#MeToo: Former TOI employee files police complaint against Calcutta Times editor in sexual harassment case
Three journalists have levelled charges of sexual harassment against Satadru Ojha, editor of Calcutta Times and one of them has filed a formal complaint with the Taratala police station of Kolkata on Wednesday.
In view of allegations of sexual harassment made by former employees, The Times of India has issued a statement assuring a thorough probe, saying, "A high-level, independent inquiry has been set up to look into the matter.... Once the investigation is complete and subject to such evidence being made available, appropriate action will be expeditiously taken." The paper subsequently issued another statement saying, "The Times Of India has noted and reviewed various allegations pertaining to Calcutta Times editor Satadru Ojha. We would like to reiterate that one of the cases which is being widely discussed on social media was investigated in detail when a complaint was filed. The complaint was dismissed after a detailed investigation by the ICC due to absence of corroborating evidence. However, we are looking into fresh allegations and issues raised by other individuals. Mr Ojha is being relieved of his current duties and relocated to a different role and city to facilitate an unbiased investigation. Once the investigation is complete, subject to evidence being made available, appropriate action will be taken."
Three journalists have levelled charges of sexual harassment against Satadru Ojha, editor of Calcutta Times and one of them has filed a formal complaint with the Taratala police station of Kolkata on Wednesday. Calcutta Times is the entertainment supplement of The Times of India, Kolkata.
The three women — Nasreen Khan, Amita Ghosh (who lodged the police complaint) and the third person who did not want to be named — said Ojha harassed, gaslighted and bullied them in collusion with his team, over a period of several years till they were forced to quit. The harassment charges pertain to the period between 2013 and 2017. While all three women have quit the company, Ojha continues to be editor of the paper.
Nasreen Khan said she suffered harassment at the hands of Ojha and his core team because she objected to his sexually suggestive comments and complained about him to an internal committee (IC) against sexual harassment which, she claimed, failed to address her concerns and discharged Ojha. Ghosh also narrated a similar pattern of harassment. She too lodged an official complaint with the company but said no action was taken and Ojha continued to be in charge. The third woman, who worked in the same department she was a witness to Khan’s harassment, and faced the same when she refused to entertain Ojha’s advances.
The Times of India issued a statement to say that a high-level inquiry has been ordered and that the complainants were being approached to understand their versions and gather information/evidence (full text of statement at the end).
All three women spoke to Firstpost to narrate their experiences. Khan’s case in particular is startling given that she received a rape threat and suspected that her email was hacked from an IP address from office. She had lodged a police complaint and recorded her statement before a magistrate but nothing came out of that either.
Khan said Ojha told her that if she learnt how to "play her cards well" he would “make her a star”.
"Just before the annual assessment I was told by Ojha that I should 'please’ him and ‘keep him happy’ if I am to progress in the organisation. I protested saying that the only way I can please him is with my work. He then called in another woman colleague to the meeting and made her tell me the problems with my work. Among the complaints were — I speak too softly, I am lost in my own world and that I don’t sit with the designers when my page is being done,” Khan said.
“On several occasions when I sat down he bent over me from behind and the proximity made me deeply uncomfortable. After an exclusive interview with Shah Rukh Khan he hugged me and congratulated me in front of the entire team but held onto my hand longer than necessary,” she said.
Khan said after a while when the situation became unbearable, she complained to the human resource department. But Ojha became more hostile. She was sidelined and totally cut-off from reporting. Over a period of six months she listed all of these in mails to an internal complaints committee.
“The HR told me to take back my complaint, but I refused” she said. HR flew in Priya Gupta, the then managing editor of Bombay Times (Ojha's boss), to Kolkata to look into Khan’s performance. “Gupta later told me, ‘I met everybody, nobody has anything good to say about you, this is not a government organisation. You must understand that the boss is like a husband and you should learn how to adjust’."
Firstpost reached out to Gupta. She remembered the meeting with Khan but not the bit about ‘boss being a husband’. “I do remember that she (Khan) was rated very poorly in her performances. There are two issues here. One, she had complained to HR about sexual harassment which according to The Times’ structure and policy, the local and the national HR were looking into. Two, I was called to look at her performance rating because she complained that she was given a poor rating because of her disconnect with her boss,” Gupta told Firstpost over the phone. Gupta, who no longer works with the company, said she took some time going over Khan’s work and and did not contest Ojha’s assessment of her.
“Although I supported Satadru’s assessment of her work, I listened to her and I told her that I was willing to move her to Mumbai and give her a chance to work directly under me as a reporter for six months and personally evaluate her work. She decided not to take me up on the offer. I recall explaining to her that her team is like her family and just as in a family that lives together and does everything together, she has to get along with the others. It seemed to me she did not get along with her boss or the 15-20 members of her team,” Gupta said.
