By Subhajit Sengupta
A former The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) employee who has alleged that ex institute head RK Pachauri subjected her to sustained sexual harassment told this writer on Wednesday that she is disappointed and disturbed that her alleged tormentor has been reinstated to power at the institute where the two worked. The young woman said the institute must examine "why they think someone who is facing serious charges is fit enough for them to be in an organisation like TERI".
Pachauri, who received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was appointed as Teri's executive vice chairman on Monday.
The young woman, a research analyst, had in 2015 accused him, the then director general, of sexual harassment. A case was registered against him on 13 February, 2015. The charges compelled him to step down as chair of the IPCC and Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change.
A three-member panel found Pachauri guilty, but in September 2015, Ranjana Saikia, the head of TERI's Internal Complaints Committee who headed the panel, resigned from her post without any explanation. In November 2015, the complainant quit her post at Teri, saying that the treatment meted out to her by the organisation has harmed her "mentally, professionally and economically".
Against this backdrop, Pachauri’s recent appointment brought him a lot of backlash with the complainant even writing an open letter about it.
In the interview, she said she finds Teri’s decision disappointing and that she believes this can - but should not - deter other victims of harassment from speaking out. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
We clearly see another step taken by TERI where instead of probably removing Pachauri they have decided to move him as the vice chairman of TERI. What’s your reaction to that?
It is utterly disappointing, it’s so disturbing, I have gone on record to say that it makes no sense at all. I did hear of rumours back when I was on the payroll of the organisation that something like this is in the offing, it can happen, but now that it has, there is a formal announcement, it is just so so disappointing.
There is one aspect with the open letter you have written about the reasons, what you feel about it. But somewhere down the line do you also feel that this could certainly deter anybody who is working in an atmosphere or in office areas from complaining against their superiors.
No, absolutely. What sort of message are we also sending? If somebody chooses to speak up, to complain, that person is going to get sidelined? That person has to quit their job? We have an Act in place now, this Act is there to cater to such harassment at the workplace. It beats me that for something like this happened that I spoke up, I had to quit my job while the perpetrator of the said crime, the alleged perpetrator was taken back into TERI with full fanfare and has now been accorded a promotion.
What is going wrong with TERI? Who is in charge and what is the new role of the director general?
I have no idea what the DG is doing in the organisation. But there was a proposal, I have seen the report last year sometime, there was a proposal considering to give Pachauri operational powers in the capacity of the executive vice chairman. So, clearly the governing council at the organisation, they have to answer, why they think someone who is facing serious charges is fit enough for them to be in an organisation like TERI.
It has been a long fight, which is still going on, not even halfway through the entire process. What are you expecting now, both legally and outside the court?
I think the courts which are my only source of hope at this moment…. I’ve also moved court against (inaudible). I did sometime last year to challenge how they have handled my matter. There is also a hearing due in the next few days on the date cancellation, I am hoping for cops to come out with a strong status report on that, it’s up to the cops now on how fast and speedily they can process the FIR.
Has there been any word on the chargesheet yet? Because it also being held back because a lot of court cases are also going on regarding this.
Your question may be on the chargesheet but I am still asking that question is why is he on bail. As a complainant, I should be granted atleast a free and fair inquiry into my complaint. That is very basic, I should be granted that. But here I’ve been saying for months that the investigation cannot be free and fair if he is roaming free. So why is he still on bail? The logical question is why was he granted anticipatory bail? So I challenged that and I am hoping something positive will happen in the courts now.
When court allowed him to come back to office, there was a clause which said that he should not have the time to influence the witnesses or the people who could be witnesses in this case. Now with him going up, being promoted, do you think that there is violation of that part of the court order as well because he is going to be more powerful in the system then.
Absolutely, of course. The court order which you are referring to nowhere states that he can join back work in the capacity of VP. The court order was a modification of his bail condition, which now allows him to enter the premises of TERI. The onus for this lies in the organisation as to why did they choose to have him back and function in the most influential position in the entire organisation.
Do you think you're being branded a "trouble-maker"? Has his affected your career?
I seem to be doing fine. I am working elsewhere and enjoying having being able to work. I have had no problems in finding a job because I believe I was hired on the basis of my qualifications alone. No ridiculous question was every posed to me or raised even in my proximity. I would like to believe that a professional work place would not have the time or will to indulge in such practices but keep the focus only on work. Yes, I was worried and it took me a while to work out something concrete. I had to work mostly part time initially because I was unable to do full days owing to my health and the fatigue that had gathered up. As luck would have it, I have multiple roles and a project to work on so I have my hands full. I need to make up for the lost time and hence took on multiple roles.
How exactly do you think TERI has failed you?
I have stated what I wanted to and had to in my petition to the Delhi High Court. The matter will next be heard on 3 March.
You've stated clearly that you want to take this to its "logical conclusion"; what exactly does that mean?
I am fighting for my dignity. I want the truth to win. I want law to take its course and enforce what it remedies.
What would you like to say to the thousands of women who face sexual harassment at the workplace every day?
Please speak up. All you have to do is just speak up. Please don't use Teri as a precedence. There is a provision in the law for our use and please get an update on your legal rights – a sad fact that most working women are not aware of what their legal stand is. Once you speak up ,there is a lot of support that you get from other civil quarters. Ideally, you want to tell your children (especially daughters) that if you are being wronged because of being a woman, don't spare the perpetrator.