TERI case: Take gods to court, let the likes of Pachauri carry on with sexual harassment

Editor's note: This copy was first published on 28 January 2016.

While worrying ourselves over gender discrimination at the abode of gods, we have let demigods escape with much worse.

There has at least been a debate over temple traditions. We have brought the gods down to earth, dissected them on TV panels and hauled them to courts. Yet, we remain so overawed by the achievements of our demigods such as RK Pachauri that we maintain the silence of mortuary over his misdeeds, allowing him to abuse power, sexually harass a woman and get away with full honours and a promotion to boot.

Shame on us.

Temple authorities, for instance, in Sabarimala say there is no gender discrimination but gender exclusion, pointing out that there exist separate, exclusive shrines for women.

Defenders of the custom say we should not extrapolate normative principles of gender equality — which is essentially a western concept — and apply it to judge a century-old, revered tradition that stems from sanatan dharma.

TERI case: Take gods to court, let the likes of Pachauri carry on with sexual harassment

File image of RK Pachauri. Getty Images

Critics say religious traditions are not immutable and should be altered with changing times.

There should be and has been heated discussions over it. The matter has even reached the Supreme Court.

But there can be no debate about how a patriarchal system used all the power at its command in overt and covert ways to protect one of its own and slowly crush the resolve of a woman — a former research analyst at TERI.

A subordinate of the prize-winning environmentalist, she filed an FIR in February 2015 bringing serious charges of sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation against her boss. Though an internal committee of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which Pachauri headed for 34 years, found the 74-year-old guilty of misusing his position and of violating the organisation's policy on sexual harassment way back in May last year, what followed was one of the finest examples of farce.

The research analyst who went to the Delhi Police seeking redressal for harassment was forced to leave her job and Pachauri, for his proven misdeeds, was eventually promoted with an executor role and now remains TERI's Executive Vice-Chairman.

Let's put our hands together, ladies and gentlemen.

And in a final act of disgrace, four officials at the senior-most positions at TERI then reportedly approached two researchers close to the complainant to ask her to settle out of court.

One of the two — a male employee — tendered his resignation unable to bear the pressure, and in a written complaint to the Delhi Police on 12 January, revealed how head honchos at TERI instructed him to carry out the deal with the woman complainant in a "hush, hush manner".

"Rather than removing him (Pachauri) to ensure free and independent investigation, he was promoted. It is appalling to see that senior people in the organisation are behaving like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand. They are pretending as if nothing has happened," he was quoted as saying in The Economic Times.

Notice carefully how the spokes and wheels of a male-dominated establishment turn.

The Delhi Police received a complaint from the male researcher, that he was being pressurised by TERI for an out-of-court settlement, on 12 January. The police did not act on the complaint and failed to bring it to the notice of the Delhi High Court on 13 January, when arguments on Pachauri's bail application were being heard.

This is now the grounds for a fresh complaint by the 29-year-old woman complainant, who has moved the Delhi High Court again on Wednesday, seeking the cancellation of Pachauri's anticipatory bail.

And all this while, even as this morbid drama was being played out in the open where all principles of natural justice, all rights of a woman as an individual and over her body were being thrown out of the window, the media kept itself busy hyperventilating on temple traditions, looking the other way on Pachauri.

It is depressing and morally sapping. We are shouting about gender equality in temples, what about gender equality in the workplace?

By letting off a man at the head of of a hegemonic structure in a system already skewed against women, we are normalising misogynistic transgressions at workplaces when we should instead be using Pachauri's case as a case study to highlight the way in which every single work area is utterly sexualised — whether courts, newsrooms, classrooms or the cool precincts of a premier institute like TERI.

By being silent on Pachauri and letting TERI off the hook we are, in effect, de-humanising women, making them a sum total of their body parts. It doesn't matter if she is a journalist or a research analyst: She is a sex object and must learn to compromise with the masculinist power structure, must learn to take the most perverted sexual overtures with an uncomfortable smile, or to join in so as not to appear strait-laced; not to protest knowing full well the price she must pay.

Pachauri was allegedly a known offender. His harassment of the complainant was not an isolated incident. Other female employees of TERI have since voiced similar complaints. Accounts have poured forth about how he systematically abused female employees who stayed silent for years since they found it difficult to take on a man who could destroy their careers if they go public.

Shouldn't we force TERI to sack this individual who has benefitted so far from our convivial silence?

Does Pachauri's "international reputation" give him the license to transgress the laws of the land?

Should laws of gender equality and our attention on a violation of it be selectively applied, depending on whether a famous man has a network of very powerful friends?

Questions must also be raised about how the governing council of TERI — which includes some of India's most distinguished names — allowed Pachauri to remain in his role as vice-chairman (TERI website shows him as director-general) despite its own Internal Complaints Committee finding him guilty.

The entire saga also brings into focus the way our institutions flout, or have found a way to work around the Visakha Guidelines which was superseded by The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Despite huge fulminations, most institutions in India have found a way to work around the Act.

Most don't have internal complaints committees, and ones that do, lack independent members committed to women’s causes.

Instead of focusing on gender sensitisation, which most institutions mistakenly believe will increase the number of complaints and endanger their brand value, compliance is ensured merely for the sake of having a policy on paper to avoid penalties the law intends to impose.

The daily sexism faced by female employees in workplaces is sadly never highlighted.

And when one spunky woman fights back, the system firmly 'sets her right' and the media conspires to look the other way.


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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2016 16:57:28 IST

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