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Women Interrupted…

January 31, 2015

Working women facing hassles is commonplace in India. Women on their feet are potential victims of crimes waiting to happen at every nook and corner of our country. Physical abuse and harassment from opposite sex are something we don’t even talk about anymore. How many of us really haven’t had atleast a pinch in the bottom or a squeeze elsewhere at some or other point of time in our lives. We have learned to ignore and move on, because we have no other option do we? So are those women like housewives/stay-at-home moms safe by any means? What risk(s) do they have to face within the 4 walls of their homes?

Housewives such as me have to attend to a multitude of errands and services to keep the domestic machinery running smooth. Everyday practically we have to deal with a variety of men from different walks of life. How do we manage? How do we get along? Our men take it for granted we are safe and secure in our guarded ‘ivory towers’ that are our residences. But are we?

We women at home let in complete strangers for compelling reasons which puts us at direst risk of all. The myth that women staying indoors are perfectly safe stands totally shattered today.

There is now a spurt in felonies committed against homemakers and defenceless aged in their very own dwelling. An alarming number of these seem to happen in crowded localities and in middle-class neighbourhoods where we normally happen to think, scope for crime is non-existent. But what is the stark reality?

Now I give here my experiences with some service personnel in my home.


My frontloading washing machine is nearly 15 years old and needed a service. The serviceman came after a couple of calls to the call center when I was alone at home. My machine is strategically placed under my internal stairs which is very close to the entrance door. Mostly people think the place is a storage but if you open, in lies the surprise concealed neatly with woodwork that none can guess. I made sure the electric connection and water connection were made available to the machine from another bedroom/bathroom downstairs.

Many ask me what is the reason for placing my machine down the stairs. Normally people have it far interior at home in service veranda or balcony or in an invisible bed-bath. I mean apartment dwellers like us. I abhor the idea of having my machine in my kitchen. My machine had to be located in a place such that it was out of the way yet it was convenient and easy to access and service.

I slotted my machine in its present spot under the stairs therefore primarily for service. I have never been comfortable with men servicing anything in my bedroom including aircons. Aircons – we have no other alternative. With washing machine, there is a chance if you really plan it well in advance and cleverly. Because for this one, we have to take care of plumbing and drainage as well. Besides electrical that is. As the machine is ageing I thought i might need all the extra care I may be able to give it.


Soon as the serviceman came, I opened my double safety wooden doors (my first pair of doors with stainless steel bars in top half for view) leaving the left one ajar so my neighbour could have a view of my open door. I opened next my inner pair of double doors – the left one of which again I left wide open. This is what I generally do when company technicians visit my home to attend to any service/complaint/repair. Its true most of them carry proper ID cards and appear at my door ONLY at my request placed via call center. I get sms alerts and even e-mails and confirmation calls before someone actually knocks on my door so one might think, what is all the fuss about.

Perhaps my anxiety is needless but I take precautions anyway because most of the times I am alone with my MIL moving around and son in college. The old watchman is next to useless.

My washing machine serviceman produced his ID card before I let him in. He asked me ‘where is the machine?’ looking up the stairs. I pointed it out down under and he was surprised. He set about his task and after some 30 min said it was fixed. All the time I was sitting in a couch staring listlessly at a muted tv but also at the same time keeping an eye on the corridor.

Mine is an old model machine so the fabric softener dispenser or bleach dispenser is not there. There is only temperature control and not even a timer. I was worried about the drum but the man said the stainless steel drum was going strong and would last another 5 years. ‘Come I shall show you and there is a way you can still add the liquid bleach or fabric softener’ said he.

Since he had already been there for about 30 min and since he looked a good 10 years younger to me, I lowered my guard and went close to the machine. In a second the man was clutching my hand at ankle and leading me deeper into the machine’s enclave (which is like a small den really) giving me a demo of how good the drum was and how to use the detergent in the machine as if I was seeing a washing machine for the first time in my life. Unexpecting it and taken by shock, I could react only after a minute or two.

Then I released my hand and went swift to the door which was nearby – and which was ajar thank god! There was a questioning look in the man’s eyes – waiting for any signal?

His behaviour that day was out of line, I had no doubts about that, and highly intimidating. It was the first time someone was trying to dominate me within my own home. Whether it was innocent or deliberate I did not even want to guess.

