Speaking to News18, the complainant says she will soon expose women who laughed off her allegations against RK Pachauri in boardrooms.

New Delhi: A day after a Delhi court framed molestation charges against former TERI chief RK Pachauri in a case of alleged sexual harassment lodged by his former colleague, the victim spoke to News18 about the many trials that she went through much before the trial even began. The Delhi court put Pachauri on trial for the offence punishable under sections 354 (outraging modesty), 354 A (making physical contact, unwelcome and sexually coloured remarks) and 509 (teasing and using vulgar gesture and actions) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The victim, in conversation with News18’s Subhajit Sengupta, explained how she survived character assassination, intimidation and fought against all odds to fight her case.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

A: Years of effort, indeed. This is a big leap towards the truth. I knew this would happen. The question was ‘when’. A lot more still needs to be done. I am hopeful that things will fall into place as long as effort is being made by me and my lawyers. I had the privilege of a private counsel and yet it took so long for charges to be framed. Many a times the investigating officer was not present in court and there would be no other representation from the police. Every trick in the book was applied to delay the case. Matters such as these should be fast tracked. The police should have filed charge sheet within 90 days but they did so after one year. It has not been easy at all, but was not impossible as well.

Q: You had to face considerable slander after you made those charges. How did you fight them off? What did you tell yourself?

A: Their first line of defence was that it is only a complaint, there is no FIR. Then they asked where’s the chargesheet? It further changed to it is just a chargesheet and the court has not accepted it yet. They then said that the chargesheet is weak and he will get discharged to now that he is not convicted yet.

I am fully aware of who said what in board meetings. They raised question on my character or the lack of it. Senior men and women would laugh in the TERI board rooms. Senior women directors of the TERI said obnoxious things such as “the complainant has a male friend and was always seen talking to a particular male colleague”. They went on to say “the complainant’s mother had no sense, I myself am a mother how could her mother allow her to work”.

I know these women by their name and face, when the time is right they will be named and shamed for it is them who are complicit in allowing the atmosphere to breed crime.

Naina Lal Kidwai, apparently an eminent person, Harvard educated, took to a publication to state such disgusting views on the justice delivery process making comments against me. I also recall that during the time such injustice was being meted out to me, she was invited as part of some women’s achievement awards organised by a leading news channel. She was asked by a reporter why the accused was not removed from office. To this Kidwai’s response was that he has built an entire institution how can we remove him.

Another eminent banker associated with the TERI told India Legal how he cannot remove the accused from his position at the TERI because courts still need to decide. What if I had not gone to the cops and had only deposed before the ICC? The ICC held him guilty. Why was that not enough? Why did they make me go through 90 days of torture when they did not want to act on the ICC report? Why do they need to rely on a criminal investigation when the law provisions for a civil inquiry at the level of the institution which they are duty bound to act upon. The criminal matter is none of their business to begin with.

I had been made aware by some respectable members of the press how a spokesperson claiming to be from the media and PR division (or equivalent) of TERI did their own bit in luring reporters by asking them to meet “to get to know the real story”. Why did these people not volunteer to be witnesses if they claim to have something to add to the justice delivery process? I know who intimidated the ICC and who sat at their homes till 2 am to catch hold of them and threaten them. I reported this person to the cops as well, asking them to investigate my claims. But no action was taken because the ones most affected did not want to speak up for they feared losing their jobs. My Facebook profile was being stalked and pictures lifted to say, “look she is smiling. She was happy and not stressed”.

The next round of slander was that I am being funded by climate skeptics to fight this case so questions such as how do you (me) have the money to fight this have been asked to me and my lawyers by ‘reputed’ publications such as The Guardian. If someone gets assaulted or raped, the critical question to ask them is that how come they have the money to take it to court – slow bloody clap. For the record, Mr Prashant Mehendirata is fighting this case pro-bono.

Passing references have been made in social gatherings and outside court rooms to get the matter settled. My lawyer had already told me that he would not let me settle the case, even if I wanted to. I felt all the more reassured for he spoke my language and was on the same page as me.

Several journalists were called up and asked to meet to “know it all”. “You do not know par kaafi ghoomti rehti hai. Abroad jaati hai, kisse milne jaati hai? Koi handler hai iska bahar” they were told. I also know my phone records were and are being watched. I know who is doing it, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take this on. My main focus is the trial. These are all ways to intimidate me. At times I get a claustrophobic feeling that things are running on low oxygen but I am fuelled by conscience and I do not lack conviction. Knowing that such malicious words were being used for me, I would often be upset. It was indeed disturbing, but I knew I had to stand my ground. I knew I did nothing wrong, but was wronged. It took me days to gather myself.

