by G Pramod Kumar Feb 26, 2015 13:43 IST
After the sensational sexual assault case against journalist Tarun Tejpal that banished him from public space, the ignominy faced by global climate change crusader Rajendra Pachauri for his alleged sexual harassment of a young colleague proves yet again that power is an easy weapon against women at the workplace.
A great takeaway, however, is that some men do get caught and end up paying a heavy price.
It was clearly authority and his position of power, combined with blind desire that encouraged Tejpal to allegedly make sexual advances towards his victim. The charges against him include rape, which means that if convicted, he can be in jail for years. That the girl was half his age and was also his friend’s daughter adds additional layers of immorality to his alleged crime.
The charges against an older Pachauri, a much more celebrated icon than Tejpal,are not that of rape, but somewhat similar.
The victim is also far younger than him and was reporting to him. She was eager to work in TERI, the organisation that Pachauri headed, and self admittedly passionate about her work. But her life was made hell by his obsessive advances.
From the text messages and emails that he had allegedly sent her, he behaved like an importunate teenager. What he, however, forget was that he was 45 years older and the girl was continuously telling him that she was not interested and he should stop.
Most importantly, what he also didn’t realise was that he was abusing his position of power. Some of the messages, in fact, convey that hint of authority, or rather authoritative benevolence, which indirectly makes her feel helpless, obligated, and sadly, insecure about her job.
In the case of Tejpal, his organisation – Tehelka-, despite its grandstanding on social issues such as women’s rights, apparently didn’t even have a mechanism to address complaints of sexual harassment as mandated by the Vishakha Guidelines and had to hurriedly constitute something under pressure.
But in the case of Pachauri, TERI indeed had an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and the victim had approached it. However, it failed in delivering justice and the victim had to file an FIR. “My safety should have been taken care of by TERI officials, especially when I had complained against a man whom I was professionally required to report to daily.” In an interview with the Economic Times, she also goes on to add that for over a year, she felt “broken” and “helpless” and that she didn’t feel reassured by the support from her organisation.
The third similarity between the Tejpal and Pachauri cases is how the organisations – Tehelka, in the case of Tejpal and TERI, in the case of Pachauri – tried to side with the accused, ostensibly because of their position of power. I
In Tejpal’s case, the then managing editor of Tehelka first tried to negotiate peace between the victim and the accused and even publicly said that there were two versions of the story. Instead of immediately suspending Tejpal, pending enquiry by the ICC, the organisation allowed him to keep away in self-imposed “atonement”. In the case of TERI, absolutely no action has been taken against Pachauri till now.
Noted lawyers such as Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, as well as rights activists have rightly pointed out that electronic communication, which forms the crucial evidence in this case, could be tampered with if the accused has not been removed from his position of power – he is the Director General and has been heading the organisation for several years now.
“There is a suspicion that communication having a direct bearing on this complaint and other relevant communications relating to Pachauri are being deleted, so as to tamper with and destroy material evidence,” a letter by them to TERI said.
Fourthly, and most importantly, the cases show how grossly insensitive and negligent about the rights of women are certain men in exalted positions of fame and power.
Tejpal had successfully pretended that he was a champion of social causes and had won even accolades for his public posturing, but had no qualms in pouncing on a young girl. Similarly, Pachauri is one of the most important faces of the UN’s international campaign against climate change, which by itself is sensitive to women’s rights, and heads its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but cannot understand the voice of resistance by a powerless and far too junior woman.
In her interview with Economic Times, she says how she used to return home if she found him at work. “I am a very positive person. But even a positive person like me was rendered helpless by him. I was made to feel helpless by the sheer intensity of his misconduct. I wanted to complain but I was scared because I was shocked by his audacity. He gave an impression that he is above the law.”
It’s not strange that Pachauri allegedly made sexual advances to the girl despite the hugely publicised public humiliation and legal action that Tejpal had to go through and the stringent punishment that possibly awaits him. Either Pachauri felt too powerful or was completely unmindful of the illegality of his actions because of his social conditioning.
Reports of another girl accusing him of such sexual misconduct have also appeared in the media.