#RaiseYourVoice Against Sexual Harassment, And Do It Now: The Case Of R.K. Pachauri

Posted on February 11, 2016 in Society

By Atiya Anis:

IPCC Working Group III Chairman Rajendra Pachauri gestures as he attends a news conference to present Working Group III's summary for policymakers at The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Berlin April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Steffi Loos (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT) - RTR3L1TN
Source: Reuters/Steffi Loos.

In a recent decision by the Governing Council of the renowned The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Dr. R K Pachauri was appointed as the Executive Vice Chairman of the institute. Pachauri, who headed TERI as it’s Director General for about three and a half decades, is now the Executive Vice Chairman of the organisation, a post created for him.

In February 2015, during his tenure as Director General, that a research associate at TERI had pressed charges of sexual harassment against Mr Pachauri. She provided solid evidence in the form of 6,000 messages (e-mails, sms, WhatsApp messages) between them.

The complaint reached TERI’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). The ICC found substance in the complaint and recommended disciplinary action against Pachauri, and consequently he had to step aside as Director General. The case is still sub-judice.

In an interesting turn of events, within the one year, this disciplinary action has, as I see it, turned into a promotion. I would not dispute that he has yet not been proven guilty by a court of law, thereby making him legally entitled to take up any position. But what I find bizarre is that if the verdict is still pending, how can he be elevated to a higher position. That too by the same governing council that had earlier asked him step down. While this incident has raised serious questions about organisational ethics of TERI, it has also shown how a vast majority of people have made peace with this blatant injustice as they refuse to raise their voice against it.

To me, it sounds like the Salman Khan hit and run case, which ran from 2002 to 2015 like a soap opera, where he was convicted, let out on bail within 48 hours, and finally given a clean chit. All this happened with additional masala being provided in the form of witnesses turning hostile and files disappearing from the police station. In the initial version of the case, Mr Khan was drunk and driving the car himself. In a few years, it turned out that the ‘driver’ was at the wheel, and eventually, Mr Khan was proven innocent due to lack of evidence. Had this case carried on any further, I am sure the car would have become the prime accused, guilty of being self-driven or drunk.

There have been innumerable instances that show how justice isn’t blind when it comes to the rich and powerful. I have finally come to disagree with the Mastercard tagline, “There are some things money can’t buy.” Maybe money and power can buy you everything.

I may not be personally involved or affected by Salman Khan’s acquittal or Mr Pachauri’s promotion, but I believe it sets a dangerous precedent in our country. I feel most disgusted, though, by the people who make a hero out of a criminal. While we have inherited the legacy of freedom fighters and great revolutionaries, knowingly or unknowingly, we are taking forward dishonesty, deceit and silence in the face of injustice for our next generation.

TERI’s action has sent out a signal that sexual harassment at the workplace need not be taken seriously. With recent incidents, the cause of gender equality has taken a step back, and will definitely affect other cases of similar nature. The decision by TERI is a travesty.

I am aware of the small group of TERI alumni who have chosen to speak against Mr Pachauri’s promotion. The petition doesn’t intend to pass judgement on anyone. It says, “the intent of this statement is not to term any person involved as “accused” or “victim” and going beyond the powers of the Court. However, appointment of any person to one of the senior most positions of the same organization where the alleged crime occurs is out rightly unfortunate. Therefore, any appointment (actually a promotion) of Dr. R. K. Pachauri in TERI should be deferred till the case has been closed by the court.”

I do not know the future of this petition which I have signed, urging TERI’s governing council to reverse their decision or the awaited judgment from the court. But I am sure that this small effort of contributing to this petition will go a long way in strengthening India’s democracy and support those who have lived through similar experiences. There must be innumerable men and women who have faced sexual violence in one form or another, some at the hands of relatives, or friends, colleagues or strangers. Many reading this would be reminded of their own experience, where they remained silent under social pressure.

I have done it myself. I chose to remain silent when I faced inappropriate conduct at the hands of a professor at a renowned institute of communication. It is difficult for me to overcome the memories of that incident. It required a lot of courage on my part to come out with it and face public attention and media scrutiny.

I signed this petition and urge others to do the same because I’m still human. Because an unwanted touch or inappropriate conversation is a horrific thing to happen to anyone. I signed it because it would have been tough for me to face myself if I remained silent, again. With this petition, life has given me another chance to rectify my mistake. Today I will sleep in peace. I am a proud woman. I signed because I am done with drawing room discussions and Facebook posts on gender and equality and rights. To me, actions speak louder than words.

You too can sign the petition here.