The police complaint filed against TERI d-g is just the tip of the iceberg, say former female employees of the organization. They say he shamelessly chased and victimized girls for many years, even jeopardizing their careers. Is this the end of his illustrious career? [/h2]
By Ramesh Menon
It might have hardly come as a surprise to many present and past employees of The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) when its director-general, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, 75, was named in an FIR. Lodged in New Delhi by a 29-year-old woman colleague of his, it alleged that he had stalked and sexually harassed her. Former employees who quit as they were sick of his stalking and harassment say that new revelations about him may just help many who are still working there breathe easy.
Talking to India Legal, a former female employee of TERI alleged: “It has been ages since he started harassing women employees. Pachauri shamelessly chased young girls in the office. He even jeopardized the careers of those who would not respond. Many had no option but to tearfully quit. It was high time someone found the courage to complain to the police and let the law take its course. I know his style. What the girl said in her complaint rings absolutely true.”
As the case hit the headlines, he was reportedly told by the governing council of TERI, which includes many illustrious personalities to step down, at least temporarily, till the case was over. In a statement, TERI said that Pachauri had gone on leave but did not specify for how long. And on February 26, a trial court gave him interim protection from arrest till March 27, with the rider that he shouldn’t leave the country.
A bigger blow for him was resigning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he was chairman since 2002, and which had got the Nobel Peace Prize during his tenure. (The Indian media keeps mentioning that he is a Nobel laureate which is wrong, as it is the IPCC which got it. He just received it on its behalf.)
In her 33-page complaint to the police, the research analyst attached 31 printouts of the messages she received from him, along with a handwritten note he had sent her. She said that despite repeated requests asking him to put a halt to sexually laden SMS messages as she was not interested in a relationship with him, the harassment continued. She specifically mentioned that Pachauri on many occasions and against her wishes, forcibly grabbed her, hugged, kissed and inappropriately touched her. She had been sexually harassed ever since she joined the organization in September 2013, she said. This, even after she reportedly told him that she found his advances and messages vulgar and repulsive.
I dreamt last night that I did the preliminaries of making love to you, but woke up at the critical moment.” DELAYED REACTION
The research analyst’s complaint lay in the Lodhi Colony police station for five days before an FIR was lodged when it became a headline on the front page of The Economic Times. This is another example of how the police has not yet started taking sexual harassment cases seriously, though it claims to give it top priority. This, despite there being a public debate about the need to ensure gender sensitization in the male-dominated police force.
Soon after The Economic Times ran the charges against Pachauri, he approached the court asking for an order against further publication of the story. The story was removed from the website of the paper after the Delhi High Court issued an injunction asking it to do so. But a bench of Justice Jayant Nath vacated a stay on the publication saying that the “liberty of the press under Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution could not be violated”, allowing the media to report on the case. The next morning the news spread like wildfire.
Cyber law expert Pawan Duggal, who was initially Pachauri’s lawyer in this case, decided not to represent him. He said he had taken a professional decision and would not like to comment on it.
Ranjana Saikia, the presiding officer of the Internal Complaints Committee of TERI, confirmed that she had received the complaint from a female colleague on February 9 and had worked on it “as per guidelines.” A serious complaint such as this should have been acted on immediately, but it took the committee eight days to give a copy of the complaint to Pachauri. The complainant has not been asked to quit, she said, and added that the employee had, in fact, got an extension in November 2014. If that was the case, how is it that Pachauri, in his application to the court, had cited that she was a poor performer? There was a move to transfer her out of the D-G’s office. Usually, poor performers in TERI are asked to quit and are not transferred to another department.
The complainant recorded her statement in camera before a magistrate in his chambers. It took nearly five hours. The recording will be used as evidence in court proceedings. Her FIR included charges under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354D (stalking) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC. The police are scanning Whatsapp messages, emails and text messages submitted by the complainant. Pachauri’s mobile phone and computer will be sent for forensic analysis as his defense has been that it has been hacked.
Earlier, after the FIR was lodged, Pachauri received interim relief from being arrested from the Delhi High Court, enabling him
to approach a lower court for anticipatory bail as he was summoned by the police for questioning. He secured bail on medical grounds saying that he had cardiac issues and urinary tract infection. He got himself admitted to a hospital. Prashant Mendiratta, the victim’s lawyer, had argued that Pachauri not be granted bail, as he would use his power to intimidate his client. Pachauri’s lawyer, in turn, said his client was a man of international repute and no purpose would be served by sending him to police custody.
In his application, Pachauri said that the complainant had engaged in conversations with him for 15 months and had raised objections when she was given the choice of shifting from the D-G’s office to another division in the same organization. Earlier, his defense was that he had been framed as his computer and mobile phone were hacked and messages sent from them.
For former TERI employees, this case gave them a sense of déjà vu. One of them remembers how he would physically lift female staffers at office parties and swing them around, much to their embarrassment. “Though he knew we detested it, he would continue doing it and so we would try and avoid his gaze as much as possible,” she said.
