RK Pachauri is in an enviable position today. The former IPCC chairman has not only been promoted at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), he has also survived a sexual harassment case. Or, if the inaction continues, make it two. Another former employee of the organisation on Wednesday accused Pachauri of sexually harassing her and other women in her presence, alleging that police did not take action on her complaint.
It all began in February 2015 when former 29-year-old colleague of Pachauri accused him of sexual harassment; he was the director general of the organisation then. He was forced to leave Teri, resign from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) post and face an internal committee which was investigating the charges.
He denied the charges, the committee found him guilty of gross misconduct. That was May and, as many thought, the end of his career.
Only, less than a year later, the woman has been forced to leave Teri, Pachauri is the vice-chairman of the organisation with executive powers and the wise men and women who brought him back includes names such as Deepak Parekh and Naina Lal Kidwai. So, now he is the judge, jury and the man accused of the crime. The victim is a pariah with, as she put it, no money and a tainted CV; she termed the appointment ‘shameless’.
According to experts, the appointment also flouts the spirit of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, based on the Vishakha judgment of the Supreme Court in 1997. Sexual harassment laws: 0, RK Pachauri: 1.
Pachauri’s appointment is an indictment of how lightly gender politics and sexual harassment is taken in India. As the victim put in an open letter she sent after Pachauri’s elevation, “It makes my skin crawl”.
It should have the same effect on every person who steps out of their home and expect a fair treatment at their workplace. By definition, sexual harassment cases involve people in power using the same power to coax/browbeat a junior into accepting improper sexual advances. It is gender neutral. While most often reported by women, it could easily affect men. It is a misuse of power, gender is secondary.
The message this case send out is if you are being targeted sexually at your workplace, you have no recourse available. In case you speak up, you lose your job and will be hounded by the powerful person involved afterwards. Then, there is the branding of the “poor victim”.
Is that a conversation we want in a country which rewrote its laws after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case and a public outburst? While we talk about making our streets safe for women, do we keep them wary and worried in the workplace?
An excerpt from the woman’s letter shows the hell she had to face even after leaving work: “Not a day passed without a message showing up on my mobile, warning me or bringing forth concerns, ‘We are hearing that ‘Victim’ has settled’, ‘I told them clearly that the complainant has not settled and she wouldn’t. But they don’t seem to believe me’, ‘They were asking me about your family background’, ‘My computer is always watched by the IT Department because they know that I support you’.” Undeterred, she promises to take the case to its “legal conclusion”.
“For someone in my position who has had zero support from the organisation, when made privy to such developments was most disturbing. What in the world was I to expect and why would I risk more than what is lost already. Not just the Governing Council but others in TERI have shown where their conscience leans (if any). If quitting was not enough, TERI Media Executive went ahead and publicized information leading to my identity to the Press. I spoke up and was quarantined from work... No money and a tainted Curriculum Vitae gave me sleepless nights. It was getting beyond my dignity to be associated with such an organisation and in the best of my interest, I quit. I felt most lighter in my mind and body on quitting TERI,” she said in her letter. “I deserved better.”
She did, just as the second women who accused Pachauri and was forced to quit her job in 2003. So do million of women across the country who expect safety at their worplace. Kavita Krishnan, secretary of AIPWA, said, “This case is being watched widely. By reinstating and promoting Pachauri, what message is Teri sending? He was held guilty during the internal inquiry and this decision is outrageous. By reinstating him, they have put him in a position to influence witnesses and sent a terrible message to the victim.”
The decision is not compliant with laws and legal experts want the Teri governing council to be held accountable as well. “The Teri governing council has failed to provide justice for the complainant and should be held accountable as well. First the government ought to take cognizance and intervene because the implementation of the sexual harassment law is monitored by the ministry of women and child development,” Indira Jaising, a senior rights advocate and founder secretary of advocacy group Lawyers Collective, told Mint.
They accept that what happened at Teri is a common occurrence in workplaces. Stay quiet or... is an implicit threat. How this case progresses will decide if it would continue to be so.