“But I still tried to see if any kind of injustice was meted out to her. I asked, both, Ojha and her if they had met in private. Both denied that. When you make a complaint it doesn’t immediately mean that you are right. It needs to be investigated. For six months the company’s sexual harassment committee probed her allegation and found no merit. I won’t make a judgement call on her or on Satadru. With me he was nice and gentlemanly, but then I was also his boss,” she said.
Meanwhile, one day Khan said she saw a Page One story she had written appear under someone else’s byline. She said incidents such as these further demoralised her. “The sexual harassment committee tried to make it seem like I’m complaining because my assessment was bad. They wanted to transfer me to another city. But I told them that it will send the wrong message. Meanwhile, Satadru who was under investigation was not even suspended, he knew I had lodged a complaint, and he continued to be my boss,” Khan said.
In a mail dated 18 June, 2014, that Firstpost has seen, Khan wrote to Gupta:
This is to request you to kindly reconsider your decision to transfer me. As I had told you during our meeting, if you transfer me at this juncture it will send the message that it is a punishment to the person who dared to question her boss' vested interests. And, the person I am complaining against will use this as an excuse to further tarnish my reputation.
I had already brought to your kind notice during our meeting the circumstances that had compelled me to write a formal letter against the person concerned about how he has been mentally, physically and sexually harassing me and how my basic human rights were being violated. I shared with you how I had tried to keep things under wraps for the sake of my family, my own reputation and that of the company despite the unbearable mental agony. Despite all this I kept up a brave front and maintained the decorum within the department even in the face of public humiliation by people close to my tormentor.
Following my complaint I have been further isolated and made to feel guilty while my tormentor has been moving about with an air of victory. A smear campaign has also been on against me. For the first time in my life, and in an organization like the Times of India, I am feeling completely alone and helpless and being rudely reminded of my minority status.
I could have easily gone to the appropriate forum but my respect and sense of loyalty to the company stopped me from doing so and I tried to seek redressal of my grievances within the organisation. But this sudden and unexpected transfer after I raised my voice not only is an attempt to suppress my voice and protect the guilty, it also gives a signal to gag any voice of dissent that might rise even if it is raised in the interest of the company.
I have personally witnessed other colleagues being forced to quit under similar conditions and I now foresee myself going the same way. The tormentor, being the same person in all three cases, remains safe only because he is taking advantage of his position of power which he openly flaunts and has declared on a number of occasions before that he has the power to make or break careers.
It is unfortunate that the authorities concerned are ignoring complaints against him and instead are suppressing my fundamental right to raise a voice against injustice. It seems the person, who is clearly misusing his position and power, has been given a free hand to do whatever he likes even if it is against the interest of the company.
I repeat once again that it is not easy to stand up to your boss no matter what the personal and professional situation is. The treatment meted out to me has gone from bad to worse and my personal life too has become a subject of discussion. The mental agony that I have been subjected to would break anyone else in my position, but I cannot afford to be weak or buckle down under pressure because besides my professional reputation and career being at stake it is also a matter of my daughter's future.
As I said before, I am forced to stand up to protect both my professional as well as personal life. And I am daring to do so because I'm convinced that no matter how powerful and well-connected a person is, no one is above the law.
As I told you repeatedly, I am willing to work anywhere the company deems fit but transferring me under the present conditions without redressing my genuine and persistent grievance will convey a negative message. Hence, I request you to kindly reconsider your decision.
I am hoping for a favourable and just response.
Thanks and regards,
In a mail dated 5 August, 2014, that Firstpost has seen, Khan wrote to the ICC:
“I will again request you to remove my tormentor from his position of power and influence during the process of inquiry so that he cannot influence or intimidate anyone with regard to the inquiry. One key witness has suddenly taken leave today. That is why I am determined to not name any witness so as to safeguard their well-being. I understand they have their careers and their EMIs are at stake and I would like to not jeopardize that.”
In a mail dated 4 September, 2014, that Firstpost has seen, Khan wrote to the ICC:
“Sorry to trouble you again but things at my workplace has further deteriorated since I interacted with you last. Apart from total boycott I am being subjected to regular snide remarks and offensive comments that are not just provoking but extremely hurtful as well. To make things worse I am hardly given any work to do, hence am wasting my time for days on end. Few other unwelcome experiences have compelled me to write to you and request your guidance. It goes without saying
that I am waiting eagerly for the committee's report. But coming to office has now become very painful both mentally and physically. I feel very depressed. Hence, I would like to go on leave with immediate effect, if permissible.”
On 3 October, 2014, the IC responded:
I am writing to you following the completion of the enquiry into your complaint against Mr. Satadru Ojha, the Respondent.
