Sexual harassment charge against ScoopWhoop co-founder shows rape culture pervades Indian media
An FIR has been lodged against Suparn Pandey by a former woman employee of the website.
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We have barely recovered from the onslaught of revelations on Arunabh Kumar – the co-founder of The Viral Fever and now an alleged sexual harasser – that one more high-profile case of sexual assault in workplace, equally disconcerting, has arrived to give us a fresh jolt.
According to Catch News, ScoopWhoop co-founder Suparn Pandey is in the eye of a storm, with an FIR lodged against him by a former employee of the "liberal" website, accusing the former of sexual harassment and sexual assault across a span of almost two years.
The complainant has also accused other co-founders of ScoopWhoop – Sattvik Mishtra and Sriparna Tikedar – of abetting the harassment, and even trying to put a lid on it, not taking any action against the alleged perpetrator Pandey.
In parallels that remind us eerily of the TVF case, the complainant has said that Pandey sent her lewd messages on the official Gmail chat, humiliated her in office, made comments about her sexuality, sexual orientation and physical appearance, tried touching her several times, coerced her into working in close association with him despite her obvious discomfort, among other forms of serial harassment.
She says that even though she raised the issue with the fellow co-founders, they promised no repeat of the sexual harassment, but failed to ensure it. They also didn’t take any action against Pandey, while eventually threatened to malign her professionally in case she doesn’t stop complaining about the problems she was facing at the workplace.
While the report goes on to detail the ignominy and sexual assault, inappropriate touching and verbal intimidation, that the complainant had to face, forcing her to resign from the post after two years of the daily trauma, we realise that both TVF and ScoopWhoop are but the tip of the enormous iceberg of sexism, misogyny and abusive atmosphere in workplace that women face almost everyday.
ScoopWhoop co-founder accused of sexual assault. Now, waiting for a ScoopWhoop article '10 Reasons Suparn Pandey is innocent'..— Writer Thakur (@IndianWriterV) April 12, 2017
Indian media, despite the liberal credentials it wears on its sleeves, is hypocritical at its worst. The swanky offices in Noida and New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, house in them daily horror stories of what women go through in the hands of men in powerful positions, typically the supervisor, or a senior colleague.
Even though both TVF and ScoopWhoop have women-centric programmes and webzine – TVF has Girliyapa while ScoopWhoop has Vagabomb – they continue to excel in the doublespeak of fashionably accepted tenets of feminism on the page, while practicing the heinous hypocrisies behind the scene.
Other liberal sexual assaulters, such as Tarun Tejpal, Rajendra Pachauri, Mahmood Farooqui, have all relied on their ingrained sense of male sexual entitlement to grope, forcefully penetrate or verbally assault their female colleagues and acquaintances, despite the firmed up anti-rape law in the wake of the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape and murder.
But while the violent cases are classified as “rarest of the rare”, and given an exalted notoriety of their own, the daily violence of sexual assault and harassment, that almost every female employee in any workplace goes through, doesn’t get enough attention, or measures to prevent such things from happening.
Does ScoopWhoop have a sexual harassment redressal cell, a mandatory body that every office with ten or more employees must have? Why were the complainant’s grievances ignored for two years? Why was it allowed to escalate?
These are the questions that we faced even in the TVF case, but without any answer at all. Until it’s too late and the victim/survivor is literally coerced into quitting her job, and until she writes a blogpost about it or files an FIR, we don’t see anybody waking up to the enormity of the gendered abuse that women are made to put up with everyday.
What is particularly galling is the glitzy exterior of websites like ScoopWhoop or new media video companies such as TVF, that survive on the (justified) “liberal outrage” against social evils, particularly misogyny and sexism, nevertheless practise the exact same kind of sexual violence on their own.
When Arunabh Kumar of TVF says “I find a woman sexy, I tell her” without any compunction, reducing his female colleagues to sexual beings whose primary job is look “sexy” and aesthetically pleasing to the male boss, he does a great disservice to the painstaking work of feminist interventions over two centuries that have finally seen women enjoying slightly more freedoms than their counterparts a hundred years back.
Media is the watchdog of the society, and we expect new outlets such as ScoopWhoop to be extra sensitive of that additional responsibility from which there’s no escape.
Exactly as the political discourse sinks to a debased low, with anti-Romeo squads harassing couples on the streets and politically affiliated goons asking for an elected state chief minister’s head, the least that is expected of media companies themselves is to practise what they preach.
Whether it’s Indian Fowler or a former employee of the tech giant Uber, the sexism problem of new media is a compounded version of what used to be the case, when awareness on gender equality was a rare item and hardly a priority. It hurts when the predatory climate is only intensified by the technologies that enable easier and faster communication, more interaction among the sexes in the workplace.
TVF and ScoopWhoop incidents are a wake-up call for all the self-proclaimed media outlets in the country. Can you please ensure a truly gender-equal workplace for women (and men) now?