After one more former TERI employee alleged that she also was harassed by him as were many other girls, he chose not to go to Nairobi where he was to chair a meeting of the IPCC. He informed IPCC about his inability to chair its plenary session because of issues demanding his attention in India. But later on, he resigned from the UN body.
RELIEF FOR IPCC?
In his resignation letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Pachauri said: “The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair in the immediate future, which under the current circumstances, I may be unable to provide, as shown by my inability to travel to Nairobi to chair the plenary session of the Panel this week. I have therefore taken the decision to step down from my position as Chair of the IPCC.”
When asked if he was forced to quit, Jonathan Lynn, head, communications and media relations, IPCC, told India Legal that he had done it of his own accord. Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program which facilitated the meeting to discuss the Pachauri fracas, said that the action taken would ensure that IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continued without interruption.
This resignation came after well-known lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover announced that another woman had chosen to reveal the trauma she went through at TERI when she worked there in 2005. Preferring to remain anonymous, she alleged that many others had suffered in a similar fashion. In her statement, she said: “I and many other female colleagues and friends who have worked at the same organization as the complainant at in different points of time and capacities during the last 10 years have been through similar harassment at his hands.”
Surrounded by who’s who of the world, Pachauri allegedly craved for complainant’s affection
The second complainant said that she had brought it to the notice of the second-in-command at TERI, only to be sternly told that she had misread his warmth. She added: “Of the most common and public sight of such behavior by him that many of us vividly recall was performed on the floor where his office is located and is home to a manicured roof-top garden and badminton court. These evening sessions would often draw to a close with high-tea, and many a time with him lifting a female employee as if they were little girls…. Once, he called me to his room to discuss some work but picked up a coffee-table book. He thumbed the pages of what was an architectural design catalogue with designs of swimming pools and gardens. I was still waiting for where he was going with it. What followed was startling: he promised to get me a certain foundation’s pool membership if I would care to join him for swims on the weekends.”
After securing admission to a university abroad, she quit and thought that was the end of her trauma. She alleges that when Pachauri saw the resignation letter, he threatened: “From the airport to the university you are headed to, I have friends at every step. Let’s see if you manage to leave the country.” She added that though all this happened a decade back, she had now found the courage to speak up after the earlier complaint was registered.
Another female employee of TERI told India Legal that she lauded the courage of these two women who spoke up against Pachauri. Yet another former employee said she was shocked that the women in the top management of TERI had not raised a voice against him all these years though they knew what was happening. “Even now, they are not standing up to say the truth,” she lamented.
The five-floor TERI office at India Habitat Center in the heart of Delhi
CALLS TO STEP DOWN
Former additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh asked: “Why is Pachauri trying to use his considerable influence to overwhelm the entire legal process. He has even tried to put a gag order on the media, which was later modified after some organizations approached the high court. He should step down as TERI chief,” she said.
Activists like Grover too have called for his resignation, saying that only then will there be a fair trial. They are now demanding that he quit all the numerous government panels he is a part of.
TERI employees that India Legal spoke to remained tight-lipped about the incident, saying that they did not know about it and had read it only in the papers and seen it on television. PK Aggarwal, TERI’s HR head, said: “The complainant had approached an internal committee that had clear guidelines to look into such complaints, but she later decided to go to the police. So, the other party had to take legal recourse. Had she not gone to the police, we would have enquired about it. Out of some 1,000 regular employees of TERI, 33 percent are women and they are working with adequate comfort.” Annapurna Vancheshwaran, director, Sustainable Outreach Division at TERI, told India Legal that she would not comment on the episode as it was sub-judice.
India had lobbied hard to ensure that Pachauri headed the IPCC, a global body of climate scientists who come out with an assessment report every few years after studying thousands of reports on climate change and behavior. On October 15, 2013, in an email to the TERI complainant, Pachauri said: “Here I am sitting and chairing an IPCC meeting and surreptitiously sending you messages. I hope that tells you of my feelings for you.” It was quite clear that Pachauri would not give up on wooing her.
He is also the chancellor of TERI University and has written numerous books. In 2001, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.
After the scandal hit the roof, The India Conference at Harvard withdrew its invitation to Pachauri; he was to speak there on India’s path to global leadership in early March. Clearly, they figured out that he should not be one talking about it. The conference is one of the largest India-centric meets in the US and attracts numerous international dignitaries.
Meanwhile, the present complainant, in an application to the Delhi police, expressed the fear that the evidence, which includes mobile phones and computers, would be removed by Pachauri before the police seized them for investigation.
She also feared that he would use his powerful connections to bail himself out. She wanted the police to permit her to let journalists video graph her mobile phones in which she had received the text messages. She wanted the phones and computers to be sent to an independent laboratory for forensic tests so that it would not be tampered with.
In an email to TERI staff, Pachauri said: “There is a cloud which is causing problems for me personally, but I will like to assure coll-eagues that I am working on fighting this problem effectively.” Considering the evidence against him, this is not going to be easy.
Hopefully, the truth will be out soon.
Pachauri’s two-page resignation letter to IPCC has no mention of the turn of events in TERI
India Legal magazine’s link to Dr Pachauri’s lovelorn correspondence with TERI employee.
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