After that I did not get into my living again until the man left.

The AMC papers etc, I had the presence of mind to keep handy with a ballpoint pen for signing. I told the man I had to go out on an appointment and he soon rushed with the paperwork and left.

So what was the worst possible scenario: The man could have overpowered me and tucked me into the machine den and robbed me.


The incident left me shaking for days, I did not even confide it to my MIL or housemaid. Thought of calling the company and reporting the matter, instead when I received their call for AMC renewal, I cancelled their contract.

There have been a routine regular number of services for my aircons, washing machine, water purifier etc over years besides kitchen appliances like oven, chimney etc for maintenance/repair purposes but this was the one and only time a service guy snatched my hand sending alarm bells ringing in my mind.


For my water purification system I have an AMC again for over 12 years now. So far no issues. A few years back the company called me to inform that i needed to check the ID of the service guy and place a call to their call center for verification before letting him indoors for maintenance work. Once or twice I complied but going through the call center everytime is tedious. Moreover the same guy alloted for my area visits everytime and I am satisfied with his credentials. Even so, as the kitchen is out of view from my entrance door, besides keeping my doors open, I also keep wide open my balcony doors and service veranda doors and retreat to my living leaving the man alone with his work in the counter. One big fear factor is the cutlery consisting of a variety of knives and scissors in the kitchen. Everytime I would think before the man would come in, i should hide it, but finally my basic trust in humans gets the better of me and I think its silly. The carbon element etc in my system gets replaced once in 6 months and the man usually calls me to inspect the new one he’s installed. I say, ‘its okay i trust you.’ Unless my MIL is around, I never venture into my own cooking space when a strange man is hovering about there for some repair work.


My cooking stove, chimney and even piped gas system require minimum but periodical maintenance. For all this I have to depend on semi-skilled labourers sent by the companies which is nowadays turning out to be a scary exercise. Reason is there is now a rise in spate of crimes committed in the city involving housewives and old matrons. Most of the said violent attacks reportedly take place within the cooking space.

The stove, the chimney etc are sensitive appliances. So neither do I want to antagonize the service people. When sometimes 2 or 3 descend at my place to coordinate some work, I am in a fix. Like once from my gas pipe, there was a leak smell. The stove man said the leak was in the copper tube but the pipeline man said the stove switch was malfunctioning. They both wanted to meet at a time and finally it was found, indeed a cleaning crew had damaged and cracked the copper tubing running behind the counter. (Normally they say, the life of copper tubing is some 60 years so how mine leaked is a mystery). Some 11 meters needed complete replacement and the line had to be relaid afresh under the cabinet floor (under the skirting) which took hours to complete. (My LPG cylinders are connected via pipeline system to my stove from my service veranda). 3 men were testing and working this time. I sat at my stairs near the door. I had to keep an eye on lots of things at a time. Had beforehand locked all the bedrooms. Made sure all the relevant papers were handy. Had some money in my handbag placed near the couch closest to entrance door. Plus a water bottle with mobile and cordless by my side. The men went on to work as a team and when they finished OMG what a relief it was to see them LEAVE!

Pipeline gas thus requires lots of service and care and re-checking beyond any doubt – so unless you are prepared for it, don’t go for it! This is what I have to tell anyone opting for piped gas. Even though I use only 15 m of copper tubing for gas pipeline, it still requires a lot of doublecheck and careful scrutiny. Frequent inspection is for our own good.


Good lord, you have to let the guy running up and down the stairs checking the heating element/heater in your bath. God save us women! Better to have company when service guy turns up. For this, we have to turn off the mains and switch on again for re-check. Which means you have to leave the stranger in your bed-bath for some length of time to work and get back to see if the service is complete. You have to keep an eye on the mains as well as on work going on.


Aircons are serviced by a known guy many years younger, I trust him. Still I make sure the safe and the wardrobes are properly locked before he arrives for service. I leave him upstairs to do his job and remain downstairs, never giving him company unless my MIL is around. He asks me to check before he leaves but I smile and wave off. ‘If there is a problem I will call you again wasting your time, remember!’ I say and he laughs. Servicing the outdoor units is not a problem.

