Expert Gyan: Understanding the Impact of ‘L’affaire TERI’

What has been the impact of the Pachauri case?. Credit: PTI Photo

What has been the impact of the Pachauri case?. Credit: PTI

The TERI case is being discussed threadbare everywhere in Delhi – in cafes, watering holes, in offices and academic institutions, with developments in the case playing out at a time when the discourse on gender violence has moved from obscure, nondescript towns to haunt the hallowed corridors of the corporate world.

The decision by TERI’s governing council on February 12 to send RK Pachauri on leave from the organisation, the council and the university carrying its name until his case is reviewed given its sub-judice nature has met with criticism from different quarters and stiff protests by several NGOs and women’s rights groups.

Some prominent individuals were asked for their views on the seemingly intractable ‘L’affaire RK Pachauri’.

Has TERI’s governing council acted properly in elevating Pachauri to the vice post and then sending him on leave after protests erupted? Many of the governing council members head well-known organisations. Is the manner in which they have handled the allegations against Pacahuri likely to send a wrong signal to their women employees? TERI says it supports the rights of women and has consistently ensured the provision of a secure environment and workplace. What lessons does TERI’s handling of the sexual harassment charges against Pachauri hold out for other organisations?

Sharmila Tagore
Actor and former Chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification

In my opinion, the governing council’s decision to elevate Pachauri was not correct as the case is being heard in court and he has not been cleared of the charges, which are of very serious nature.

Why give Pachauri the control to induct new people, oversee the working of the institution and run the institution as if nothing has really happened? I feel that sending Pachauri on leave after the media furore was a merely face saving gesture by the council and the decision was perhaps not unanimous.

Sharmila Tagore. Credit: Wikipedia

Sharmila Tagore. Credit: Wikipedia

What was the need to promote Pachauri in such a hurry when the case is pending in court? It wasn’t as if TERI was not functioning properly without him. The council members are well-known and successful people in their own right and employees in their companies look up to them to do the right thing. The decision taken by the members of the council will inhibit women employees in their own organisation from coming out in the open with sexual harassment complaints as they will feel that their complains will not be met with just consideration.

Statements and policies are fine but have they followed it up with the right actions and correct decisions? In this case, what recourse did the complainant have other than to approach the management for a fair hearing? The employees’ sense of dignity and sense of self should not be hurt by an organisation’s indifferent attitude. It takes a lot of courage for a woman to formally lodge a sexual harassment complaint against a boss who governs her destiny in the company. The least that the company can do is to give her a fair hearing and follow the prescribed procedure precisely laid out for such cases.

TERI perhaps has not handled this case properly and has therefore faced a lot of criticism. Its reputation has certainly been dented. When a well-known organisation like this is seen to be blatantly unfair, what hope do men and women from other organisations have? Organisations must ensure that internal complaints committees are in place as per the law and that they function in an unbiased manner.

C Uday Bhaskar
Strategic affairs expert and columnist, and Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi

If you look at the TERI website you will find distinguished men and women from diverse backgrounds who hold responsible posts in the organisation but their silence is deafening.

Uday Bhaskar. Credit: Twitter

Uday Bhaskar. Credit: Twitter

Nobody took a stand and spoke out against the boss. Even the pliant governing council’s decision to send Pachauri on leave shows the rot within.

I am shocked at their decision and feel that TERI has lost institutional credibility.

This case is a wakeup call for corporate India that eminence of the board or governing council does not necessarily translate to gender equality, as at TERI the governing council failed to reassure working women that there is safe work environment for them and that if such cases were to happen in their own organisations they will lead by example.

Even before the liberation of the mind happens, we have laws in the country against all kinds of violence but nobody is bothered about implementing the law. The enormity of the Nirbhaya case opened public discourse on gender issues but L’affaire TERI demonstrates the same syndrome of apathy of state and civil society to gender issues – the victim cannot expect justice or empathy. We need media watchdogs, a support structure with a 24×7 helpline for victims of sexual harassment at the workplace and to make the workplace an equitable ecosystem when it comes to gender.

Brinda Karat
CPI(M) politburo member and former Member of the Rajya Sabha

Brinda Karat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Brinda Karat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Pachauri case is a complete and brazen violation of the law, a promotion of culture in various boardrooms where women are treated as mere workers with no rights. Right from the beginning there was no redressal for the victim and the aggressor was not only allowed to function with full authority but also his powers were enhanced by a conniving council that pandered to his whims. I find it despicable and a brazen act of contempt of a woman’s right.

The man has to be punished and civil society must bear enough pressure to ensure that the case does not die down.

The government is silent on the matter, the HRD ministry is muzzling the voice of dissenting students and academics but has not stepped in to remove Pachauri from the post of vice chancellor of the TERI university. Unless you make a noise and  protest more vigorously nothing moves in this country.

The prevailing climate in the workplace of victimising the victim must stop. The law and mandate of the Sexual Harassment Act must be implemented in letter and spirit. Everyone should sit up and take notice of the fact that more disclosures of harassment at TERI could come out as they already have, despite the hardship faced by the first complainant. Bending the law to protect the aggressor will not be watched silently by people anymore.

