TERI’s chief faces a fresh barrage of sexual harassment charges even as he digs in his heels and refuses to quit despite mounting evidence of his sexual indiscretions.
By Ramesh Menon
Dr RK Pachauri, who managed to wrench the post of executive vice-chairman of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) while charges of sexual harassment by a 29-year-old research analyst were being examined in court, continues to hit the headlines. Fresh allegations have emerged of him harassing another female employee.
Pachauri’s new appointment flouts the spirit of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, based on the Vishaka judgment of the Supreme Court in 1997. Former chief justice of India RM Lodha had said in the past that it was not proper to promote a person facing criminal investigation till the charges were cleared.
At a quickly convened meeting on February 12, the governing council of TERI decided to send Pachouri on leave but let him continue in the post in the face of new allegations by another complainant. She revealed this as she was shocked to see that the first complainant who leveled similar charges exactly a year ago had still not got justice.
The second complainant through her counsel, Vrinda Grover, said that Pachauri had sexually harassed her in 2003-04 when she was working with TERI. Though it has been a year since she wrote to the Delhi police commissioner and the deputy police commissioner about the case, a statement has not been recorded.
The second complainant said Pachauri would often call her to his office even though there was no real work and this made her uncomfortable. He used to call her by a sexually suggestive nickname despite being told not to do so. He told her that he could lift hefty and heavy women and so lifting her would not be a problem. He even offered to massage her saying that he was good at it. He once asked her to meet him at a hotel saying that a press note had to be prepared. When she went there, she found that there was no work of that kind. “I felt demeaned as an individual, a woman and as a professional,” she said in her complaint.
He would keep inviting her for dinner or for a drink. He would ask personal questions such as when would her husband be away. “He would call me to his room on the pretext of discussing work, but the conversation about work was very brief and then he would make attempts to come close to my body or hold my hand… On another occasion when I was in his office, he completely against my wishes forcibly held and kissed me on my face when I was leaving the room,” she alleged.
Once, Pachauri asked her to come in as early as 8 am to his office when other employees had not yet come. He asked her to sit on his chair and work on what was written on his desktop. When she did that, he came close to her and said that her wet hair was fragrant and looked beautiful. He then placed his hand on her shoulder, making her run out of the room. On another occasion, he told her that he would get her the membership of a reputed club if she would go swimming there with him. She refused. She complained to Commodore MM Joshi, director, Administration, but he brushed it aside saying that she had misunderstood Pachauri.
Grover told India Legal: “We have seen a brazen violation of the sexual harassment law in the Pachauri case. Both TERI and its governing council have violated it. The fact that Pachauri was promoted to a powerful position despite being investigated for a criminal case and the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) finding him guilty of sexual harassment shows that the rights of all women working in TERI stand compromised.”
This testimony and the fresh complaint have come to haunt Pachauri. A former employee of TERI told India Legal: “I wish I could stand in the witness box and give evidence of what Pachauri used to do to female employees whom he took a fancy to. But I now have a family and do not want muck thrown at them. I was a victim but have to keep quiet. I sincerely wish the law gets him.”
Grover pointed out that the argument against all complainants by such abusers is often that the charges have come years after the incident. “Jurisprudence needs to recognize that women will take time to muster courage and come out with charges of how they have been sexually harassed,” she said.
Pachauri would call the second complainant by a sexually suggestive nickname despite being told not to do so. He told her he could lift hefty women. He even offered to massage her.
The first complainant told India Legal that the promotion of a man booked on charges of sexual harassment at his workplace made her flesh crawl. She said she was determined to pursue the case till its logical conclusion.
A TERI spokesperson said that the governing council had appointed Ajay Mathur as the director-general and Pachauri as executive vice-chairman to ensure smooth transition. Even though the governing council of TERI has eminent persons like HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh and former chairman, HSBC India, Naina Lal Kidwai, who chose to promote Pachauri despite these serious charges, 17 former students of TERI University refused to accept their degrees from Pachauri at a convocation next month. Pachauri, incidentally, is the chancellor of the university.
In a terse letter to Dr Rajiv Seth, the acting V-C, the students from the 2013-15 batch said that they were aware that Pachauri has immensely contributed towards building both TERI and TERI University and his ability to build global networks, promote the university and institute and to draw funds, projects and grants. “Nevertheless, no measure of such contributions can be used to justify alleged criminal behavior in the form of actions that cause serious harm to another human being. However, the stance of the entire top management at the University and at TERI has been implicitly that the university may continue churning out competent professionals who are good at application in their specialized domains of knowledge but with a complete disregard for values, ethics and principles of any kind,” the letter said
The students said they were not ready to accept a standard response on the grounds that the charges against him had not yet been proved and he was not convicted. They cited the instance of how the International Panel on Climate Change gave him no leeway for his alleged actions and got him to resign. This, they said, was in stark contrast to TERI which had created a unique position for him and with TERI University which let him continue as chancellor.
“Given the flow of events, it is seems like Dr Pachauri is using all his political clout, media influence and networks to stall the judicial process, intimidate witnesses, coerce TERI colleagues and employees to persuade the complainant to withdraw her case and settle out of court as it would be better for her since she has nothing more to gain,” the letter said.
The students wanted the management to consider whether they should allow him to continue as chancellor. They were obviously finding it difficult to justify the actions of the management to their employers and associates. Noted activist and lawyer Indira Jaising had earlier questioned the propriety of letting him continue as chancellor as it was sending a wrong message to the students.