Some friends do admit how they never feel comfortable with men servicing their aircon indoor units when they are alone at home. Big risk. Bedrooms always are interiormost spaces in our homes.



Also using satellite tv for over 7-8 years now. Rarely there is a snag but last time when there was one, the guy who came for service switched on his mobile and started talking to his friend. I raised  a strong objection. I get nervous when a serviceman starts chatting up any buddy of his when he is working in my place. Before I knew the man was reeling out my address telling his friend, he could come meet him downstairs. The next moment I asked him to leave and lodged a complaint with the company. I requested for a replacement and told the call center guy, I would not allow the serviceman to chat with his friends when working in my place. The guy understood and when the next one came, he went about his job without a word.

When there could be a problem with your dish, more than one service guy may turn up, one working at the dish outdoors and one at your set-top box. Keeping an eye on both is tough. You are one against two in this case.


My internet/broadband & telephone cables and even satellite/dish tv cables are concealed and weather-protected so mostly there are no cable problems – only connection problems. Like new software for instance. BSNL have installed a junction box in our apartment – and broadband in the city is fiber-optic laid underground for over 10 years now – so internet problems are extremely rare in Chennai. If there is any problem at all, mostly it is server-related. Or there have been problems since the Metrorail work began with main lines severed. No service at domestic users level which is a saver. So if I am blacked-out, it means the main cables have taken a cut in the metro-work. Happens once a month for a day or two.

I don’t trust the private internet providers/service personnel. A crime was very recently committed by a private internet service provider serviceman who came to reset the modem. I prefer the known govt. employed BSNL devils. All you have to give them is 10 bucks for tea, if at all they need to get inside your homes to set right any snag. With BSNL, touchwood, there are no issues broadband or securitywise. I sincerely recommend the govt service provider always. Cheap & best,


Finally I want to share here my experience with Pest Control guys. I have termite as well as cockroach/bug treatment. For termite one, I made sure my maid stayed the whole day with me. It requires extensive drilling on your walls and usage of strong chemicals and usually a couple of guys work at tandem. Takes one whole day but atleast it is done only once in 3 years, which is a saver. Precautions are taken beforehand with all windows, doors thrown open so any passerby or neighbour can see the action going on in your place!

The most important one is the regular Pest control that I get done by AMC. I require this once in 2 months atleast to keep off ants, cockroach etc. The guy who does it comes alone usually but I check his credentials. He gives the  ‘gunshot’ treatment for cockroaches and sprays for lofts and windows, doors, bathrooms etc but as it all involves chemicals, I request for a forenoon service always. I make sure my maid is with me when the man turns up or my MIL is there. Sometimes I ask for a service deliberately when my son has an unexpected holiday in any week. Just to show off the man there are male members in my family! (I hate to do that but invariably I am asked the question why there is no male presence in my home – so I think its better if I expose a male member of my family now & then to people. That closes many awkward topics/conversations.) (It does make me angry I have to show off the men in my family to buy myself some sense of security. That as a woman I do not suffice for these men…. Think of single women in this scenario…)

Pest control is the most crucial of all. Here you have to necessarily open all the wardrobes and cabinet doors etc for the treatment. Further I have to restrict even my maid at times from getting close, even though I have nothing but clothes hanging in there – for the sake of privacy. The men who come for this kind of service know all our weak points, entry, exit etc. They can take count of every lock, stock and barrel at your home right in front of your eyes! I always feel most insecure during these services.

Mostly I have had no trouble. There have been one or two inquisitive men. One asked, why there is no male member ever in my house. I said, ‘you are here at work, isn’t your wife alone at your house? so how can you expect my husband to be home in working hours?’ That sounded like a logical explanation and the man was satisfied.

I also make calls intermittently to my friends etc telling the other party on phone line that pest control’s going on in my place. This usually lasts for about an hour.

Just yesterday this thing happened. Pest control was due for over 2-3 months as I was away. Even before my husband left I had placed my call for service.

