Facing the Music

How Only Much Louder failed the women in its ranks

MID-AFTERNOON, ON 4 OCTOBER 2018, Mahima Kukreja, a writer and comic, posted a revelation on Twitter.

I want everyone to know @Wootsaw is a piece of shit. He sent me a dick pic, was creepy, then cried saying I’ll ruin his career if I tell others. I told two of the most influential men in comedy in India. Nothing happened. Let me tell you what else he has done with others.

@Wootsaw is the Twitter handle of Utsav Chakravarty, a well-known comedian in India’s growing comedy circuit. Kukreja said that her encounter with Chakravarty took place in 2016, and put up a thread of tweets that day with testimonies from other women alleging harassment by Chakravarty. One of the “influential men” she had alerted was Tanmay Bhat—a founder of All India Bakchod, arguably India’s most successful comedy collective. Chakravarty was once employed by AIB and the collective had continued to collaborate with him even after Kukreja informed Bhat of the incident.

Kukreja added to a wave of Indian women’s accounts of sexual harassment that was then just starting to swell on social media. As the courage of women speaking out emboldened others, more and more survivors of harassment started coming forward. Within 24 hours of her first tweet, Kukreja posted another woman’s account to her series, with screenshots of testimonies sent to her.

In 2014, the woman, then aged 17 and legally a minor, was interning at Only Much Louder—a juggernaut of a company in India’s comedy and independent-music scenes. OML manages AIB and various other prominent acts, and runs NH7 Weekender, one of the largest music festivals in the country. The woman met Chakravarty at an OML event where he was performing, and he asked for her number. Chakravarty messaged her repeatedly, asking for pictures of her cleavage. The woman said she notified OML of this. “They just ask you to stop making a scene,” she said. “At least that’s what my boss did.” The experience led her to leave OML without completing her internship.

Outrage mounted against Chakravarty and AIB, while OML also faced fire for doing nothing to stop the comedian. A current OML employee recounted to us that the company’s senior management spent the day after Kukreja began tweeting huddled together in a meeting room, evidently scrambling to contain the fallout. Late in the afternoon of 5 October, around seventy employees at its Mumbai headquarters shuffled into a conference room, where the management was waiting in stiff silence. The company’s director and chief executive officer, Ajay Nair—the brother of the company’s high-profile co-founder Vijay Nair—took the lead.

As the current employee who was present at the meeting recalled, Ajay admitted that Bhat had been aware of Kukreja’s allegations. “He basically said the fuck-up was that Tanmay continued to work with him and he didn’t tell anyone else,” the current employee recalled Ajay having said. As for the former intern that Kukreja had tweeted about, the current employee told us, Ajay said that OML would be investigating who in the company she had notified, and why they had not alerted anyone else. OML would not release a public statement, Ajay added, but would reach out to Kukreja and offer to help in any way it could.

According to the current employee, Ajay admitted that OML’s past record on such matters was poor. “He kept repeating the fact that we should have done something but we didn’t,” the employee said. Ajay brought up recent efforts to make OML a better company for women employees—for instance, by trying to bridge a gendered wage gap and instituting a policy on workplace behaviour earlier this year. He also encouraged employees to make use of the company’s Internal Complaints Committee, or ICC, a body mandated to investigate any allegations of sexual harassment that all workplaces of more than ten employees have been legally bound to form since 2013.

Even so, the current employee recounted, Ajay told those present at the meeting “that there are lot of ex-employees who will bring up the fact that we haven’t done anything,” and that “they expect a lot more such stories to come out.” Ajay emphasised that the company would fire or suspend anyone found guilty of harassment and there would be “no exceptions.”

NEARLY FIVE YEARS AGO, on 13 December 2013, an OML employee, Tanushree Singh, wrote in an email to practically the entire company that Gaurav Dewani, who headed sales at OML, had “molested” her and “forced himself on me several times after my verbal refusal and physical attempts of pushing him away.” Singh said she had told the company’s senior management about the incident several months earlier, but it did nothing, on the grounds that the assault took place outside work premises. She was writing now “out of utter frustration and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness that I have kept bottled up inside for over 6 months.”

