How many sexual harassment complaints against Pachauri does it take to be heard?

Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana PalFeb 11, 2016 | 10:59

How many sexual harassment complaints against Pachauri does it take to be heard?

There's a scene in Singham Returns in which hundreds of policemen swarm the streets of Mumbai. To show their support for a fellow police officer who is being harassed, these constables and officers take off their shirts, and in their safedi-ki-chamkaar vests, they gather to dazzle the bigwigs in Mumbai Police's administration into submission. I was reminded of this moment in the film while reading an interview Naina Lal Kidwai gave to The Economic Times, in which she spoke about being in the governing council of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) when former director general RK Pachauri was accused of sexually harassing a colleague.


"In the case of TERI, what the council found interesting was that there was a huge amount of representation from the female staff asking for Pachauri to come back," Kidwai told ET. "How do you evaluate that? At the end of the day, you have loyalties on all sides. Your entire senior team has asked in writing for the same person who is under evaluation to come back."

According to Kidwai, 35 per cent of TERI's "top team" are women. This is when you're supposed to imagine all of them gathering to show their solidarity with RK Pachauri, like the policemen in Singham Returns (only with all their clothes on. Unless you're channelling your inner former director general of TERI, one presumes).

It's interesting to note that this interview was published last month, a few weeks before TERI would announce Pachauri had been appointed vice-chairman of the institute. The article says Kidwai has stepped down the governing council and yet, Kidwai is steadfastly committed to singling out the woman who complained against Pachauri as a dissenter. It's the word of that 35 per cent of TERI's top team against that of the one complainant - and Kidwai suggests that because Pachauri's supporters are greater in number, they must be heard. Because justice is a shouting match, it seems. If you're louder, you're all set.


To be fair, Kidwai's not alone in this belief. One woman complainant is a vulnerable figure. She rarely finds support from her colleagues. Superiors tend to mock her for not being man enough to take a little innocent flirtation in her stride. If they take her allegations seriously, then they'll cajole her into "forgiving" her harasser.

Usually, the most a woman can hope for when she complains of sexual harassment is that she'll be able to move on and not be known as the one who likes to play the victim card. Only those who don't understand what it means to be victimised can glibly believe someone would like to cast themselves as victims. There's no glory in being a victim in India. It comes with scathing criticism and social isolation. Worst of all, it means losing your agency. People speak for you and against you. They label you and pass judgement on you. Many become wary of you and doors shut because you can't be trusted to keep quiet and maintain status quo. All you're left with is your victim card. Ask the complainant who came out yesterday with her allegations of sexual harassment.


The reason we're listening to the allegations against Pachauri today is because he is a serial offender. Pachauri's conviction that he's Casanova's brother from another mother has been the subject of corridor whispers in TERI for years. People who have worked in TERI know the way he operates.

One woman filed official complaints against him back in 2003. Another woman is ready to give a statement that Pachauri harassed her in much the same way that he harassed the woman who accused him of sexual harassment last year. Perhaps more will join this chorus.

Pachauri allegedly behaved inappropriately with this woman then. Her objections to Pachauri and the official complaints she made about his behaviour went unheard. She was told then she was misunderstanding his "warmth" and now she's being asked why she's making a hue and cry about a 12-year-old case now. However, this complainant isn't coming out now with these charges. She came out when it happened and the case has gathered cobwebs because it wasn't being heard; because she wasn't heard.

This woman relied upon TERI's internal system to look after her, but she was one complainant against the swarm that spoke for Pachauri. Ultimately, she left TERI and decided to move on with her life. That too is something that Pachauri's defenders hold against her. If she'd pursued the case against him, they'd probably have said she's obsessed and making a mountain out of a molehill. Since she didn't, they're saying that she's come out now because she wants the spotlight. What they're trying to do is ensure the voices speaking out against Pachauri sound like isolated squawks rather than a chorus. If the fact that they're in unison became evident, then they'd be heard and Pachauri's claims of innocence and hacked computers would sound like isolated squawks instead.

The question is, how many women will it take to make the chorus of complainants loud enough to be heard? How many will it take before other women start listening to them instead of dismissing them?

Last updated: February 11, 2016 | 12:39
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