HIV Comes Calling...
Call centers in India have for some time been attracting more than just consumers in need of customer support. Increasingly, these hubs which operate all across the sub-continent have become the potential threshold across which the HIV pandemic will move from the largely impoverished groups in India and into the middle class.
Call centers in India emerged during the late 80s and expanded their popularity throughout the 90s. As jobs migrated from the US and other countries into India, so too followed the vast migration of young Indian graduates into cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Social critics have long argued that the rapid cultural shift among young Indians in these cities have been directly and negatively related to the increase in the number of call centers. But such a shift should hardly be alarming. As India continues to output more than one million graduates each year, many will seek entry to the call center workplace or other IT related firms. In a country where the per capita income is less than $500/yr, call center operators can expect to earn between $3000 and $5000 annually. The cities are tasked with providing entertainment and leisure for the large employment sector, the result now being that they the largest number of pubs in all of Asia. Increasingly more businesses are seeing and seizing the opportunity of grabbing a portion of this emerging and exploding market.
For many poor families the decision to send their sons and daughters off to these cities represents an opportunity for betterment and upward social mobility. For many young girls in particular, the move to the city represents the first time living away from home on the own.
The call centers themselves are a 24-hour machine. The operators perform long shifts which require them to work through the night as cities such as Bangalore are almost 12 hours ahead of New York. With a high concentration of young people with their new found freedom and lots of cash with which to enjoy that freedom, sexual activity has also risen dramatically. This also represents a dramatic cultural shift. Whereas two decades ago open discussions about premarital sex was somewhat of a taboo subject, many of these “round the clock” operators now openly admit to having such encounters. At the same time several others admit to having multiple partners since moving to the cities.
These admissions are an obvious cause for concern. Over 80% of HIV cases in India are transmitted sexually while the country now has the highest HIV positive population in the world with over 5.7 million. Largely considered to be an epidemic striking much of India’s poor (see Nuke’s aren’t India’s greatest threat to the world), HIV/AIDS is now aggressively knocking on the door of India’s rising middle class.