'Overpowering Patriarchy at Work When It Comes to Workplace Sexual Harassment'

Statement issued by women's rights activists in response to a civil suit filed by R.K. Pachauri against the lawyer Vrinda Grover for her efforts to get other women to come forward in an ongoing case of alleged sexual harassment by the former head of TERI.

In a statement issued in response to a civil suit filed by R.K. Pachauri against the lawyer Vrinda Grover for her efforts to get other women to come forward in an ongoing case of alleged sexual harassment by the former head of TERI, a number of women’s rights activists and organisations have said the suit is an attack on the struggle to end sexual harassment at the workplace in India.

Vrinda Grover. Credit: Akhil Mukar

Vrinda Grover. Credit: Akhil Kumar

We, the undersigned activists and organisations of the Indian women’s movement express our outrage at the fact that R.K. Pachauri has filed a civil suit for injunction and demanded damages of Rs. 1 crore against Advocate Vrinda Grover. The attempt is to hold Grover liable in a civil suit for her efforts towards bringing official cognisance of two complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace brought against R.K. Pachauri by two of his former colleagues. Both these women have complained that they were sexually harassed at TERI by Pachauri much prior to the complainant of FIR dated February 18, 2015, in which R.K. Pachauri has now been charge-sheeted in February 2016. Alarmingly, despite the fact that Grover has sent repeated written communications to senior officers of the Delhi police informing them that her two clients would like their statements to be recorded, the police have till date not taken any steps in this regard. The very public attack on Grover is a matter of concern for all those who, like the signatories to this letter, are struggling to deliver substantive justice under the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace in India today.

Firstly: All codes of professional ethics have been breached in this act of suing Grover for damages. Pachauri’s legal representative, Ashish Dixit, in The New Indian Express article titled “European Woman Accused Pachauri of Harassment”, dated March 31, 2016, has charged Grover of leading a “conspiracy to defame” R.K. Pachauri. This imputation of motives of a criminal nature to Grover, the opposing counsel, is a serious violation of the statutorily binding professional code of conduct and etiquette expected from advocates. This breach is made even more egregious by the fact that Grover is the woman lawyer representing two women in their complaints of sexual harassment by the petitioner, leading as it does to the inescapable conclusion that the civil suit is just a continuation of the intimidation and vilification of women (be they complainants or their lawyers) who have the temerity to pursue complaints of sexual harassment against powerful men.

Second: Given that laws and provisions legitimising the grievance of workplace sexual harassment are relatively recent, investigation into such charges needs to record the complete history of every case that may be relevant to ongoing investigations. By refusing to record the statements of Grover’s clients against  R.K. Pachauri for close to a year after Grover approached them on their behalf, the police have already demonstrated its lack of commitment to a full and vigorous investigation of these women’s grievances. Now, by suing Grover for acting on her clients’ instructions to make their statements public, Pachauri seeks to restrain her from executing her responsibilities to her clients. Clearly his intent is also to deny to these two women and by implication all complainants, the right to share their experiences of sexual harassment in public when their every effort to access justice has been thwarted.

The fact of the matter is that this civil suit against Grover is yet another instance of the impunity which Pachauri has been able to maintain with respect to his abuse of three women’s human rights. His objective in trying to gag  Grover, is to consolidate the immunity given to him by his organisation TERI, by ‘cooperative’ police officials strangely reluctant to record the two statements that will strengthen the case against him, and amenable sections of the media which have buttressed his claims of being framed in the charges against him.

R.K. Pachauri. Credit: PTI

R.K. Pachauri. Credit: PTI

Over the past month or so, Pachauri has courted the international media. In interviews given to The Guardian and The Observer, he presents himself as a man beleaguered and hounded by climate-change sceptics and women activists, conflating women activists taking up charges of sexual harassment with climate change sceptics. The three women complainants it should be pointed out were working for the cause of climate change to the point of enduring sexual harassment from Pachauri, which makes such a charge of belittling the cause of climate change absolutely ridiculous.

As individuals and organisations committed to the implementation of the country’s laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, we condemn in the strongest terms Pachauri’s shamelessly transparent bid to influence the sub-judice case about to enter its trial phase in a month’s time. The fact that Mr. Pachauri’s suit is also directed simultaneously at prominent Indian media houses, such as Bennett Coleman, NDTV, and India Today, reveals intent aimed at throttling all public reference to the complaints of sexual harassment against him.

Furthermore, we would like to emphasise that Pachauri’s suit against opposing counsel has implications that will have a chilling effect on complaints of sexual harassment, as it has all the characteristics of an instance of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Such legal actions are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. In addition, since Pachauri’s suit also targets prominent media houses, the aim is perpetuation of a social space in which only Pachauri’s defence and allegations against complainant(s) holds sway, thereby creating an atmosphere that is in general disbelieving and often downright hostile to complainant(s) and their efforts to access justice.

