If you’re a Canadian with a mortgage, you might have spoken to the Delhi rape victim

January 8, 2013

Operators take calls at a call center on the outskirts of New Delhi. (FINDLAY KEMBER/AFP/Getty Images)

The young woman who was so brutally beaten and raped in New Delhi that she became a symbol of India's horrifying problems with sexual assault before her name was even revealed could now stand in for a very different phenomenon: call centers. The woman, who died two weeks after her attack, worked in a call center that dealt with Canadian mortgage holders, according to lengthy Wall Street Journal story on her life. If you're a Canadian home owner who made any recent calls about your mortgage, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that you spoke to the young woman who has since become known and mourned around the world.

Here is the story, snipped from two different sections in the Journal's profile, of her time at the call center:

The young woman, the child of an airport laborer who earns 7,000 rupees a month (about $130), was determined, her friends and family said, to become the first from her family, which hails from a caste of agricultural workers, to have a professional career. She was on the cusp of achieving it. She had enrolled in a yearslong physiotherapy course in a city in the foothills of the Himalayas. To afford it, she worked nights at an outsourcing firm, helping Canadians with their mortgage issues, family members and her friend said.

She attended classes from noon to 5 p.m., staff and her friends said. To pay the fees, she worked at a call center on the 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, handling questions from Canadians about their mortgages and supervising a team of employees, friends and family said.

There are thought to be about 2.8 million Indians working in business process outsourcing. Not all of them work at call centers but, for Westerners, they're the most visible because they're the people we interact with on a regular basis.

Those brief minutes of cross-cultural contact, when your call about a computer problem or airline ticket gets routed through Bangalore or Hyderabad, don't feel like much. But they've been distinct enough to seep into our popular culture, showing up in movies from "Slumdog Millionaire" to "Transformers." Maybe you've heard someone complain about the call center workers' accents, or even try an impression. We know in the abstract that the voice on the other end of that line belongs to a person with a life as full as our own, though perhaps in many ways quite different, but it's an easy fact to forget. That a woman whose story has become so familiar to many of us would turn out to be one of those voices is an almost startling reminder.

Just speaking for myself, I know that the next time I hear an accent after being routed through a call center, I'll be reminded of the young Delhi victim and of her story before the attack. How hard her family had to work to get her there, what she hoped to gain from it, how tired she must have been toward her shift's end at four in the morning. And, yes, I'll be reminded of the day she made plans to go see a movie with her friend and never came back.

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Max Fisher · January 8, 2013