Pushpesh Pant
Political analyst, author and food historian, and former professor of international relations, JNU

Pushpesh Pant. Credit: Twitter

Pushpesh Pant. Credit: Twitter

I am deeply disturbed at the shocking way in which TERI’s top echelons have sought to protect Pachauri. By sending him on leave, the governing council is merely making a face saving gesture and hopes that given the trend in the media where nothing holds the interest of people forever, this case will also die down. The man is 75-years-old and why he needs to cling on to a position despite such serious charges against him and why the council is colluding with him is beyond my understanding. Why does he want to destroy an organisation that he himself helped to build?

What message is being sent to women of corporate India — power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? TERI’s reputation, both nationally and internationally, has been severely tarnished.

I am glad that victims have the strength and willpower to fight this long and lonely battle, and I am sure this will encourage others to come out in the open. The conspiracy of silence must end and a fair and equitable work environment must be created for women everywhere in the country.

Prem Shankar Jha
Political commentator and author

Pachauri is one of India’s most distinguished sons and as Chairman of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, he had received the Nobel peace prize on its behalf in 2007. Accused of having sexually molested a junior employee, he immediately resigned his chairmanship of IPCC to keep it clear of controversy.

Prem Shankar Jha. Credit: Twitter

Prem Shankar Jha. Credit: Twitter

I know him to be a man of honour and the governing council took the decision to appoint him as executive vice chairman after due deliberations and having received full support of the majority of TERI employees, including women. Naina Lal Kidwai’s recent interview to a well known newspaper makes it very clear that employees at TERI want Pachauri to come back.

Look at what happened to the family of Khurshid Anwar, the head of Institute for Social Democracy, who  jumped to his death after discovering videos on YouTube of himself being accused of raping a Manipuri girl who chose to report the rape several months after she went back home. TV channels who ran the clip several times had already pronounced him guilty. Then we have Satish Kumar, a disabled professor of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, whose bail has been denied for allegedly molesting and stalking a PhD student. The media’s latest victim is Pachauri. His reputation is in shreds, his family is in trauma and his savings fast depleting as lawyers’ bills pile up.

Why is Vrinda Grover using the media to whip up a frenzy and not repose faith in the law? Does Pachauri not deserve justice the same way complainants do?

The furore over that the three cases I mentioned have actually given birth to a veiled hostility between men and women in offices, schools and colleges. Corporates are wary of hiring women and professors desist from interviewing women students alone in offices. Is that a healthy thing to happen when women are joining the workforce in increasing number?

I feel that the changes in the new flawed Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 need to be looked into with great urgency – cases of sexual harassment must not be put at par with rape. Provide complete anonymity not only to the defendant but also to the accused and make internal enquiry committees in organisations more robust.

The way the 2013 law is being misused, workplaces are turning into minefields and cooperation between sexes is fast being replaced by guarded hostility. As women are likely to be the main sufferers, I feel that is in the interest of all of us to remove these flaws as soon as possible.

Aparna Jain
CEO, Zebraa Works, Integral Master Coach and the author of Own It

There is a feeling that most women will not talk about harassment easily and it is true. Most women do not. Because they do not feel that the company will protect them. By not firing Pachauri, TERI is reinforcing this message. The aggressor continues to operate with a sense of entitlement and others in power actually protect the aggressor.

Aparna Jain. Credit: Twitter

Aparna Jain. Credit: Twitter

It is annoying that industry leaders have chosen to protect the man instead of making an example of this case and finding solutions to problems of women at the workplace. How fabulous it would have been had they simply taken a stance to let him go. This one example would have resonated globally – We do not stand for harassment. However, they have done exactly the opposite. I do not know how people in their own organisations feel; no one will come on the record.

TERI’s claim that it has upheld the rights of women and consistently provided a safe work environment for women is a bit laughable, isn’t it? Have they done it by creating such a hostile environment that the victim resigns? Or by ignoring the sexual harassment committee that found Pachauri guilty? Or by reinstating him? Is it safe for every other woman in the organisation that a known offender is back? The evidence is there. It is not rocket science for even a layman to understand that this was indeed harassment. It is in black and white.

I want to understand why companies do not talk about best practices when it comes to harassment. Why don’t they break the silence and initiate forums where industry heads discuss ways to protect women in the workforce or men who get harassed? Someone should take the charge here and set the example, lead the way. I understand the issues around the possible lawsuits companies face with harassment, but isn’t it better to nip everything in the bud and show you stand for the right thing? And do the right thing?

In addition, it is important that the mandatory Prevention of Sexual Harassment Committees be made more robust and free of any loopholes that can be exploited to reinstate the perpetrators.

  • Kiran Chaturvedi

    I am shocked by Prem Shankar Jha. After reading the emails and whatsap messages between the accuser and the accused, no doubt remains of what was going on. Pachauri’s sense of entitlement is mind boggling to me but actually it is only a part of the gender narrative we program into men and women every which way.