I had renewed my AMC only by November last year. The service guy who came was a new one. After 5 min in my kitchen he said, he wanted to use the bathroom. Now this was the first time I heard of such a strange thing. Because we have servant toilet in our flat. Why someone should want to use my bedroom bathroom baffled me. I straightaway refused permission and was about to ask him to use the servant toilet in the upstairs terrace. Just then I stopped myself. I did not feel comfortable with this one even though he couldn’t have been over 28-30. I felt an uneasiness, a deep sense of insecurity. I did not want the man to learn anything more about my dwelling place than necessary. So I said there was a corporation toilet in the next street that he could make use of. To my utter horror he said ‘urgent’ and insisted on using my bedroom bath. Somehow I gathered enough nerve to say a strong ‘no.’

The man went out and took a neat 30 minutes to return. Let me point out here this thing: my pest control agency is a leading one in India and their guys are supposedly reliable with verified backgrounds.

When the man returned to work, there was a sly look about him that continued to give me a discomforting feeling somehow. Inexplicable but something your intuition warns about.

My maid came in just then – until then I was alone. I told her about the bathroom request and she told me, ‘good you refused to allow him use the toilet even if it might have actually been an emergency. what if he could be having any secret hidden camera in button size!’

Really paled at her outrageous thought but then the illiterate girl asked me again, ‘just think why should a man want to use your bathroom when he knows there must be a servant toilet in the apartment complex?’

That really set me thinking. I thought about mentioning it in the feedback when I received a call from the company but thought may be I was being silly, even paranoid. My maid insisted there could be no reason for a strange man wanting to insist on using our personal bathroom. ‘Has anyone ever asked you of such a thing before?’ she said and I realized it was the first time indeed a man came up with such a weird request.

I forgot about the man and his mission in last 2 months. Yesterday he was back again in the morning by 10 am on my request (to the company). On seeing him I realized he was the same guy who visited my place in Nov. I recollected now how his eyes grew large on my opening of the wardrobes and his request for bathroom use. My maid was there and I asked her to come with me upstairs.

This happened just yesterday. The previous night my husband had left for Doha. I and my maid left our front doors (both sets) wide open (as usual) and the windows and balcony doors open too before starting up the stairs with him. For ‘gunshot’ injection treatment, my maid opened all the doors of wardrobes while I stood back and looked (normally I don’t let her, i do it myself). Finally when the entire job got over in all bedrooms, living, kitchen etc, the man said he wanted to start with the spray.

From the beginning, he looked hostile to me and even my maid sensed it. Since we both were together we put on a brave front. For spray, the man asked my maid to get on the climbing ladder and open the loft doors. I said why he couldn’t do it himself. He said it was not his job to open doors. He could only spray.

That again gave me an uneasy feeling. My girl climbed on the ladder and opened loft doors one by one. To my shock, the man started spraying the pesticide after her without notice. He was spraying the liquid right into the opened lofts from where he stood without a care in the world. In a moment my suitcases etc stacked in there were fully sprayed with excessive chemicals. When I shouted at the man to stop, he had already sprayed the liquid chemical on the full backside of my maid. She said she was starting to itch. A real shocker for us both.

Work was almost complete by then and the man was about to leave.  It was the last downstairs bedroom loft he was spraying. Hearing our shouts the man said, it was accidental. He extended the papers for signing and I was suddenly anxious for him to leave. And before we could recover even from the spray on my maid’s back, he was spraying at my front pair of doors as he made his way out and straight away sprayed a little watery liquid right into my left eye. When I screamed, he appeared shocked and said again it was an accident.

There was NOT an iota of remorse or regret on his face, only a sadistic glee he managed to suppress with a great effort. He never uttered the word ‘sorry.’

All the doors and windows were open (wisely) and time was only about 11 am and our corridors were busy. We are only 5 families so normally after noon, there is total quiet in our place. I quickly shut the doors in his face but both of us women were reeling under tension.

How can twice spraying on someone’s back and eyes that too directly, be accidental. Later I recollected reading from internet etc of crimes committed by spraying pesticides by servicing guys. In matter of moments we could lose our conscience and be rendered defenceless. The man’s look of satisfaction at our agony still stays in my memory.

What an intense hatred the serviceman had for me right from the start. I think the very first time he came in, he knew he was dealing with a set of toughies. We are middleclass folks, our lifestyle is very modest yet the man seemed to be taken by awe by the sight of everything right even when he visited ours in Nov. His reaction was like ‘anger’ – total vengeance over anything. It was puzzling to me initially. A couple of women barking orders at him must have aggravated his already sick mind I guess.

