Technology has come to the rescue of working mothers. Many are opting to install a hi-tech home surveillance system that allows them to keep a watch on their children while away at the workplace.
"The thought of leaving my child at home with a maid for an entire day was harrowing and I just wasn't able to come to terms with it. At the same time, I craved for professional satisfaction; so giving up my career was definitely not an option. Around this time, my husband discovered a home surveillance system that would allow me to keep a watch on my one-year-old son. All I had to do was log on to the Internet," says Supriya Sule, 34, a Mumbai-based working professional.
"There has been a five to 10 per cent increase in the sale of home surveillance systems over the last three-to-four years, especially after the Mumbai bomb blasts. The main reason is the increase in crime rate and people becoming more aware of the security issue. Also, thanks to two-income households, many think it is necessary for the security of their family," says Vihang Kathe, Business Development Manager of Xserve India Pvt Ltd, marketing and sales arm for OEM IT manufacturers in Taiwan, China and the United States.
The market offers various options for working mothers as well as other women who would like to use the system for various reasons. The most common option availed by women is IP-based DVR systems. One has to go to a particular website, log on and you can be a witness to what is happening at your home through this system. Of course, the system comes at a price - ranging from Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 (US$1=Rs 46).
The second option is Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). This is most commonly used by banks and commercial establishments, but can be used for home surveillance as well. The drawback is that your place of work cannot be very far from your home. Also, it has to be installed at your desktop, so if your system changes at your workplace, it would have to be installed all over again. But what you can do is to let your computer record the images for a day and then come back from work and see what is happening. So you would know whether the maid is looking after your child properly or not. However, it is not real time and you might spend hours sitting at your home computer after coming back from work.
The third option is a webcam, which is cheap (starting price Rs 1,500), easy to install and is again dependent on Internet. However, it has shortcomings as well. If the Internet connection snaps at home, you cannot do anything.
"My daughter lost a drastic amount of weight in two-to-three months and was generally irritable. I suspected that the maid was not feeding her properly. That was why I had a webcam installed. After realizing that this was not the case, I stopped using it on a daily basis but still check what is happening at home every 10 days or so," says Manisha Singh, 30, who works for a media organization in Gurgaon.
She adds that she stopped using it on a daily basis because it was interfering with her work. "I became almost obsessed with it and would keep looking at the images for hours. After about a week, I realized I couldn't go on like this and that I have to trust," Manisha explains.
There are many issues associated with the use of home surveillance systems. Both Supriya and Manisha haven't told their immediate bosses about their use of the system. "I decided not to tell my boss because I was not sure of his reaction. Since we have Internet access in the office, it was not a problem. I would minimize the site whenever I felt somebody was coming near my cubicle. But yes, the site is open all the time and I keep a regular watch. Another reason I didn't tell anybody was that I felt that it somehow reflected badly on me as a professional," says Supriya.
The recent years have witnessed an increase in per capita income in urban areas, leading to an upswing in the purchasing power of individuals. The need for security due to the existence of huge differences in income levels between the haves and the have-nots has led to the shift in perception from being `not for me' to `for me and my family's safety'.
"The withering of the joint family system and the growth of nuclear families in urban areas has further led to an increase in families opting for these kind of systems," says Santonu Choudhary, CEO, Consumer Service Group, Zicom Electronic Systems Ltd, one of the major players in the surveillance system business. He feels that the Indian surveillance system market is likely to touch Rs 2000 million in the next three years and the home segment will constitute 20 per cent of the total small business segment.
Anxious parents, however, would do well to remember that though it helps to keep a watch on what is happening at home, constant monitoring would be likely to negatively impact their professional lives.