Nitin Kumar, 28, is a software professional with a top-notch information technology company in Bangalore. A fat salary, a fancy apartment and a big car — he seems to have everything going for him. But scratch the surface and you realise that the boy from Jamshedpur has paid a hefty price for success in India’s Silicon Valley. For the last two years, he has been putting in an average of 13 hours of work a day. Sometimes there’s work to be done after-hours too: in the form of conference calls in the middle of the night with clients in the US. The stress of such a life had a telling effect on his marriage within a few months of tying the knot in 2006. His wife, a commercial artist, began to suspect him of having an extramarital affair. Four months back, when he returned from work, he found that his wife had left for her parents’ home in Lucknow. She has now filed for divorce. A distraught Nitin has developed suicidal tendencies.
Dhananjay Kumar, 27, is a software analyst at a reputed IT company in Gurgaon. Married for two years to a PR professional, his long working hours have resulted in migraines and dizzy spells. He today suffers from a lack of sexual desire and that has resulted in growing marital discord.
Nitin and Dhananjay are not isolated cases in the Indian IT industry. Their predicament represents the flipside of the IT revolution that has swept India. If mental health professionals in industry hubs such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon are to be believed, an increasing number of IT professionals are today suffering from a range of physical, mental and emotional problems. There is a growing incidence of marital discord, and cases of divorce and suicide have increased. Over the past couple of months, there have also been four reported cases of suicides by IT professionals who had been suspected of murdering their spouses.
In March, software professional K Ramesh and wife Sirisha were found dead in their house in Vijayawada. The next month, Bangalore techie Amit Bhuddiraja strangled his wife to death, suspecting her of having an affair. Later that month, Hyderabad software engineer P Rama Krishna, 31, was found dead with his wife Soumya, 23, in their home. Krishna left a suicide note saying that he resorted to the extreme step because of his wife’s suspicious behaviour. The couple had been married for a year.
SK Chaturvedi, professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), says, “There has been a five-fold rise in the number of IT professionals visiting us for many stress-related problems in the past couple of years. In fact, this prompted us to conduct a study among IT professionals, which found that 36 per cent of the professionals we studied are probable psychiatric cases.” The study that Chaturvedi led last December also throws up a number of disconcerting trends about stress in the IT and IT-enabled services (ITES) industry.
“People from the IT sector often display symptoms such as restlessness, lack of concentration, anxiety, body pain, lack of sleep, headache, panic, nervousness, and complain of not enjoying daily activities,” says Chaturvedi.
Another psychiatrist with a private practice in Bangalore says that 70 per cent of his clients happen to be from the IT industry.
The problems do not only hound techies in Bangalore, the spread of the phenomenon is wider.
Dr Deepak Raheja, clinical psychiatrist at Paras Hospital in Gurgaon, says, “Forty per cent of my patients are IT professionals. The problem is that they are given unreasonable targets and deadlines, and they just cannot cope.”
For themselves, IT professionals complain that it’s the complex problem solving, mismanaged or under-evaluated software projects, and pressure of deadlines that make their jobs so stressful.
“There is fierce competition and nothing is repetitive. One has to innovate and stretch oneself everyday,” says Sandeep Gupta, a software professional working in Noida. Another IT professional from Bangalore, who requested anonymity, says, “We take a lot of work home. Most of us forget to press ‘pause’ when it comes to work. Peer pressure and the pressure of paying large instalments on cars and home loans are also making things difficult for many of us.”
Split wide open
Aruna Broota, a Delhi-based psychologist, says, “Many IT professionals I counsel are so hooked to the computer that they have no social skills and have no family concerns. I have had many cases where wives of IT professionals told me they have married a wall — a person without any interest in love, romance and sex, which is resulting in increasing marital discord.” The NIHMANS study showed that married IT professionals were more stressed than unmarried ones. Rahul Kashyap, a Chandigarh-based software professional, says, “It’s not just my wife who’s often angry with me, even my eight-year-old son has not been talking to me for a month. For the past three years, I have not been able to attend his birthday as I have been out on projects.”
Sexologists say that long hours in the night in front of computers make IT professionals physically weak and, eventually, they develop sexual and reproductive problems. Dr D Narayana Reddy, a well-known Chennai-based sexologist, says, “There is rising incidence of impotence, hormone disorder and infertility among IT professionals. I have had several cases where young professionals have not had sex for two years. There are also cases where marriages have not been consummated for two years. The online chat rooms have become their bedrooms. The worst part is that they do not have the time and patience to settle issues with their spouses. A Chennai-based lawyer reports, “In the last one year, I have handled about a dozen cases involving IT professionals where divorce has been sought on the ground of impotence.”
Private detective agencies report a steep rise in the number of IT professionals’ wives approaching them for spying on their husbands.
Pradeep Sharma, owner of the Delhi-based Times Detectives, says, “Forty per cent of my clients are IT professionals or their wives who want to spy on their spouses, because they suspect them of having extramarital affairs. They are so suspicious that no matter what our findings are, most of them end up divorcing.”
Divorces filed in Bangalore offer another worrisome view. From 1,240 in 2004, the number shot up to 1,860 and 2,493 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Ujwala A. Mandgi, co-owner of one of the oldest law firms in Bangalore, reckons more than half of them are from the IT sector. She says, “This year, the number of divorce cases in Bangalore has already crossed 1,200 in just four months.
Chennai, too, offers a bleak view. Lawyers from the city say about 40 per cent of the divorces filed in the city involve IT or ITES professionals and there are more cases being filed by women.
Geeta Ramaseshan, a Chennai-based activist-lawyer, says, “Most IT professionals belong to the ‘Entitlement Generation’, which believes in the right to many things including the making and breaking marriages. Since IT professionals are financially independent, they do not think twice before partying ways.”
Arun Bharadwaj, a lawyer at the Delhi High Court, feels that one of the significant reasons for marital discord in the industry is that while some do not want to have children at all, others postpone starting a family for the sake of their careers. “I know many IT guys who are so caught up in the rat race that they are more concerned about pleasing their bosses than their spouses,” says Bharadwaj.
Many IT companies have realised the enormity of the problem. While many have help-lines and in-house psychiatrists, other hold regular yoga and meditation classes for the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees.
S Ram Mohan Rao, head of the Sahaja Yoga Society in Andhra Pradesh, claims, “We conduct regular yoga and meditation workshops at the Hyderabad offices of IT companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Infosys and Wipro. Besides, about 200 IT professionals are regulars at our various centres in Hyderabad.”
Several IT companies are now organising social events regularly and trying to cut down on office hours. Infosys, for one, organises events where both employees and their families participate. It hosts an annual day for the ‘Petit Infoscion’, in which the children of employees explore their parents’ workplace.
IT services may have borne the brunt of such excesses of working lives till now. But, as the NIMHANS report underlines, it’s a social phenomenon that needs to be tackled across India and across sectors — on an emergency basis.