Immediately after he left I placed a complaint with the company call center without waiting for their feedback call. I requested for anonymity when they would deal with the service man in whatever manner they thought deemed fit – for security reasons. I knew my call was being recorded but the person I spoke to assured me, my complaint would not be disclosed to the worker. I requested the company not to send the same person again to my home for any kind of service – in future.

After that I spoke with a few friends of mine who all said I had valid reasons to panic/get scared. Yes, they said, it was possible the man could have been looking for placing a minute hidden camera somewhere in the bedroom or bathroom the first time he visited me in November. I gave no chance because I never left him out of my sight even for a second because I was opening shelves and cabinets. There is no other logical explanation for him requesting for use of my private bath within 5 minutes of reaching my place. 

Next, my friends confirmed my worst fear: the man could have been planning an attack and probably got frustrated because the two of us girls stayed super alert and were on our toes. A little extra spray could have gotten us unconscious, but again we girls were speaking louder so the whole world could hear us, and I on one hand was also simultaneously on my cordless telling my sis pestcontrol was underway. Between us we two girls looked a formidable pair, ready to put on a stiff resistance. We are able-bodied and young enough and that probably discouraged a would-be assailant, who knows?

Women at home are as much vulnerable as women on the road in India. Self-defence is the best weapon that can help a woman out of any crisis.

Even now I shake thinking about it – my left eye is still reddish and it hurts. My maid’s back is still itchy even though she has showered over 4 times already. I washed my eyes thoroughly with running water after the man left before I made the call to the company the next minute. I told them about my eye and also about my maid’s back. Both of us have not consulted the doctor.

It is disappointing the company has not bothered to call me back with any other query. They weren’t alarmed the way I expected them to sound/react. Its true I spoke to one more call center guy ‘bus’ who may or may not have bothered at all. Why should anyone. Shows the futility of reporting such incidents. Now I know why ‘Uber’ happened in Delhi and why none really cares.

The anger seething in the man’s face still unnerves me. I thought of rapists honestly. So far I have never thought of anyone in real life like that. But for the first time I thought may be my whole life was in danger yesterday. And my maid’s.

Now I am thinking of not renewing the contract and not even calling the company in future for next service. The injection mode pesticide is available in store shelves and the sprays are also something we can find in a supermarket. Why invite trouble. I shall become a pestcontrol expert myself. I have a good girl to help me out. I shall equip myself to the best and try NOT to hire outside help. Its hightime we women become independent in real sense. We have to learn to take care of ourselves without the men’s help or contribution to maximum degree possible. Staying self-sufficient in every little and trivial matter is important for this.

Ladies in my place carry gold/diamonds worth lacs on their person anyday – even my maid wears a couple of gold bangles, gold ear and nose studs and a gold chain. Still we have never felt so… unsafe in our city – and to think danger lurks within our own homes… is a very unsettling thought…

I think of young unmarried girls, old grannies who sometimes come to face the wrath of violent criminals. We let them into our homes trusting total strangers. What safety is there for women in our country.

I have been always taking extra-precautions when it came to dealing with service guys attending to complaints in my home. Looks like my fears are not completely misplaced. Hereafter I should also keep a pepperspray handy I guess.

At home, I am usually at my worst – in a wellworn housecoat. So far i have never thought of changing for the sake of a serviceman. In last one or 2 years I notice that the men are giving me a strange look. Not everyone but some do. Now in this middle-age i am thinking whether I have to change my clothes when any serviceman is due.

The animosity that flared for no reason in the pestcontrol man bothers me until now. Was I face-to-face with a would-be criminal, this is what tenses me up. I recall the times my husband would warn me about getting into close quarters with labourers like carpenters when any work would be afoot at home. He would insist on me taking company. For works like carpentry, I needed to disburse heavy cash. ‘You don’t know how frustrated weak men may feel and get infuriated by a woman who they think belonged to the other world that would never be theirs’ he would say, ‘and further they work with sharp tools which they can use against you should they want to.’

