#MeToo: Gautam Adhikari, Former TOI and DNA Editor, Quits US Think-Tank

Sandhya Menon and Sonora Jha first wrote about Adhikari. Now, a third journalist has come forward with an account of Adhikari forcibly kissing her when she went to his office to discuss work.

New Delhi: Former executive editor at Times of India and former editor-in-chief of DNA, Gautam Adhikari has resigned from his post as senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC following three allegations of sexual harassment against him.

His profile page on the centre’s website is currently blank and his name is not there on the centre’s list of experts, even though as late as October 1, 2018, it was.

Responding to The Wire‘s email, CAP’s senior vice president for communications and strategy, Daniella Leger, confirmed that Adhikar quit soon after they initiated an internal investigation.

Sandhya Menon and Sonora Jha first wrote about Adhikari on October 5. Now, a third journalist has come forward with an account of Adhikari forcibly kissing her when she went to his office to discuss work.

In a post published on her website on October 8, Tara Kaushal – who is now a writer on gender, sexuality and rights – recounted an incident from January 2006, when she was a 22-year-old freelancer who went to meet Adhikari, then the “50 something” editor of DNA in his office. Kaushal said she first met him at a Christmas party in December 2005, thrown by people known to both of them, when she spoke to Adhikari, expressing an interest in writing for DNA. He told her to follow up with him in January.

As agreed at the party, she went to visit Adhikari at his DNA office. After exchanging initial niceties in front of Adhikari’s secretary at the time, he invited Kaushal into his office – which she described as being very “public” and mostly comprising glass panels except for a passage between his door to the main area of his office.

In her post, Kaushal says that as Adhikari “closed the door behind her” he then “pushed me against the door and kissed me. On the lips. Tongue et al.”

Saying she was able to push him off because she was taller and stronger than him, Kaushal recalls asking Adhikari what he was doing. However, attaching a disclaimer saying she doesn’t remember his exact words from 12 years ago, Kaushal said Adhikari’s response was, “Oh, I couldn’t resist, you’re so beautiful,” adding, “I have a happy marriage, but every once in a while someone comes along and just makes me wild with desire…”

After this, Adhikari and Kaushal proceeded to talk about her working for DNA completely ignoring what had happened moments before. Kaushal wrote, “We spoke as though nothing had happened – well, he did, reverting to the encouraging mentor persona he had adopted at the party.”

Kaushal proceeded to write pieces for DNA after that meeting and even kept in touch with Adhikari over text (owing to his influence in her industry, she explained) but did not meet him in person again after that:

“He proceeded to take his chair; confused, I followed him and took the one opposite him. We spoke as though nothing had happened – well, he did, reverting to the encouraging mentor persona he had adopted at the party. I was very quiet. He said he would put me in touch with the editors of the beats relevant to my writing, and he did. Through them, I wrote some freelance pieces for DNA.”

“After the interview, I cried in the arms of my ex-boyfriend (now deceased), and told my bestie from childhood and media senior Abhimanyu Radhakrishan, among others. Then I got over it. (All these years later, it was Abhi who called to tell me to “check Twitter, Adhikari has been outed.”)

“I never saw Gautam Adhikari again. I did keep in superficial touch via SMS until he left DNA… why wouldn’t I? I had paid my ‘dues’ with that assault, I thought I may as well reap the benefits of being in contact with the Most Important Person at the newspaper.”

The Wire emailed Gautam Adhikari for his response to Kaushal’s allegation, to which he replied:

I do not recall any of these incidents which are being alleged from so many years ago. As I said, I would sincerely apologise to anyone if I had made that person uncomfortable in my presence but there was no question of sexual harassment on my part.

I left my honorary non resident position from the Center for American Progress because my reputation has been severely damaged and I didn’t want to involve the organisation in any embarrassment. I am otherwise retired and not attached to any institution.

Sandhya Menon, who was the first woman to publicly accuse Adhikari last week, had also recounted being kissed by Adhikari without consent while he was in DNA.

Also read: Editorial: The Indian Media’s Moment of Reckoning

While neither Menon and Kaushal reported Adhikari for his conduct during his stint at DNA, Sonora Jha, who worked as a journalist with the Times of India in the Bangalore bureau in 1995, said on Twitter that she too had faced a similar situation with Adhikari when he was an executive editor with TOI.

Replying to Menon’s tweet about Adhikari, Jha had said that Adhikari, “Called me to his hotel room to discuss flexible hours and then the same assault you described – sick kiss from a toad.”

Jha also added that when she complained to her immediate supervisor about Adhikari’s actions, he informed her that Adhikari had asked for Jha to be “sidelined”.

The Wire reached out to Bachi Karkaria, who was an editorial consultant for the TOI Bangalore edition at the time, as well as H.S. Balram, the newspaper’s resident editor, both of whom Jha had taken into confidence at the time.

“Yes this did happen,” Karkaria told The Wire. “Yes she confided in me as a friend, not in any official capacity since I was only an editorial consultant in TOI Bangalore at the time. In fact if I recall, we discussed this and Sonora felt that it was only she as a woman who’d suffer professionally from the exposure. So I did not pass on this information. But I was so incensed that I wrote a column called ‘I Can’t, I’m a Woman’ … I wrote without naming names, but which, if I recall, spoke precisely about this unfair predicament… With today’s hindsight, I could have followed it up, but you must remember that I had to think of a very pregnant Sonora’s own expressed sensitivity/vulnerability.”

Karkaria and Jha are still close and have remained in touch through the years.

Balram also confirmed the fact that Jha had informed him of the incident with Adhikari as soon as it had happened.

Commenting on the actions that employers like All India Bakchod and Hindustan Times have taken against their employees accused of sexual harassment in the last few days, Kaushal wondered about the limits of investigation allegations against Adhikari since he retired years ago. She concluded her post with, “But what will ever happen to Gautam Adhikari, who has long since retired from the media and lives in the distant US? Apart from some familial and social drama, will he face any tangible consequences? I sincerely hope so.”

Note: This story was updated to include Gautam Adhikari’s response to The Wire’s email, as well as responses from Bachi Karkaria, Daniella Leger and H.S. Balram.