TERI Promoting RK Pachauri Sends A Chilling Message About Power And Sexual Harassment

09/02/2016 1:08 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Director General of the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) R.K. Pachauri addresses mediapersons in New Delhi on January 23, 2010. The head of the UN's climate science panel said January 23 that a doomsday prediction about the fate of Himalayan glaciers was 'a regrettable error.' Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in an emailed statement to media outlets that the mistake arose out of 'established procedures not being diligently followed.' AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

My local newspaper has a heartwarming story about brave dog Tintin who saved a young girl from three stalkers. The girl had taken the dog out for a walk when she was attacked by three men, one of whom put his hand over her mouth, while the others tried to drag her to a construction site. The barking and growling dog alerted the family and neighbours before worse could happen.

The news report says, “Three men had been sentenced to death five days earlier for raping and murdering a 20-year-old college girl in Kamduni in 2013, but Saturday’s incident has reinforced the fear that the streets are no safer for women than they were earlier.”

That might be true but at least we take rape and assault a little more seriously these days. It shocks us. But the news that RK Pachauri is returning to TERI as executive vice chairman proves that we do not take sexual harassment seriously at all.

Instead of the complainant, it is Pachauri who has become the sexual harassment survivor.

It’s not just politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav who indulgently says boys will be boys or Sharad Yadav who downplays stalking by saying “Who among us has not followed girls?” It is apparent this “boys will be boys” attitude pervades deep in all spheres of life — political, corporate, NGO.

Otherwise TERI would not bend over backwards, put its own institutional credibility at stake, and create a post specially for Pachauri so that he retains control over the organization he has headed for three and a half decades. If nothing else, the optics of that reek of impropriety. Did he just get rewarded for his pains?

Instead of the complainant, it is Pachauri who has become the sexual harassment survivor.

In November 2015, Indian Express had reported that Pachauri’s successor Ajay Mathur could not take over because Pachauri was reluctant to let go of his powers. He wanted to be either the chairman of TERI with executive powers or wanted the council to create a post of vice-chairman with executive powers for himself.

The governing council did exactly that. It’s as if the governing council of TERI, which includes BV Sreekantan, Naina Lal Kidwai and Deepak Parekh, have conceded that TERI is Pachauri property and in a set-up like that those who speak up against him are the ones who must suffer the consequences. While Ajay Mathur was designated his successor, Pachauri was clearly not ready to let go of his powers. TERI mera hai is what Pachauri has effectively said and the governing council has returned unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

The complainant, in fact, has left the organization claiming harassment and pressure. The Economic Times revealed that a researcher working at TERI was repeatedly “coaxed and cajoled” by at least four seniors to approach the complainant, a friend of his, and push her to go for an out of court settlement. “Rather than removing (Pachauri) to ensure free and independent investigation, he was promoted and that too with an executory role,” he tells ET.

“It is appalling to see that senior people in the organization are behaving like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand. They are pretending as if nothing has happened.” This “nothing” includes an FIR against Pachauri on charges of sexual harassment under IPC Sections 354, 354 (a), 354(d) and 506. An internal committee report found him guilty of misconduct though a court stayed that report.

That is the crux of the issue. No one deserves a witch-hunt but every complainant deserves a free and independent investigation without the person being complained against remaining at the helm. And not only TERI has done little to ensure that, its latest act, even before Pachauri has been cleared, shows where its priority always lay – protecting Pachauri rather than protecting the right to a sexual-harassment-free workplace.

No one deserves a witch hunt but every complainant deserves a free and independent investigation.

Journalist Chitra Subramaniam has tweeted “It’s time for #NainaLalKidwai to speak out on #Pachauri and #TERI now or remain forever silent on issues relating to women and work.” Naina Lal Kidwai should speak out but that does not mean she has more responsibility to do so than the other eminent people on the board.

Sexual harassment at the workplace is not a women’s issue. It is everyone’s issues and one of the reasons why we do not take it seriously enough is we ghettoize it as a women’s issue.

Rajendra Pachauri is an eminent scientist. He headed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won a Nobel Peace Prize during his tenure. And he has done India proud. He has every right to deny all the charges made against him but he also has to clearly step out of the way to ensure due process is followed in trying to investigate them.

Instead he has shown that he considers himself above due process, if not above the law. And by creating a special post for him, TERI makes a mockery of the Vishakha guidelines and sends out a chilling message to anyone trying to summon up courage to complain about sexual harassment.

And by creating a special post for him, TERI sends out a chilling message to anyone trying to summon up courage to complain about sexual harassment.

In that sense what happened at TERI will not stay in TERI. In a country where rape often results in victim blaming (“she asked for it”, “she dressed provocatively”, “she was drinking”), it’s not surprising that sexual harassment is treated entirely dismissively.

Sexual harassment complaints at the workplace more than doubled from 249 in 2013 to 546 in 2014 according to the National Commission for Women, and that is clearly the tip of the iceberg. TERI, a leader in the battle against global warming and climate change, has now done its part to ensure the rest of that iceberg stays firmly submerged.

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