Ex-Employee Stories Show How TVF’s Claims Of Workplace Safety May Be Untrue

In a Medium post dated March 12, a user with the pseudonym ‘Indian Fowler’, claiming to be a former employee of The Viral Fever, one of India’s leading online video creators, alleged widespread sexual harassment at the workplace. The user also alleged sexual harassment specifically by Arunabh Kumar, the Founder of TVF. She alleged that on the 21st day of her employment Kumar asked her to “role play” and held her hand. She further said that Kumar asked her to do a “quicky (sic)” on another occasion and that the harassment was routine, adding that her bosses ignored the complaint when she complained to them.

The Viral Fever in a statement made below the blog post, as well as in an email to YKA, claimed that the allegations are “categorically false, baseless and unverified”. “We take a lot of pride in our team and in making TVF a safe workplace that is equally comfortable for women and men. We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations,” the statement read.

YKA has also contacted the person who wrote the blog post. This article will be updated in case there is a response.

No Internal Complaints Committee?

To verify TVF’s claims, YKA wrote three emails to TVF asking whether they have a sexual harassment policy and an internal complaints committee (ICC) as mandated by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. YKA also asked TVF to specify the date on which any such internal complaints committee was notified and whether they have any proof of employees being informed about this.

One email received from TVF in response quoted the aforementioned statement. Aditi Singh, a spokesperson for TVF, responded to another email and said, “TVF complies with all applicable labour laws, takes sexual harassment complaints very seriously and processes the same in accordance with the law. We have an in-house HR department and legal department supported by a panel of top external law firms”. Singh didn’t respond to the next email again asking specifically about the ICC and intimation to employees about the same.

Another former employee of Contagious Online Media Network Private Limited, which owns TVF, and who worked as a consultant at the Delhi offices of TVF until recently, told YKA that TVF informed its employees about the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, but only in November, 2016. This employee also shared an email dated November 2, where people were invited for a meeting on Google Hangouts on November 3 between 1 and 2 pm. She claimed that this was the first instance of any such meeting since she started working in October 2015.

Other Instances Of Harassment

This former employee too faced sexual harassment at TVF’s offices in Delhi . On the night of October 8, when Tripling, a video series by TVF, was screened at their Delhi offices, she alleged that a cake spiked with marijuana was shared with team members without informing them that the cake had the drug. When the employee went to a washroom, she was locked in a room by a male employee and prevented from going outside. This male employee also made sexually suggestive remarks against her when she managed to get out.

TVF did deal with this employee’s complaint (copies of which are with YKA). However, it wasn’t through an Internal Complaints Committee. She was asked to file a written complaint, after which she wrote an email to Deep Mody, purportedly an HR manager. The survivor claimed that it was only after she complained on October 18, and wrote a resignation letter to the company on November 2, which TVF declined to accept, that the Google Hangouts call was arranged. “The channel head (of the Delhi offices) himself, when I gave my resignation, said, ‘Itni bhi koi badi baat nahi hai’ (this is not a big issue),’” the survivor told YKA.

Even in the November 3 online meeting, the survivor didn’t recall employees being told about any presiding officer of any internal complaints committee. She said that they were told about an email id on which people could register complaints and that they were made aware of the laws. However, when asked whether employees were informed about any chairperson or presiding officer, the survivor told YKA, “No, not (any) such (thing). We were only told that Deep was supposed to be, like Deep was I think the head HR, so he was handling the matters. I was directly interacting with him.” 

The survivor also told YKA that TVF held a meeting on October 29 where both the accused employee and she were interviewed. The persons taking testimonies surprisingly also included Akansh Gaur, the channel head of the Delhi offices. This is despite allegations made against Gaur too in the email complaint dated October 18.

Three options were given to her in the meeting – of filing an FIR, of the accused being fired, or of talking it out with the accused. “At that point of time I said I don’t want to speak to him. I don’t want to lodge an FIR. I just don’t want to work with him on the same premises,” the survivor told YKA. However, no action was taken immediately after this hearing. Two witnesses, who had seen the survivor run out of the room on October 8, too spoke to the people dealing with the complaint in December, the survivor said. However, action was taken only in January after the survivor told her employers that she will have to go ahead with an FIR. The accused employee was then fired on January 5.

Will TVF Fix This?

However, the alleged lack of a system in place to deal with sexual harassment means that other kinds of harassment that the employee had alleged may not get dealt with in future unless structured mechanisms are put in place by the organisation. The survivor, for instance, had also alleged in her email complaint dated October 18 that Akansh Gaur, the channel head of TVF’s Delhi offices, makes sexually suggestive conversation at the workplace.

The complaint alleged that Gaur suggested hiring “a girl whose only job will be to give blowjobs to everyone” in the workplace. 

However, the resolution received by the complainant, a copy of which YKA has seen, does not state any action taken against Gaur. TVF has also not responded to a question about any action taken against Gaur. Gaur, when contacted, asked YKA to contact him on March 14 (the article will be updated in case Gaur responds).

Other people, claiming to have previously worked with TVF, have also now come out in support of the person who alleged sexual harassment in the blog post. They also claim sexual harassment by Arunabh Kumar.

Note: If you have been sexually harassed at The Viral Fever, you can drop us an email at abhishek@youthkiawaaz.com. Your identity will be kept confidential.