Monday, September 26, 2022

Veil of Silence

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Despite clear evidence, the case against this famous scientist crawls. Nothing has come out of the internal probe in TERI and the victim has not joined work. Is this how organizations sidetrack sexual harassment cases?

By Ramesh Menon

Women fighting sexual harassment often face an uphill task, especially if the man is someone of repute.Remember the sexual abuse case against RK Pachauri, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the director-general (DG) of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)? Remember how the media went for the “kill”, widely covering it after a researcher in the think tank filed a police complaint about being repeatedly sexually harassed by the TERI chief for the last two years? Pachauri moved court, restraining the media from reporting the matter, but a later court order struck it down.

Pachauri got himself admitted to a hospital and promptly filed for anticipatory bail. As both the national and international media highlighted the case, he resigned from the UN climate change body. After gender activists like Kavita Krishnan and legal acti-vists like Vrinda Grover demanded he quit TERI, he proceeded on indefinite leave.

Indira Jaising from Twitter


(Top-Below) Lawyer Indira Jaising wants Pachauri to be removed as TERI DG, while Vrinda Grover has been approached by another victim

But after a flurry of screaming headlines and television talk shows, the media predictably forgot this story. This, despite the police complaint where the researcher attached detailed evidence in the form of emails and SMS and Whatsapp messages which eloquently exposed the sexual harassment she suffered at the hands of her immediate boss. It is another sexual abuse case that is dying a slow death.
Pachauri later filed an application in the Delhi High Court asking permission to go abroad to attend the Global Water Summit in Athens. The court promptly turned it down, saying that it had earlier asked him to stay put in India and cooperate with the probe.


Meanwhile, TERI’s Internal Complaints Committee has still not come out with a report on the incident. The victim had first filed an internal complaint on February 9, with details of how she had been sexually harassed by her boss. On February 10, she was called by Pachauri and severely reprimanded. PK Aggarwal, head of HR, who was also on the committee, told the victim not to pursue the case. He was later removed when an all-woman team was constituted to probe the case. It comprised two TERI officials—Ranjana Saikia and Suruchi Bhadwal—and one external member, Sonal Matoo, lawyer and founder of NGO Helping Hands. Saikia, who is the presiding officer of the committee, told India Legal that she was not comfortable talking about the case.

No one from TERI has yet called the victim to console or reassure her. She has gone on leave and wants to get back to work, but the atmosphere at TERI does not give her the confidence to do so.

No one from TERI has yet called the victim to console or reassure her. She has gone on leave and wants to get back to work, but the atmosphere at TERI does not give her the confidence to do so. The TERI intranet also has messages directed against her that signal a hostile environment and the fact that the management is encouraging it. Can TERI’s internal inquiry come out with a fair and impactful report? After all, some of the colleagues, who were victimized by Pachauri or are crucial witnesses on what has been happening, are very apprehensive of speaking up since Pachauri continues as the DG.

P Ramana Reddy, a former research associate at TERI who worked from 1990-95, told India Legal: “The news of a sexual harassment case against Pachauri was no surprise to me. I knew all along that women were being harassed by Pachauri at TERI as well as during his trips abroad. He finally got caught. We must appreciate the girl who had the courage to complain, as many who could not tolerate the abuse, left. If any other male in TERI had committed such a grave crime, he would be in jail.”

SG Meeting

Pachauri with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


The victim also wrote to the Governing Council of TERI on April 3, pleading for justice. In her detailed letter, she said that she had joined the office of the D-G as a research associate attracted by the fact that she could follow her passion for research and academics. What followed was mental torture that came with Pachauri’s lewd advances, conversations laden with sexual innuendos and demeaning behavior. However, she has not heard from any member of the Governing Council, despite it having illustrious members like Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC; Naina Lal Kidwai, executive director, HSBC, and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, managing director, Biocon Ltd.

She feared that an impartial inquiry would not be possible within TERI as he continued to be the D-G and could be back any moment. She pointed out that it was for the organization to have filed a police complaint when they had heard of what had happened to her. But instead, the intranet of TERI was actually deriding her and praising its D-G.


Indira Jaising, former additional soli-citor general of India, also shot off a letter to Human Development Res-ource Minister Smriti Irani, seeking Pachauri’s removal as chancellor of TERI University. She wrote that in the light of the grave charges of sexual harassment leveled against him, it was highly improper that he should head an educational institution of advanced learning. Retaining him would send a message to students that such behavior from a chancellor is tolerated. It is imperative that the “UGC take note of these facts and call upon the founding society of the university to remove him as chancellor in accordance with the UGC rules and norms for acceptable conduct in public life,” she wrote. Irani did not respond to her letter.

Jaising told India Legal that she was very disappointed that people of eminence on the Governing Council of TERI did not respond to the happenings in the organization. “In any organization, anyone accused of such a grave charge would have been suspended. But the TERI management only let him proceed on leave,” she lamented.

Meanwhile, another former employee of TERI has approached lawyer Vrinda Grover, saying that she was similarly sexually harassed by Pachauri, while yet another woman with similar experiences approached Jaising. Sources told India Legal that the internal committee of TERI was also getting feelers of how the abuse had been going on for years.

The dark secrets of sexual abuse at the posh TERI office in India Habitat Centre are threatening to tumble out. It might just give more women the courage to stand up against sexual harassment.

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