A Chennai-based travel company's founder has written a chilling account of alleged thuggery, threats, and police harassment he recently faced, outlining only some of the many issues that plague the startup world.
Problems have been mounting for Stayzilla even after it shut down operations. One of its founders, Yogendra Vasupal, has been arrested by the Chennai Police. While a report in the Time of India stated that he was arrested for alleged fraud, a blog on Medium written by Vasupal painted quite a different story.
The author accused his politician landlord of the property in which the StayZilla office was located of threatening and repeatedly harassing his staff. He posted a video in which a man, purportedly the landlord, is seen telling the admin staff that he will shoot them dead.
"After this assault, I got to know from my admin team that he has been a regular source of trouble for them with him insulting and accosting them at every turn. In fact, the smoking area in the company was moved from the ground floor (adjacent to the bike park) to the terrace because he used to pass comments on any women staff who took their breaks there," he wrote.
Vasupal filed an FIR but the authorities took no action when the landlord and his men were seen roaming around the office, clearly in an attempt to intimidate the staff. Only when Vasupal's lawyer said that he would call the media, the police sent a team to protect them.
"When I got to the office I found 10 Policemen there to protect. ~4 of them inside with the land lord, remaining outside. The Landlord was comfortably seated and the policemen were pleading with him to leave the premises, which he did after 2 & 1/2 hours of cajoling" - Vasupal, in the blog.
Of the two cases he wrote of, the second involved a media agency StayZilla had dealings with. A team of policemen showed up on the co-founder's door on 9 March without a warrant. The cops stated that there was a complaint against StayZilla by a company in Chennai of cheating and intimidation.
The other company had not filed a formal complaint yet. What ensued, he alleged, was a campaign by the police to harass the founders. The cops visited his colleague Sachit Singhi's house as well as the parents' houses of both the co-founders.
The Mint reported that one of their vendors, a company named Jigsaw Advertising, was allegedly harassing them to recover money that Stayzilla owed them.
"The Inspector then lay down the line stating that sending mufti policemen was the first way, the second way was that they will file an FIR and send uniformed policemen and have me arrested and jailed. After being taken aback for a split second, I realized that as long as I fear going to the Jail, I will always succumb to baseless threats," the blog said.
Later Singhi got a rag doll delivered to his house with his son's photo in the box, and a message that said "the most special way to say you care".
After Vasupal's arrest, the blog has been updated saying he was taken to a magistrate at 10 PM even though the courts don't function after 6 PM.
"Our lawyers are trying their best to get this bail applied. But we are being denied the FIR copy which is the basic requirement and our right. This detain and delay seems to be happening on purpose to cause distress for their benefits," Stayzilla team said in an email statement.
Meanwhile, Karnataka's IT minister Priyank Kharge has said that he is looking into the issue.
Working to see how we can sort out @stayzilla issue with my counter part in Chennai. Will be reaching out to him soon.
— Priyank Kharge (@PriyankKharge) March 15, 2017
In his most recent tweet Kharge said that he has spoken to Tamil Nadu's IT PR secretary on the matter.