Sometime on a cool Bangalore evening, in the quiet of a 13th-floor flat of a suburban residential tower built for hard-working, ambitious professionals, in the course of an argument with his wife Roopa, Madhusudhan YG flew into a murderous, psychotic rage, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed his wife 49 times.
The police found her and the three-bedroom flat — bought to mark Madhusudhan and Roopa’s sixth wedding anniversary — a bloody mess. After unsuccessfully trying to hang and burn himself, Madhusudhan jumped from a balcony to his death. Their shocked families, struggling to deal with the six-year-old they left behind, refused to comment.
Madhusudhan was an engineer, a techie in local parlance, one of about a million primarily responsible for making Bangalore a global brand name. Many come from modest backgrounds and small towns, vaulting from cram schools to be plugged in to a global 24/7/365 workplace of extreme pressures. The reward is a piece of the great Indian dream — to be able to buy a flat and a car by 30.
They aren’t classified as such, but here are some murders, involving male techies and wives, over the last three years:
After an argument, a 37-year-old strangled and chopped his wife into 72 pieces over two months. He hid her in a freezer, frequently spraying the house with perfume and telling his six-year-old twins their mother was away on work.
A 31-year-old stabbed his estranged wife, also an engineer, 11 times after she refused to jointly apply for a loan.
A 30-year-old suspected his wife, a banker, of an affair, so he smothered her and hung himself.
A 25-year-old raped and strangled his wife, an HR manager, because, a week after their marriage, she refused sex.
A 32-year-old believed his wife, a school teacher, was not being nice to his parents, so he strangled her and slit her throat
A married 31-year-old engineer-turned-yoga-instructor killed his Israeli lover and kept her body in a refrigerator for 18 days.
All the men were married (at least two after falling in love), worked in companies that techies aspire to (IBM, Infosys, Accenture and Siemens), and appeared to have had problems dealing with a working wife.
It is not my case that techies are somehow losing it. But these cases offer some evidence of the pressures in the lives of working techie couples. They represent a modern Indian ideal, but to get there they must navigate the sometimes extraordinary headwinds of tradition, gender roles and their own expectations. Almost everywhere, the basic issue is the inability to let the wife realise her potential.
“Usually, the woman gets the rougher end of the stick, both from family and company,” Swami Manohar, founder and managing director of Limberlink, a company attempting to re-engineer engineering education, tells me. Men, he says, tend to brood or be disturbed if wives earn more than them. In general, male techies tend to marry women with lower salaries and qualifications, happy to have the extra money but secure in the knowledge that she will stay home when a child is born.
Academic studies of the tech sector reveal how the bountiful employment it offers women is circumscribed by old gender roles. Nearly half of all IT employees recruited are now women, but by middle management that figure falls by half; in top management, no more than 8% are women, according to industry data. “It has not been possible for the women in the IT sector to challenge the structural inequalities and gender relations respectively at the workplace and at home,” says a 2012 study by the Indian Statistical Institute.
One reason that Madhusudhan, the man with the murderous rage, appeared to resent his wife, a police officer (requesting anonymity because the investigation is underway), tells me, was because she earned about twice as much as he did. There were, he says, frequent squabbles over the fact.
Some couples have transcended the old ways. Abhishek Prasad, 35, an engineer, MBA and manager with Oracle in Singapore, freely acknowledges that his wife, Nandini Jayram, 33, out-earns him. There are more like them, he says, confident of the other’s success and feeding off it. Jayram, a senior manager with Unilever in Bangalore, calls Prasad her “tennis parent”, someone who pushes her to do better. Nandini says progress is always about a choice that a woman has but does not make. That, as she notes, is because most men struggle with spousal success. “While I’ve come through, the general trend is that men are comfortable with self-assured women as classmates or colleagues, not as wives.”
Embarrassed and requesting his last name be withheld, an engineer I talk to tells me how disturbed he was after his wedding last year. Sreejesh says he has a “good job”, earning Rs. 30,000 a month. His wife, whom he says has worked two years to his five, has a bigger salary. That’s how the market works, I say. He responds: “But how can a man live like this? I have no choice because the market is so bad.”
If the global gloom continues, things will worsen, unless more men think differently. Shreelesh Kumar, 33, did. Although he was promised a promotion as team leader, Kumar, in June, quit his job at a BPO that did medical transcription. Business is dwindling in a sector badly hit by competition from countries like the Philippines and the movement of jobs back to the West. Kumar was on the bench, and he knew there would be no promotion. So, he’s now a wedding photographer, earning “much less” than Deepa, 31. She’s an analyst, checking for quality in subtitles her company pastes on films sent to them by global clients. He’s happy for her and comfortable with himself — but that’s now. “Earlier,” he says, “I would never admit to this.”
Samar Halarnkar is a Bangalore-based journalist
The views expressed by the author are personal