Singh had been discouraged from pursuing any action, she wrote, and told by people within OML that she was “making a big deal” out of nothing. She indicated that she had asked the company to form an ICC—but OML had not done so. She urged others to speak up. “I have tried,” she wrote. “Maybe a joint effort might shake things up a little.

Within minutes of the email arriving, Vijay Nair, the company’s CEO at the time, called a meeting of all employees present, at a hotel room on the festival site. According to Shalaka Pai, a former employee who was present at the meeting, Vijay defended the company’s stance. He claimed he had asked Singh to register a complaint with the police, and had offered to help her.

A few weeks later, OML held a workshop to sensitise its employees to sexual harassment at the workplace. Soon after that, it formed an ICC comprising its head of human resources, an external lawyer and two women from its senior management. Seven months after she was allegedly molested, Singh testified before the committee’s women members. Dewani submitted a statement denying Singh’s allegations.

Singh received the committee’s report in February 2014. The committee concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter since the alleged incident occurred outside work. But it ruled that there was enough reason to believe the incident did occur, and said OML should support Singh if she wished to file a police complaint. Even so, the only action the report recommended against Dewani was that he be given a “final and strict warning” and should be made to pay any medical costs Singh may have incurred in dealing with her distress.

The report was “insulting, to say the least,” Singh wrote back to the committee. “You’re telling a molester that the most that will happen to him if he crosses a line is a stupid warning. You’re telling a victim that justice will never be served in such cases. You’re telling everyone else that if this happens to you, there is no point making a noise about it cause it will get you nothing but disappointment. You can go on passing the buck to this and that organization or police and give me legal jargon about jurisdiction and shit but the fact remains that this organization is spineless.”

Singh told us that she told the committee’s members, over a conference call, that the organisation had let her down, and that she could not work with OML anymore. She left the company later that month.

When the ICC was formed, Singh told us, she “still had hope” that the company would take her complaint seriously. But “it was all a show, basically.”

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY after the allegations began flooding Twitter in early October, those accused of perpetrating harassment or allowing it to go unchecked started to face consequences. Chakravarty, for instance, was widely condemned, and after issuing an apology, dropped out of public view. AIB released a statement admitting that Bhat was aware of Chakravarty’s misconduct, and apologised for not cutting ties with him earlier. The collective also said that Bhat and Gursimran Khamba—another of AIB’s founders, who was accused of harassment and emotional abuse—were “stepping away from all business at AIB.”

Though the recent outpouring of allegations has accelerated since Kukreja first spoke, OML has so far avoided a reckoning over the harassment that it harboured. Singh’s complaint and the company’s handling of it have not been previously reported. Nor have several other disturbing instances that we heard of in our interviews, beginning in January this year, with more than twenty people associated with OML. These people, most of whom are women, include current and former employees of the company.

The spheres in which OML operates—comedy, independent music, entertainment—struggle, like many others, to define the limits of the workplace. Long days in the office bleed into drinks with co-workers, gigs and shoots segue into parties, and opportunity often moves along informal as much as formal channels. This combined with OML’s position of leadership in these circles to mean that the company’s norms spilled beyond its hazy outlines, and became indistinguishable from the entire independent-music and comedy scene in India. Men in this space set the tone for how men in OML can and may use their power—and vice versa. Jeopardised most in this unchecked mix, our reporting reflected, were women who came in contact with it.

All of the women we interviewed spoke not just of individual experiences, but also of instances that fit into and furthered a culture that abbetted harassment at OML. Nearly all women brought up Singh’s experience as the most evident example of the problem, but they also described how casual misogyny—sexualised conversation, comments on physical appearance, unwelcome flirting—was constant and unremarkable at the organisation. The tone was set from the top—via the management’s seeming indifference to this culture until recent times and its response to complaints, but also, multiple interviewees alleged, via the widely known and normalised sexual misconduct by Vijay Nair himself.