“As we take small steps in building our careers at different institutions of repute, it is becoming increasingly unviable for us to stay silent on this matter, which we consider to be an absolute contempt of principles, ethics and the law. We have a certain duty to uphold some sense of justness as responsible citizens of society,” the letter said.
The strong stand of the students has forced Pachauri to stay away from the convocation. The degrees will now be awarded by the V-C, Dr Leena Srivastava, who is presently on a sabbatical. The acting V-C, Dr Rajiv Seth, told India Legal that he was not at all perturbed by the letter as youngsters with conviction should be encouraged and their opinions and ideas respected. “We believe in freedom of expression,” he said. Some 200 students were to receive their degrees from Pachauri. But the courageous and ethical stand of 17 students triumphed over the silence of others.
The HRD Ministry which has shown a penchant for shooting off letters to varsities on minor issues, has still not sent one to TERI University on why Pachauri is continuing as chancellor.
One of the former students told this magazine: “Pachauri should not be involved in the affairs of TERI till his name is cleared. We find it difficult to justify the brazen display of power and the hypocrisy at the highest level. TERI’s credibility is at stake. It is committing institutional suicide.”
In a petition that is making the rounds on the internet through popular platform change.org, Sumedha Basu, a former TERI University student, demanded that TERI reverse the recent appointment of Pachauri as executive vice-chairman. The petition said that despite the serious charges of sexual harassment, he continued as D-G allegedly exercising influence on TERI officials to settle the matter out-of-court and finally forcing the woman to quit TERI. His promotion should have been deferred till the court verdict was out, it said.
The appointment was “a slap on the faces of all those women (and men) who have ever tried to stand up against gender discrimination or sexual harassment at workplace. This also sends out an extremely wrong message to all TERI employees and TERI University students in the form of direct intimidation and by essentially suppressing their voices forever. It is doubtful that any TERI employee (current or future) would ever report any injustice, misconduct, malpractice, discrimination, suppression in the organization in the fear that the alleged accused will be back in a more powerful position”, it said.
“We find it difficult to justify the brazen display of power and the hypocrisy at the highest level. TERI’s credibility
is at stake. It is committing institutional suicide.” — A former student of TERI
Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who was a member of the governing council, resigned in September citing “moral responsibility”. She said that the allegations against Pachauri were very serious and an individual was not bigger than the institution.
While insiders talk in hushed tones about Pachauri’s sexual harassment, only two of them came out in the open with charges. When the first complainant found that TERI was not responding to her charges and that she had been transferred from Pachauri’s office, she filed a police report on February 18, 2015, where she provided enough evidence in the form of WhatsApp and SMS messages, suggestive emails and examples of unwanted physical contact.
In her 33-page complaint to the police, the first complainant attached 31 printouts which included hand-written notes he had written to her. One of the notes written on June 12, 2014, said: “I dreamt last night that I did the preliminaries of making love to you, but woke up at the critical moment.” She wrote back to him a week later: “Do you ever actually understand what someone feels when someone resists something and you continue to do it?” But such sharp comments did not stop him and he continued to stalk the traumatized girl.
There are a lot of lessons to glean from the Pachauri case. We live in a male-dominated, misogynistic society that does not really care for complaints by women of sexual harassment. Despite the police complaint, nothing was done. The police moved only when the media took the story up and then lodged the FIR against Pachauri on charges of sexual harassment under IPC sections 354, 354(a), 354(d) (molestation) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
In our March 15, 2015, issue, we had expressed hope that the truth about the case would come out soon. However, even after 11 months, it has not taken off despite mounting evidence. A former TERI employee told the police on January 12 that senior executives like Sanjay Joshi, a senior director and Reena Singh, an area convener, had tried to pressurize him into meeting the first complainant and getting her to agree to a settlement. When the police questioned Joshi, he said that he had done it only to save the image of the organization.
Pachauri’s lawyer, Ashish Dixit, said in court that his client had never influenced anyone in the organization. But evidence shows otherwise. He was on leave from February to July 2015, he said in his reply filed before the Delhi High Court, and had not tried to influence anyone in TERI. He called the allegations of the complainant a figment of her imagination and sought cancellation of her petition saying that his anticipatory bail be revoked. He also said that he had entered the office only after the court allowed him to do so and there was no illegality in holding the post of executive vice-chairman.
Prashant Mendiratta, counsel for the complainant, told India Legal that the status report of the Delhi Police presented in court clearly stated that Pachauri was stalling the investigation and was giving evasive replies. He pointed out that TERI had not given access to servers that were crucial for the investigation. “Pachauri has been tampering with the evidence and influencing employees and he will ensure that they do not speak up as he is in charge there. Once he is removed, more complaints from within will surface.”
Clearly, there has been a strategy to protect him. One employee said: “One wonders why the eminent members of TERI’s governing council were taking so much of flak for one year for not taking action against him. It shows how powerful and influential Pachauri is.”
There is also support within. Dr Vibha Dhawan, senior director, said that the organization was completely behind Pachauri as he had built it making personal sacrifices. Just a few had rallied against him as they were being instigated to do so, she alleged. “What has happened is very unfortunate. TERI needs him as a mentor and we stand by him,” she said. Dhawan is now the head of the newly constituted ICC that Pachauri formed after Ranjana Saikia, the earlier head, who gave a scathing report holding him guilty of sexual harassment, resigned.
The HRD Ministry which has shown a penchant for shooting off letters to universities on minor issues, has still not considered it necessary to send one to TERI University for letting Pachauri continue as chancellor.
Grover says: “The manner in which the police and the legal system have worked when even after a year of no chargesheet being filed is not only alarming but has a chilling effect for women across the country.”
In India, some things simply do not change. Like misogyny.