#MeToo in India: Homegrown co-founder Varun Patra steps down after being accused of sexual misconduct

The #MeToo movement, which saw a resurgent second wave in India from October 2018 onwards, may have slowed down in recent months. However, it is far from over — and neither are the questions about sex, consent and appropriate conduct that the movement has raised.

The year 2019 has started out with an allegation of sexual misconduct against Varun Patra, the co-founder of media company Homegrown. Homegrown is known for its sex-, gender-, body-positive coverage, and for having its finger on the pulse of youth culture in India.

The anonymous allegation was shared via artist Priyanka Paul's social media handles, and accuses Patra of non-consensually recording a sexual encounter. Patra claims that he was (audio) recording the encounter as he "is scared of being wrongly accused of sexual misconduct during this #MeToo wave".

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Firstpost has received permission to quote the unnamed woman's account through Paul.

The woman and Patra had been in touch for a few months before the incident occurred, and had been out on a dinner date as well. Based on the woman's account, and a statement shared by Patra to his Facebook page, they met at the former's apartment on 11 November for another date, after which they became intimate.

The woman writes that during sex, Patra digitally penetrated her anally, even though she asked him not to. She writes that he only stopped when she reiterated her refusal of the act for the third time.

More troublingly, the woman said that she observed Patra reach for his phone when they were finished and stop a recording on it; when she confronted him, Patra admitted that his phone's audio recorder had been kept on while they were having sex.

The woman says she was numb on hearing that she had been recorded during sex without her consent and only wanted Patra to leave her apartment. "I was numb; I couldn't even process what had just happened, but I knew this creep needed to go," she writes. She then called a friend over and narrated what had occurred.

Her account includes several screenshots of messages she exchanged with Patra, in which she questions him about his behaviour, and he agrees to having been in the wrong.

The full account written by the woman can be read here:

The woman says that Patra's behaviour was particularly shocking because of Homegrown's strong stance in favour of sex, gender and body positivity, and also the feminist/empowering philosophy it espouses through its content. "He (Patra) knew the feminist 'woke boy' lingo and used it very skillfully to his advantage," she writes in her account, adding later: "To see him being celebrated as a progressive feminist... is laughable."

She also spoke of the effect the incident had on her: heightening her anxiety condition, forever changing her and how she would interact in a relationship.

Patra initially released a statement on Facebook addressing the allegation. Of audio recording the encounter without the woman's consent, he said: "I want to be clear that I completely understand that this is not okay. It came from a place of fear and uncertainty of how to navigate sex with somebody who I had not known for very long, in the atmosphere of #MeToo, which I had already been introspecting on a lot. I was extremely anxious and fearful that any sexual activity, irrespective of consent, could be used against me."

"With respect to this second incident, I absolutely understand this was never the right decision to make. Unfortunately, I learned and understood this the hard way, only in retrospect. Sex is a complex interaction when it's with new individuals and I should have exercised better judgment. The alternative should have just been me voicing my fear openly and asking for her consent to do the same or avoiding it altogether if I did not have the confidence to navigate such a situation. I have spent the months since reflecting on not only my own actions, but also this movement and its deep necessity," he added.

Patra later seemed to have taken down his statement from Facebook, but it can still be read in entirety here.

Homegrown has released identical statements on its social media accounts about the incident, announcing that Varun Patra has stepped down from his position.

Firstpost sent Patra a detailed questionnaire over email and message, to which he sent no response. In a Facebook post where he has shared Homegrown's statement, he has confirmed that he has stepped down, adding that the company will now be run by his partners Varsha Patra and Mandovi Menon.

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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2019 20:05:21 IST

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