Life in Middle-Class Urban India: Despite India having a much lower cost of living, Indian life still remains far off from Western standards and anything but pleasant. Most block out the harsh realities, finding joy with their families. Indians like Brazilians (I once studied and lived there) like to keep a happy face and internalize the hardships. Hence, why many why many westerners think that their offshore counterparts are living well. The reality is that, as a bachelor, many of them live with their parents, commuting through city traffic for at least two hours each way to and from work. At home, living in cramped conditions with frequent electricity and water shortages, their families pressure them to get married and earn more money. India suffers from an acute bride shortage, attributed to years of infanticides in the past (Sons can go abroad and earn while daughters require costly weddings)
Hence, the Indian IT worker must set himself apart, showing the bride’s family he is gainfully employed and a good earner. That, in a nutshell, is the driving force to go abroad. After marriage, life improves, but new dramas start. Mediating differences between his in-laws, the new wife and his own mother, who feels that his wife either not good enough or does enough, is par for the course. All the while they are constantly plagued by pollution, increased crowding and monetary inflation, counting every penny. The Indian tech women have an altogether different story, but it is no less stressful. They often follow their husband’s careers and have to be careful not to out-earn him.
Driven by their managers, the Indian engineers easily work ten to twelve hours per day if not more. Supposedly, working in the technology industry, one would expect a flat management style with easy communication and the ability to freely express concerns and limitations. However, most Indian management has not caught up to the 21st century. The hierarchies and authoritarianism create a fear based culture, hindering personal growth. Many Indian managers model themselves after a notable German:
The Hitler compliment in India is for those managers with good discipline who get the job done.
This fact is no surprise to those of us with origins from the sub-continent but a big shock to everyone else. Especially those who come to India to find inner peace and escape the “cruelties” of western society. The ultra-competitive landscape, driven by overpopulation, makes people submissive, accepting of authoritarian leadership styles, and vicious, exploiting gaps and weaknesses in peers to get ahead. The typical Indian engineer works faithfully but is always on the lookout for something better. Attrition and turnover are high in the Indian tech sector; it becomes difficult to keep good people who are intelligent, honest and reliable. Very few people get this view of Indian life. Most enjoy the hospitality and tourist attractions, never walking in the footsteps of their offshore counterparts.
Going onshore, things don’t get much better. Although they bill at a higher hourly rate, their company’s expenses go up, having to pay them a higher salary and relocation costs. As H1-B’s in the USA or on work permits in Europe, they are bound to their employers, making the situation ripe for abuse in so many ways. First, the vendor or the one employing the Indians, exploit the workers. The Indian manager pushes them to the brink, squeezing out as much profit as possible.
Second, the Western companies, like Disney and Bank of America, are intrigued by the lower labor costs and start replacing their indigenous workers with Indian ones. Often, the Americans must train those who are replacing them. Uncertain of their future and often working 70+ hours per week, the Indian workers tend to hole up in cheap apartments and economize, eating homemade chapattis with rice and dal, sending as much money home as possible.
My close friend was in this situation, training two replacements. He told me that, while teaching them, it felt like he was giving them a noose and shovel. One was stringing up the rope, and the other was digging a hole, getting ready to hang and bury him. I also had a similar experience. After taking classes in Microsoft Business Intelligence and Informatica Power Center, the career counselor from the school (an Indian lady), told me to remove MBA and US Citizenship from my resume. While interviewing at various companies, I could see the disappointment on the hiring managers face when I told him that I am an American of Indian origin, born in the USA and having served in the Navy, and not an H1-B holder or seeker.
The reality on both sides: Life is hard on both sides when corporations attempt to commodify people. The Indian workers, often exploited by their own who should know better, never gets to experience western life to the fullest: getting to climb the ladder and steadily improve their living situation through hard work. The American engineers, trying to find honest, non-government work, are constantly on the run, doing what it takes to survive, moving from job to job, while living on hope. The ones who can’t move end up underemployed and in debt. In Norway and Europe, in general, the Indian managers exploit the political correctness, knowing that the local managers fear being called a racist if they challenge what they see as obviously wrong. Moreover, they do not like conflict, resulting from an education system does not teach people to have a backbone.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions where offshoring really works, and everyone is getting a fair deal – more on in the next installment
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