TVF molestation row: What's going on at the leading web production house?
It all started with an anonymous Medium blog post alleging that Arunabh Kumar — The CEO of The Viral Fever, had been sexually harassing the writer.
The web production house's immediate response was a statement that said that the person who wrote the post will be brought to justice for making false allegations and that they 'take a lot of pride' in their team and in making TVF a safe workplace. They went on to say that they will 'leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.'
However, an FIR has now been lodged against Arunabh Kumar in Mumbai on grounds on molestation.
Following the anonymous blog post, there was a slew of women who reported similar incidents, and this time not anonymously.
Reema Sengupta, filmmaker and entrepreneur, alleged that Kumar had similarly tried to misbehave with her and urged people not to be dismissive of the blog post. Another woman, Reshma Patra, reacted to the allegations by writing on Facebook of an encounter with Kumar in 2012, while she was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
She said she met Kumar, who like her is an IIT Kharagpur alumnus, for coffee, and he asked her if he wanted to come home with him, strip, and dance for him. In Ayushi Aggarwal's case — she first commented on the Medium post and alleged harassment — the company fired the accused in January 2017.
Another woman, Rafiya Khan, wrote on Facebook that she didn't work at TVF but met Kumar when they became neighbours. She says that it all started with him asking her if she wanted to sample some mangoes he had bought from Ratnagiri and that 'his hands slided (sic) on my back, from neck to waist.'
Mid-Day has also reported that the Twitter account, through which the first post by the ex-employee went viral, has now received over 50 direct messages from women sharing complaints against Mr Kumar. The person handling the account has said the information is being verified.
What happens at TVF
We were also told about how Kumar used to graze a female employee's thighs on two separate occasions. The second time, a few employees were around, and they choose to look the other way.
There's also talk about the rampant sexism that exists within the four walls of the start-up: Women who work there are constantly put down and their opinion devalued. Though sources at the organisation have claimed that their is no hierarchy at the start-up, which is always a plus, a few women have reported being weary of chatting up the founder. We were told three instances of how Kumar's presence had made them feel uncomfortable.
Kumar stood his ground in a Mumbai Mirror interview and added fuel to the fire when he said, "I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong?" His TVF teammates went on to back him too.
Nidhi Bisht, protagonist of TVF’s upcoming series Bisht, Please! used her Facebook page to express shock at the subsequent allegations, saying:
"TVF has zero tolerance towards workplace harassment and an investigation will be conducted and appropriate actions will be taken. We have a Prevention of Sexual Harassment committee, backed by Legal and HR which deals with such issues."
But this scandal, which has visibly shaken one of the most successful start-ups to its core, has created a huge jump in the interest generated in the company.
Here's a look at the seven day period of interest in the terms 'TVF,' 'The Viral Fever' and 'Arunabh Kumar.'
Now that people are interested in the production house, will it be a case of 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' for TVF, whose web series Bisht, Please! is going to premiere this weekend?
Only time will tell.
For now, we are happy an FIR has been filed. Clarity is always a good thing.