Please be informed that the investigation has been completed by the Internal Committee (IC). The conclusion of IC is as follows:
In the light of the evidence stated during the inquiry process, the IC holds that none of the allegations of the Complainant in her complaint dated 24th July, 2014 against the Respondent have been substantiated or proved.
The IC has accordingly forwarded its findings and a detailed report of the investigation to the Company for necessary action.”
Firstpost mailed Ritu Gupta, the head of an internal complaints committee currently looking into charges of sexual abuse levelled against one of its seniormost editors, K R Sreenivas but received no response.
Meanwhile, things took a bizarre turn when Khan got a call in the middle of the night. The caller told her in crude Bengali “don’t act up, we’ll rape you till you bleed". It chilled her to the bone. She promptly filed a police complaint, but to no effect.
She then proceeded on leave but noticed that even while she was offline Google chat and Facebook would show her as online. With the help of a friend she got the IP address of the time duration when her Gmail was accessed checked and it allegedly traced back to the office of The Times of India, Kolkata. When she brought this to the notice of the office’s IT department they denied that the IP belonged to the office. She complained to her bosses (not Ojha) and lodged a complaint of cyber hacking with the Lalbazaar police station. Against the rape threat on phone, she lodged a complaint with the Hastings police station. "Initially they refused to register my complaint but after I made noise about it, I was allowed to record my statement before a magistrate,” Khan said. She named three incidents — the workplace harassment at the hands of Ojha, the threat call and cyber hacking.
After she resumed work, "the entire team boycotted" her. "I used to go there and sit around with no work to do. The women who worked with Ojha were complicit in this bullying. I was dismissed at the end of 2015," Khan said.
Ghosh, who said she was aware of what Khan was going through, said she faced the same pattern of abuse. She joined Delhi Times in 2014 but after her father was detected with cirrhosis of liver, she had to come back to Kolkata and joined Ojha’s team but felt unwelcome. "He would call me up at 11:30 pm to ask me if everything was okay. After a few days, I told him I go to bed early so he should not call me late at night," Ghosh said.
Ghosh started dating a freelance photographer at work while Ojha kept persuading her to go out for a drink with him. “When Satadru came to know about my boyfriend, who was the blue-eyed boy of the team at that point, he (the boyfriend) suddenly stopped getting work,” she said. "Things got unbearable. I was taking sleeping pills at that time, I would cry all day, the work atmosphere was hostile. The harassment continued up to August 2017. Satadru one day called me to his office and asked me not to date my boyfriend. I told him that he was taking undue interest in my life and was vitiating the office atmosphere,” Ghosh said. She quit soon after.
The third woman to speak about harassment by Ojha said she joined in 2011 and had a woman boss. But soon she quit and Ojha took charge. “It was great initially and there was great enthusiasm among the team. I reported for Page 3 and somehow I got the sense that it led Satadru to believe that just because I attended Tollywood night parties I was available. There was a strange coterie around him. I was married at that time but going through a bad patch. He asked me out for a drink which I accepted. But I started getting closer to a male colleague whom I fell in love with and later married. Satadru’s behaviour changed. I didn’t get work, I was made to do menial jobs and was treated like office furniture. Things got so bad that I quit and on my last day he tried to force me to withdraw my resignation by saying “let’s discuss this over drinks”. I quit in 2013,” she said.
She said she had complained about her boss in a formal mail to HR but no action was taken.
Firstpost got in touch with Ojha. Initially he said that he will check with his office before commenting about the issue. He later called back to say that he has tweeted about the issue and the tweets could be used for the time being as his response.
In his tweets he said: “Malicious and defamatory statements have been made against me by an ex-colleague, alleging inappropriate sexual conduct. The person is question escalated a complaint to the company, making false allegations. The ICC found the matter to be unsubstantiated. The person then filed complaints with the Police and Court. The charges were found to be false after due investigation and dismissed by both authorities.”
The colleague he refers to here is Khan.
Following is The Times of India's statement:
We have taken cognizance of the allegations and a high-level, independent inquiry has been set up to look into the matter. We are approaching individuals to understand their versions and gather information/evidence so that an inquiry can be carried out. We are further inquiring if any current employees have been impacted by inappropriate behaviour at the workplace. Once the investigation is complete and subject to such evidence being made available, appropriate action will be expeditiously taken.
Furthermore, we would like to reiterate that BCCL is committed to maintaining a safe work environment for all its employees, has a strong POSH policy and zero tolerance against sexual harassment at the workplace. A highly empowered and accessible committee under this policy and under the law is in place to investigate and address all allegations of sexual harassment. The committee is chaired by a senior woman executive and a majority of its members are accomplished women, in addition to NGO representatives and legal professionals with relevant experience in social work. The company respects and acts on the committee's findings without fear or favour.
Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.