Accordingly, we demand that official cognizance be taken of the attempt to intimidate Grover and her clients. Pachauri’s actions suggest that he has learnt nothing from the failure of his earlier attempts to silence the complainants. Pachauri it appears is finding it difficult to understand that he can no longer evade the law and he will have to face legal consequences.

We expect those who bear the responsibility of bringing him to justice, to convey this message to Pachauri in clear and unambiguous terms. We also urge the National Commission for Women to maintain oversight of the pre-trial process and ensure that it is not influenced or subverted by those who seek to protect Pachauri from the consequences of his actions.

We call upon all like-minded individuals and organisations to join us in supporting the right of Advocate Vrinda Grover to pursue this case and bring justice where it is due.

  1. Ayesha Kidwai, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  2. Ania Loomba, JNIAS/ University of Pennsylvania
  3. Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon
  4. Mary E John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies
  5. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
  6. Janaki Abraham, Delhi University
  7. AIDWA, Delhi
  8. Nandini Rao, New Delhi
  9. Geetha Nambisan, Jagori
  10. Annie Raja, NFIW
  11. Syeda Hameed
  12. Mani, University of Calcutta
  13. Aarthi Pai, Lawyer
  14. Aatreyee Sen, Forum for Human Rights and Justice
  15. Ahmad Faraz, Coordinator MenEngage Delhi
  16. Ammu Joseph, Independent journalist and author
  17. Anita Ghai, Ambedkar University
  18. Anja Kovacs, Internet Democracy Project
  19. Anjuman Ara Begum, Women in Governance, India
  20. Ankita, NIRD
  21. Anuradha Kapoor, Swayam
  22. Aprajita Sarcar, Queen’s University, Canada
  23. Archana, PRADAN
  24. Aruna Gnanadason, Independent Consultant
  25. Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM
  26. Ashish Kothari, Pune
  27. Ashok Yadav, Social Worker
  28. Bhim Subba, Delhi University
  29. Sen, PUCL /MFC
  30. Burnad Fathima Natesan, Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum.
  31. Chayanika Shah, LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective
  32. Chirashree Das Gupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  33. D Subrahmanyam, PUDR
  34. Deepa V, Delhi
  35. Deepak Xavier, New Delhi
  36. Devadeep Chowdhury, Journalist
  37. Dr Nandita Shah, Akshara
  38. Dr Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party
  39. Dr V Rukmini Rao, Gramya Resource Centre for Women
  40. Anand Philip,
  41. Anant Phadke, Health activist
  42. Durgesh, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  43. Dyuti, Researcher
  44. G Arunima, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  45. Gabriele Dietrich, Movement for Women’s Rights, Madurai
  46. Gargi Mishra, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative
  47. Gayatri Sharma, Women Power Connect
  48. Geeta Seshu, Independent Journalist, Mumbai
  49. Gina Dias, New Delhi
  50. Ginny Shrivastava, Women’s Movement
  51. Githa Hariharan, Writer
  52. Gouranga Ch. Mohapatra, Janaswasthys Abhiyan, Odisha
  53. Imrana Qadeer, Council for Social Development
  54. Indranil, Public Health Foundation of India
  55. Ira Bhaskar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  56. Ishita Chaudhry, Founder, The YP Foundation
  57. Janaki Nair, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  58. Jashodhara Dasgupta, SAHAYOG
  59. Jasmeen Patheja, Blank Noise
  60. Javed Malick, Retired Academic
  61. Jaya Menon, Professor, Shiv Nadar University
  62. Jayati Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  63. Johanna Lokhande, Independent
  64. Julia George, Lawyer
  65. Jyoti Sabharwal, University of Delhi
  66. Jyotsna Sivaramayya, Independent Researcher
  67. Ajitha, Anweshi Women’s Counselling Centre, Kozhikode, Kerala
  68. Kalpana Mehta, M.P. Maahila Manch
  69. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and Human Rights Activist
  70. Kartika Bhatia, The World Bank
  71. Kasturi Chatterjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  72. Kaushik Roy Chowdhury, Accenture
  73. Kavitha Kuruganti, ASHA
  74. Khushboo, University of Delhi
  75. Kriti Budhiraja, University of Minnesota
  76. Lata Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  77. Laxmi Murthy, Journalist, Bangalore
  78. Lina Krishnan, Bangalore
  79. Madhu Bhushan, Independent activist. (re)searcher, writer
  80. Madhu Sahni, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  81. Madhurima Nundy, Institute of Chinese Studies
  82. Malika Virdi, Maati
  83. Mamatha Karollil, Ambedkar University Delhi
  84. Manak Matiyani, The YP Foundation
  85. Meena Menon, Journalist
  86. Mihira Sood, Advocate, Supreme Court