Women we interviewed spoke of instances that furthered a culture that abetted harassment at OML. The tone was set from the top—via the management's seeming indifference until recent times and also, multiple interviewees alleged, via the widely known and normalised sexual misconduct by Vijay Nair himself. Aditya Kapoor

In a response that Ajay sent us in early November, he wrote that Vijay “moved on to do new things almost 6 months ago,” and that OML now has three managing partners who lead its business and strategy. But Vijay’s power and cultural cache in the circles OML works in remains immense. The company still holds the golden ticket for legions of comedians and musicians, production houses and event organisers. Two of the survivors of sexual harassment we spoke to agreed to be named. Most others we interviewed asked to remain anonymous even though they are no longer employed at OML, fearing repercussions in their personal and professional lives from any slight to Vijay or the company he founded.

VIJAY HAS ALWAYS SHOWN a talent for publicity and management. In the early 2000s, while still in college, he landed his first job managing a teen-focussed website for a consumer-goods multinational. He later joined gigpad.com, an online forum for India’s independent musicians that let them share their music, connect to gig promoters and find couches to crash on while touring.

He dropped out of college but continued working. He travelled to concerts all over the country—everything from college music shows to large urban festivals—and was involved behind the scenes in live concerts, film-award ceremonies, reality-television shows and more. Vijay foresaw an opportunity in bringing some business sense to India’s passionate but shambolic independent music scene, and convinced a few of the country’s most prominent rock bands to let him manage them.

In 2002, Vijay decided to start an entertainment-management firm, which signed the Mumbai-based band Zero that year. This was the seed of OML. Vijay later became close friends with the band’s bassist, Girish “Bobby” Talwar, who was also a trained lawyer. Talwar joined OML as a partner in 2005, the year it became a private limited company.

In that seed, already, were elements of the culture that defined the company as it grew. Vijay and Talwar worked out of their homes, without traditional work structures and hierarchies. There was little distinction between work and play. The primary clientele were young, urban, middle-class and male, and so was the workforce. This remained predominantly so even as more women found their way to OML’s shows and offices over the years.

In 2005, Vijay and Talwar took Pentagram, one of the most popular Indian bands of the era, to the iconic Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom—something never achieved before by an Indian outfit. And the partners came away with the idea of bringing the mega-festival music experience to India.

The company grew, adding more artists to its roster and producing events for big-name international acts. It organised a multi-stage festival in Goa in 2007, and three years later pulled off a scaled-up version in Pune—the first NH7 Weekender.

By 2010, OML had a festivals division, a record label, an artist-management wing, a video-production house and an online publication with its own radio station. Vijay’s brother, Ajay, had quit a job as the chief operating officer at a healthcare company to take charge of OML’s finances. In 2012, he helped bring in a foreign investor who took a 49.9-percent stake in the company for an undisclosed sum. OML also expanded its sponsorship deals with numerous major brands. Vijay had begun to be touted as the messiah of India’s independent-music scene, and he earned adulatory media coverage, including in this magazine.

Tanmay Bhat first got in touch with OML in 2013, to ask for help in organising a show. OML realised that its audiences for music shows were also prime customers for comedy. It threw its weight behind AIB, and put the comedy group on YouTube. Helped along by controversy over an insult-comedy show it uploaded in 2015, AIB shot to stardom.

OML soon decided to focus on its commercially successful ventures—it doubled down on comedy and offloaded all but a handful of music acts. It held on to NH7 Weekender and capitalised on live shows. The company now manages many of India’s biggest comic talents, and produces online comedy content for the likes of Hotstar and Amazon Prime. Nearly every live event in comedy and independent music is associated directly or indirectly with OML. Last year, the company had 130 employees and a revenue of over Rs 100 crore—then over $15 million. By its own estimation, its network of artists and influencers has a combined following of over thirty million people.

AS OML BECAME A MECCA FOR COOL, young workers flocked to it, many of them barely out of college. Jobs and internships could involve going to gigs every week, or working with big-name bands and comedians on tour.

