RK Pachauri needs to go

As a feminist, I am dismayed that the Delhi High Court has allowed RK Pachauri, accused of molestation and harassment by several women at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), to visit all but two offices of the organisation. Pachauri has been the long-time head of Teri, but the sex scandal obliged him to go “on leave”.

Why does a man supposedly on leave visit his offices? To influence people there, clearly. And if he can put pressure on staff, who fear antagonising a man who will use all his power and influence to get back in the saddle, can there be justice for powerless women in that organisation? Police investigations and trials take forever in India. Virtually no famous or resourceful person is convicted beyond all appeals. Probably Pachauri will die of old age before the cases against him reach final conclusion. But pending his trial, why has he not been suspended by Teri? Why have distinguished Teri board members not declared that enough is enough? Why have they given him so much rope that he can use it to hang others?

The media have published graphic details of Pachauri’s pursuit and molestation of a 29-year-old colleague at Teri. The text of almost 6,000 messages between Pachauri and his victim has been in the open domain for months. The victim says, “On many occasions, against my wishes and despite knowing I am totally against such behaviour/act, Dr Pachauri has grabbed my body by hugging me, holding my hands, forcibly kissing me and touching my body inappropriately.” This is not just harassment but sexual assault.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Pachauri, in defence, claims that “unknown cyber criminals have gone ahead and have unauthorisedly accessed my computer resources and communications devices and further committed various criminal activities… The entire computer outputs on the basis of which the said complaint has been filed… are completely false, fabricated, forged and manipulated.”

What a pathetic, fantasy of an excuse! Imagine that. People are hacking into Pachauri’s account just to forge harassing emails to his colleagues! Let the police check the lady’s cellphone. Surely the supposed hackers could not simultaneously have hacked into her phone too.

“Please you are not to grab me and or kiss me,” the complainant told Pachauri in a text. He replied, “I wish you would see the difference between something tender and loving and something crass and vulgar.” In another email Pachauri says, “I find it now very difficult to hug you. What haunts me are your words from the last time that I ‘grabbed’ your body. That would apply to someone who would want to molest you. I loved you in the soul, mind, heart…” This is not an isolated incident. Other female employees of Teri have voiced similar complaints. One described him in a letter as “a sexual harasser 10 years back and a sexual harasser now. He did it to me 10 years back and he has done it to her now. I and many other female colleagues who have worked at the same workplace as the woman have at some point in their life faced sexual harassment at the hands of this man.”

Old Offender

Yet another female Teri employee told me personally that Pachauri has always been known to harass women in the organisation, but they have put up with it for years since they find it difficult to take on a man who is so famous and has so many powerful friends, and can destroy their careers if they go public with their accusations. Well, it is high time the famous and powerful were exposed, denounced and ostracised.

Initially, many people avoided denouncement, waiting for the report of the internal complaints committee of Teri. That report came out in May, provided a damning indictment, and recommended disciplinary action. It confirmed that when the woman resisted Pachauri, he retaliated by “taking away her work”. This is gender terrorism, plain and simple. Such terrorism has long been imposed by famous, powerful men on powerless juniors. It’s time the gender terrorists got their comeuppance. Board members must denounce Pachauri, suspend him immediately, and oust him by due process. After all, Teri’s own committee has recommended disciplinary action. A signal must be sent to all employees that he can no longer threaten their careers if they give evidence against him. Right now, the Teri website says Pachauri is merely “on leave”. This is simply not good enough.

Why do we not hear fireworks from Teri’s distinguished board members? Naina Lal Kidwai, you have won awards for defying gender biases to get to the top of HSBC, one of India’s biggest banks in India. Why are you not lashing out against aman who typifies male terrorism? Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, you are famous as India’s top female entrepreneur. You must know how prevalent male harassment is in Indian business. Why are you not screaming your head off in this case? Deepak Parekh, you have long epitomised ethics and corporate responsibility. Why are you silent? It’s time to go on the warpath.

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