  87. Mita Deshpande, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  88. Mohan Rao, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  89. Moushumi Basu, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  90. Mridu Kamal, Women’s Rights Activist
  91. Mukul Mangalik, Delhi University
  92. Nalini Nayak, Kerala Stree Vedi
  93. Nandita,
  94. Navaneetha M, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  95. Neeraj Malik, Delhi University
  96. Neha G, Communications Professional
  97. Nisha Biswas, WSS, WB
  98. Nivedita Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  99. Nupur Basu, Journalist
  100. Nupur Chowdhury, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  101. Om Prakash, Delhi University
  102. Padma Deosthali, CEHAT
  103. Padma Velaskar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences,Mumbai
  104. Padmaja Shaw, (retd) Osmania University
  105. Padmini Swaminathan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  106. Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist
  107. Panchali Ray, Jadavpur university
  108. Papiya Mazumdar, Institute of Public Health Kalyani, West Begal
  109. Paromita Vohra, Filmmaker and Writer
  110. Poorvi Bhargava, Student
  111. Poulomi Pal, Fulbright scholar
  112. Prabha, TARSHI
  113. Pramada Menon, Independent Consultant
  114. Pratiksha Baxi, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  115. Preeti Chauhan, Individual
  116. Primla Loomba, National Federation of Indian Women
  117. Prof Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University
  118. Anjali Monteiro, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  119. Gopinath, Jamia Millia Islamia
  120. Radha Holla, Independent researcher
  121. Radhika, Advocate
  122. Rajni Palriwala, Department of Sociology, University of Delhi
  123. Ramnarayan, Uttarakhand
  124. Ranjan De, Documentary film-maker
  125. Reva Prakash, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  126. Ridhima, Delhi
  127. Rigya Singh, NGO
  128. Ritambhara, Nazariya and ASER Centre – Pratham
  129. Rohini Hensman, Union Research Group
  130. Ashalatha, Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch
  131. Sadhna, Saheli, Delhi
  132. Sadhna Saxena, Delhi University
  133. Sagari Ramdas, Food Sovereignty Alliance, India
  134. Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Delhi, Saheli Women’s Resource Centre
  135. Samir Kumar Dass, Jharkhand Science Forum & JSA
  136. Sandhya Srinivasan, Journalist
  137. Sangeeta Dasgupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  138. Sangeeta Rege, Personal
  139. Sanjay Kak, Film maker, New Delhi
  140. Sarita Falcao, Individual
  141. Sarojini N, Health Researcher
  142. Savita Prabhune, Advocate
  143. Shambhavi Prakash, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  144. Sharmila Sreekumar, Academic
  145. Shehla Rashid, Vice-President JNUSU, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  146. Shewli, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  147. Shilpa Phadke, TISS
  148. Shoba Ghosh, University of Mumbai
  149. Shobha, WSS
  150. Shobhana Warrier, Delhi University
  151. Shraddha, concerned citizen
  152. Shraddha, phD candidate UoH
  153. Shraddha Chigateri, ISST
  154. Shubhangi, Association for Adovcacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI)
  155. Siddharth Narrain, Lawyer, Delhi
  156. Simona Sawhney, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
  157. Soma Kishore Parthasarathy, CAWL Rights
  158. Somya, Student
  159. Sona Mitra, CBGA
  160. Sonal Narain,
  161. Subhash Gatade,
  162. Sucharita Sen, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  163. Sujata Patel, University of Hyderabad
  164. Sukumar Muralidharan, Independent Journalist
  165. Sunalini Kumar, Delhi University
  166. Suneeta Dhar, Activist
  167. Sunil Kaul, The Ant
  168. Sunita Bandewar, Vidhayak Trust, Pune
  169. Supriya Varma, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  170. Surabhi Sharma, Independent filmmaker
  171. Svati P Shah, University of Massachusetts
  172. Swatija Manorama, Forum against oppression of women, Mumbai
  173. Tanvi Mishra, Feminist Approach to Technology
  174. Tenzing Choesang, lawyers collective
  175. Tultul Biswas, Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch
  176. Ujwala Kadrekar, Socio-legal Consultant
  177. Uma Chakravarti, Feminist historian, Delhi
  178. Urmimala Sarkar Munsi, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  179. Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan Publishers Pvt Ltd
  180. Usman Jawed,
  181. Sujatha, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  182. Vanita Leah Falcao, Independent policy researcher
  183. Vasanth Kannabiran, Asmita Resource Centre for Women
  184. Veronica George, Independent Consultant
  185. Vibhuti Patel, WRAG, Mumbai
  186. Vinay Kulkarni, Prayas Health Group Pune
  187. Vineeta Bal, Scientist, New Delhi
  188. Virginia Saldanha, Indian Christian Women’s Movement