gifting options available at malls and boutiques , your service isn’t really unique. What exactly do you think is the edge you have? What is your toughest competition?

The critics are right! There are a plethora of options and it is actually a very good thing. This shows that people want options and every option is unique like everything else! When you analyze gifting, what is it that people want? People want options, convenience in finding the gift, and most of all, something that is personal. We provide all that in 12 letters and 2 dots – http://www.myntra.com.
Our edge is in being able to provide all that people are looking for online. And our toughest competition is every creative item that is available in places not named Myntra.
Our biggest differentiator is a vibrant community of designers that are actively and continuously publishing designs at our site so that buyers can always find most current, trendy and relevant designs for their gifting needs.

Its interesting that not only are you offering customized products, but also a space for designers who want to sell through your site. Why? What was the rationale behind that?

That is a very good question. We are living in the world of user generated content on the web. But we know that the folks that make money out of this content are the aggregators not the creators. Our content creators are very creative, talented people. We wanted to give them a place where they could put their designs up for sale and get paid. And we now know, thanks to the Long Tail* thingy, that it is not only the hit designs that matter. Even if one person likes a design and buys it, it is good business for us.

On-time delivery is a critical issue for many Indian online services today. How are you tackling that?

Yes, it a very important issue. We have established a partnership arrangement with DTDC, one of the leading logistics providers for all our shipping needs. So we have been able to get a high level of reliability through this partnership. We are constantly improving our order fulfillment process and this has helped us meet our delivery timelines.

What next? How do you plan to grow?

Our growth plan is about scaling up, in our marketing efforts and in our operations capabilities. We will invest heavily in technology that will put us at a new level with respect to product quality. We will be adding a couple of new products every quarter and our design catalog will continue to grow as well. So we will be offering customers more choices.

Thats how the third instalment of the Entrepreneur Watch ends. If you do have any interesting firms or ideas you’d like featured here, drop me a note at aputhebird@yahoo.com

* For more info on Long Tail Theory

Great Reading…

I have a really fun interview coming up in a day or two on the Entrepreneur Watch series, but I am travelling at the moment. So until I get to uploading that, can I direct you to the really large Carnival of HR over at Three Star Leadership, for some excellent reading?

Pepsi does an Uncle act

For those who haven’t seen the new Pepsi commercial yet, this post might go over your head. You could go here and check it out ofcourse. It has Shahrukh Khan and John Abraham which could be an incentive, atleast the latter. (No, I am not a Shahrukh fan).

Personally, I think Pepsi has sunk to a low. The commercial is just so boring! Shahrukh and John bantering together rather listlessly – nothing really witty or even funny, and then the highlight being that a teenage boy addresses Shahrukh as uncle. And why won’t Indian advertising ever let humor do its own work? No, they can’t possibly trust that the audience will get the joke, so they have to rub it in, with Shahrukh trying his usual hangdog expression and blabbering on about how bad he felt. Pathetic really.

The only good thing is the shot of the Pepsi MyCan new pack, which does look pretty sleek, and much hotter than anything else in the market.

While I am certainly biased, Aamir Khan’s ads in the same category seem so much better!

Matchmaking@The Hindu

The Hindu has a hoarding up for its matrimonial pages today, claiming, “What Parents do for their children, Behind their backs.” Hullo! I know the Hindu is an ancient newspaper with a hoary past and all that, but do they necessarily need to reveal such an ancient mindset? When matrimonial sites are proliferating, and even social networking could rapidly be a conduit to dating and perhaps marriage, why are parents sneaking behind backs trying to set up marriages? And then the paper also had to put in a killer tagline, “Making matchmaking enjoyable”. My mind boggles!

The Great Indian Family

A few days ago, Itchy had this post on the old Indian social structure, and how it is breaking apart now. I agree with her on a number of things. Families were definitely closer on the whole – by family I mean not just a unit of four, but the entire extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even second cousins. Holidays were great fun for children, with the entire family spending special occasions together. There was no question of ‘only I look after my kids’ – Kids were a communal responsibility. Infact, for families who actually lived together, everything was a joint responsibility. Further, everyone, or almost everyone was taken care of. My mother’s ailing uncle, who passed away recently at 90, spent his last 8-10 years, with a nephew and his family, since he didn’t have any children of his own. Except for rare cases, no one had to fear abandonment simply because you did not have enough put away, or any direct descendants. The family made space for everyone, atleast till my parents’ generation.

So what I am trying to say is, the old system had much going for it. Then, why am I ambivalent about it?

Because, I believe that such a system can only sustain when it looks at what is reasonably good for everybody, not what each individual wants as the best for himself. And the practicalities of this system, could only be sustained in an age, when women kept oiling the wheels of this machinery.

Now, in this system, it is not just women who made the sacrifices. I know men as well who abandoned their education to look after siblings. Or postponed getting married until well over 40, not because they wanted to, but because younger sisters needed to get married first. So in a situation where everyone’s needs had to be balanced, most people necessarily gave up something.

But on a daily basis, the whole family as a caregiving unit, could function only because the women of the family acted as caregivers. Their role was to stay home as wives, mothers, daughters-in-law, nieces-in-law, granddaughters-in-law. In my grandmothers generation, this was never questioned. Women were not educated, there was no question of their going out to work or doing anything for themselves. Neither did they give it too much thought – this was what they were brought up to be.

But by the time my mothers generation grew up, things had changed. By the early 70s, girls’ schooling had become widespread, even college was no longer rare. This then, was really the sacrificial generation, in a sense. They knew that they could go on to do many things, but in most cases, familial pressures dictated that they confine themselves to running, often large households that required a lot of attention. These were the women who ensured, that our vacations were lovely, because they could spare the time needed to make us those goodies, those murukkus, those sweets, that we buy at the store today. These were the women, who welcomed visitors at the drop of a hat, because they were family, and family is always welcome. Even if it meant getting up at unearthly hours and working themselves to the bone. These were the women who, even if they worked, often gave up jobs because a child was ill, or the husband got another transfer. Who looked back ten years later, just for a minute maybe, and thought about the senior post in government they would be holding now.

Ofcourse you can say that they made their choices. But certainly the demands of the old way of life didn’t make it any easier. Today, its not just that more and more women opt to work. Perhaps our notion of what is due to us, has also changed. I demand time to read, whenever I feel like it. My mother, for a large part of her life, woke up at 5 a.m to get us ready to school, pack our lunch, cook lunch for the rest of the family, and then set out for her teaching job. In between, she also managed to pursue her Masters, when she was 40. When she was 20, it had been an impossible dream – a graduation was as far as her family could afford, before setting aside money for the education of her siblings. Though she loves reading, for much of her life, it was a luxury for her to find the time, not something that she could take for granted, like I do.

So while I certainly miss the warmth and fun of my childhood, now you know why I am ambivalent about the whole thing. It was great in many ways, but looking into it closely, the dreams that were never fulfilled seem too many.