From plumber to electrician I am forced to seek manual labour at times and my condition is precarious because I am a lone woman dealing with these semi-skilled semi-literate men with no male presence. When I was revising quotations etc for woodwork, the head carpenter was curious to know why I got to decide everything on my own. No male supervision or male intervention seemed to intrigue him. He was probably not used to taking commands from a woman younger than him paying him in cash for services. He did confess to me that, but added women mostly were concerned with designs, colours, materials never with finance. It was hard to come by someone – a woman – who also dealt with money matters. I went with my carpenter everywhere in auto, sitting next to him! I think that was another first for him.

Most of us have safety/security apparatus and surveillance equipment installed in our homes/apartments. But when does a CC tv prove useful? After a crime is committed – as a piece of evidence, right? I am a bold woman and I have a right hand in the form of my part-time maid who is bold in the way a village girl can be – yet yesterday’s incidence is something that will take a long time for us to forget.

I have told about it to my MIL but not yet confided in my husband. Don’t want him to get unnecessarily concerned. I think I can deal with this myself.

Guess I have to take another close look at safety aspects from now on. I have horizontal SS bars in my external doubledoors so I can receive my couriers & mails without having to open any doors. This is oldstyle, but this is what I strongly wanted. Services is altogether different issue. I have aircon and kitchen appliances services coming up shortly. One year since I checked the copper-tubing and the thought is already getting me nervous.

Momentarily I have postponed all further maintenance works- need a breather to get back my bearings. Once I steel myself, hopefully I shall get be back to my regular curt persona (with men). And till then… taking a break…



There are some nice warm guys as well. Chatting them up on rare occasions I could glean some information about the world of servicemen.

*Whether it is waterpurification system guy or pestcontrol man, they all have to head to central/regional offices in the city first every single day for work allotment – before they start their work.

*A month’s pay for these guys is around 5,000 bucks that’s all. But they are given a 2-wheeler and reimbursed their petrol and phone expenses. Strictly NO OT (overtime pay). They have to complete their daily job with NOTHING PENDING. Companies have set targets to meet. Standard safety gear like gloves, working boots and face-masks are issued to pestconrol men, but very few use them.

*Almost all of them arrive in standard supply uniforms with ID cards. Crimes happen still.

*Most service guys come from lower middleclass background, happen to be school drop-outs with not even a school-leaving certificate. Semi-skilled, semi literate. Which is why they are into this line of menial work which is a deadend and they know it.

*They all generally look frustrated – the cheery ones are usually only fresh appointees. It is these guys who talk to you freely and who you can safely trust. Below 25 years. But even these guys notice your brand of cell phones etc. Its easy to see how desire perks up in their eyes.

*The more older the service men are like in mid-thirtees or rarely in their ’40s, the more menacing they appear. Shiver runs down my spine always when one turns up at my door because, physically these men look overpowering and by this time they are mature and calculative enough.

*One guy showed me a list of appointments he had to meet – tasks to be completed before the day ended. It was hottest month May then. He had just finished my service. He had 9 more to go before he could wrap it up and call it a day and it was already 11.30 am. He said, everyday he went home by 10-11 pm. Same routine in last 7-8 years except for weekends (Sundays only). Theirs is an unrewarding, thankless job where the clients only whine and complain, never compliment.

* The service men are paid no bonuses, no incentives – and their job is not permanent. They are like casual labour subject to ‘hire & fire’ policy by companies. They have to suffer pay-cut even for a single day of leave/absence. You may work as serviceman for 10-20 years, still you may not be a permanent employee of any company/organization.

*The most important factor is, the companies themselves are not directly involved in any service/maintenance work. This line is almost always outsourced to franchisees.

*Frustration builds up over time even in the best of servicemen. Inevitable.

*Most servicemen never talk or respond, go about their work as if they are automatons.

Despite myself I feel bad for these service people. They are stuck in a world out of which they can never break free.

And ever since the call center routine came into existence, companies have become impersonal entities than ever before where there is no place for compassion to the consumer/client on any ground. Everytime you call them you speak to a different call center guy or worse still, a recorded voice. Your grouses are a waste, unheeded to.

Inference: Take your call. Take care of yourselves, never trust anyone on that one job. After all, who wants to become a statistic?







From → Bharatiya Naari

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