Seeing how these people tried to derail the matter only gave me more determination to ensure it reaches its logical end. I seldom react and mostly respond. I like taking informed decisions so it can be a firm and stable one. In this case too, most aspects had been factored in to the extent possible while some are left to destiny. I am lucky to have someone like Advocate Mendiratta standing by me who is honest and committed to the legal process.

I have often been told that I am wired for survival. Little do they know that it took so much out of me. I had to look at my circumstances from the outside and not from where I was positioned in, so I could better deal with them. I understand that as long as I am standing for the truth and for what is right, I will stay afloat. It is important to experience such a journey. It gave me nerves of steel.

Q: It seems that RK Pachauri’s questionable behaviour towards women was an open secret. Was there a lack of solidarity among the fellow women that he continued to prey on women for years?
A: My matter is sub-judice. I shall wait for my turn to depose in court and state the necessary then.

Q: Calling out men, particularly the ones in position of power, is not easy as it puts a lot at risk. How did it affect your career and personal life?
A: At the time when I had decided to take action, for me, he was not a man in power but a monster. I had come to terms with the fact that I was wronged, that I was sexually harassed. I did need to start planning alternative jobs when TERI forcefully changed my division without consulting me. However, the biggest setback for me was how it all affected my health. We know little of how disabling anxiety can be and how depression brings in a certain drag in your life. I am doing well now for where I have reached. Job wise, post the case, I struggled initially because I was not able to complete any sound research work at the TERI due to the case. It dented my career prospects and cost me a lot. I am at a much better place now. I worked hard and continue to do so. Further, the current atmosphere allows me to work without fear and finish tasks unlike the one at the TERI.

Q: Were you ever warned by your colleagues about Pachauri’s behaviour towards women?
A: This too is a matter of trial and I shall state what I need to in Court given the sub-judice nature of my case.

Q: Do you feel that post #MeToo, the public in India has started to react differently towards the allegations of workplace harassment and do not pass it off as just another story in the media?
A: Post #Metoo, the public has taken cognisance that sexual harassment is rampant across industries and the perpetrators are especially men in senior and fiduciary positions. #MeToo has given a platform for women to speak up. For a society to know that something wrong is happening, the ones being wronged need to speak up. If women do not speak up how else can their grievances be addressed? It is ironical that in a country like ours, speaking up is not the only thing one needs to do. One also needs to fight societal bias as well that often follows the act of speaking up. Those who do not understand this or are insensitive give away their true character when they question women speaking up. People have concerns about #MeToo being misused. They must know that false allegations/cases, if any get called out much sooner than it takes to prove the truth. At times the truth is not even upheld completely but a false case does get flagged as false. False cases are not the norm, browbeating the truth is the norm.

Q: Do you think all the women coming out with the charges against the harassment by superiors at work place should also go ahead and file police complaint?
A: No two cases of sexual harassment are the same. There is very little understanding of what sexual harassment actually entails and its associated impact on the victim. No woman will file an FIR in the first instance. She will take steps to ward off her harasser, seek help from colleagues and speak about it within closed circles. It takes time to accept what you have gone through is sexual harassment. Situation can get escalated and different women react to it differently. Some may only react and may not be able to respond. What matters is that they choose to speak up and seek remedy. That is all that matters and should be supported entirely. A woman is not obligated to speak in public of her ordeal so that the public can validate her claims. The woman may have said it to her friends or may have reported it internally. If the public at large is interested in issues of societal justice then they file RTIs and see how many women have spoken and where.

A public recounting can only be done by a woman when her mind and body allow her to do so because it takes time to reach that stage and gather calm to be able to say it all for public interest. However, for those who are still silent, they would have been given some chances to speak up which they didn’t utilise so now they must hold their peace forever. I knew that the ICC alone would not be able to give me justice and a police complaint was much needed.

If a woman has to take a legal action, then the best is that she files the FIR. Every public accusation will land up in court eventually, so it is better to have a head start. This will differ from case to case though and a woman must take an informed decision whether to file an FIR or fight defamation.

Either way, her fight for defamation should not be taken any less than pressing criminal charges. In my case, the woman fighting defamation by the accused could have chosen to send an apology and exited from upholding the truth. She went public with her ordeal after 10 years as well. But she chose to stand by her words. When I reached out to her in solidarity all she told me was “What we suppress gets pushed under our consciousness but then it emerges maybe in our sleep or moments of self-awareness, haunting us now and then”.

Our system may not be so ready for women like me but if so many of us knock on the doors of the judiciary then the system too will need to take note and work in tandem. What is presented before a court of law should be what happens in society. If the said injustice does not reach the platform from where action can emanate then how will society reform?