Has India’s Booming IT Industry Finally Plateaued?

AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi

A company named Infosys helped build India’s booming tech industry. Although few Americans have heard of Infosys, this large company in Bangalore employs 200,000 people and codes for companies as diverse as Nordstrom and Harley-Davidson. But trouble has struck.

At The California Sunday Magazine, Rollo Romig paints an unsettling portrait of Indian life, where the middle class that Infosys helped build now fears what one newspaper called a “bloodbath” from downsizing. American protectionism is reducing the amount of offshoring that goes on in tech. Trump has made it harder for Indian tech workers to get H-1B work visas, and automation in India threatens to eliminate even more jobs.

In April of last year, Puneet Manuja, the co-founder of YourDost, a Bangalore-based online mental-health platform that offers counseling via live chat, noticed a spike in messages from IT workers who’d lost their jobs, or worried they would soon. In response, YourDost opened a temporary hotline to field employment concerns. Over three days, they were contacted by 1,100 workers. “A lot of these people did not have a plan B,” Manuja said. “More than 60 percent of people who reached out to us had less than three months of savings left.” Many who’d lost jobs, he said, were hiding it from their parents and friends. “When we asked why people do not tell their parents, they said you are considered weak. If you’ve been fired or laid off, it’s very difficult to convince people that it’s because of some structural changes.” They heard from one young woman, he said, who lived with her parents and who, for a week or two after getting fired from her IT job, got dressed and left every day as if she were going to work.

The leading IT companies all denied that they were laying off anyone. Some IT workers told me that, to avoid admitting to layoffs, the companies had increasingly been setting impossible performance targets to push out workers. One evening I met a longtime Infosys employee in his apartment in east Bangalore. The courtyard of his housing complex was a dazzling display of lights and fountains and overwhelming scale; it was the kind of residence that would have been unimaginable in the old Bangalore, before IT took over. Early last year, he said, he took two months’ leave following the death of his father, and when he returned he felt he’d come back to a different company. His new manager, he said, removed him from his projects, gave him a poor performance review, and incessantly pressured him to resign, threatening him with termination if he didn’t. After two months of this, he surrendered. He still seemed stunned and mortified by this turn of events; he said his work had always been highly commended by managers and clients alike and showed me emails to prove it. He didn’t want me to name him because he still hoped the company would take him back.

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