According to Dhruv Jagasia, a former festival director at OML who previously managed the popular band Indian Ocean, the entertainment-management company also took pride in fostering an organisational culture that encouraged employees to “work hard, party harder.” The organisation made “you believe that what you’re doing is path-breaking,” Singh said. “You felt like a celebrity because everyone is watching your work.” But she also described life as an employee of OML as all-consuming. “We did not have any life outside of work,” she said. As a result, employees’ social and professional lives overlapped to a great degree. “OML and the music industry is, for lack of a better word, incestuous,” Sourya Sen, a former employee at OML’s video team, said, explaining how employees tended to move in the same circles.

While this immersive and all-consuming work culture felt liberating and affirmative for many employees, it could also feel exclusionary. Singh said she gleaned, from conversations she had with employees after leaving OML, that “men and women had very different experiences” during their time there. For Smriti George, who has worked in the music and entertainment industry since 2006, OML’s culture was an extension of the music industry’s ethos, where popular and powerful men, in aping the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle, normalised an atmosphere in which “anything is acceptable.”

“There would be these jokes, and I’m sure they thought it was just a joke but to some of the girls it must have felt very creepy,” a former employee who joined the company in 2013 told us. Some male employees formed cliques that the women did not feel like they could be part of. “They just chilled and hung out, but it felt a little men-only,” the former employee said. “It all felt very Mad Men, Don Draper-y”—a reference to an American television series on a sexism-soaked advertising agency in the 1960s.

Any time her team went out for drinks, “the conversations were always commentary on other women, and very inappropriate comments and jokes,” the current employee said. “One guy once told me, ‘Oh, you’re the perfect length for a blow job.’” “I was at an after-party and a colleague was pretty high,” the former employee who joined OML in 2013 said. “We were talking about how boring the after-party was and he suddenly said, ‘Oh, do you want to get a hotel room?’ I joked it off, pretended I didn’t understand, and left.” Singh recounted an incident at an NH7 Weekender after-party in which a colleague, who was intoxicated, asked if she wanted “to shower with him.” She later discovered that he had made a similar proposition to another woman colleague.

A former employee who left OML this year said it was common to see drunk male colleagues dancing inappropriately with women colleagues on the regular occasions that OML’s employees went for drinks at a restaurant near the company’s Mumbai office. The current employee described an incident of a marketing manager—who has since left the company—“feeling up” women while dancing at a party in the office in July 2017. One of the higher-ups saw this and intervened, the current employee said, and even apologised on his behalf to three women the next day. But the manager never apologised himself, and in the absence of a formal complaint there was no further action.

Singh, and others, said that the organisation appeared especially unwilling to act on instances of harassment when the alleged perpetrators were senior staffers.

The very prospect of registering a complaint was also daunting for several women in the organisation. “The upper management just seems to be this one happy family, so you’re very scared to even go and talk to anybody, because will they believe you?” a former employee who worked with Insider, a ticketing platform built by OML, said. Compounding this fear, for many women, was a sense that the culture of harassment they witnessed around them was a facet of the industry that OML was part of, which caused them to overlook their discomfort. “Even when you think that something is a little bit unprofessional or weird, you ignore it,” Shalaka Pai said. “You never even use the word ‘unprofessional,’ because you’re kind of indirectly conditioned to think that it’s an unconventional workplace. … You continue to work there because at the end of the day you’re like, ‘Oh my god, where will I find a job as cool as this.’”

ON 7 JUNE 2013, Tanushree Singh, who had then worked at OML for nearly a year, had a bad day at work. When her colleague Gaurav Dewani—the head of sales at the time—asked if she wanted to attend a gig that evening with him and his friends, she agreed. “I thought it’d help me keep my mind off the events of the day, and then I would push off a little later,” she said. Singh, Dewani and his friends spent the evening at Out of the Box in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village. Singh was close to missing her curfew at home, and after speaking to Dewani and a young woman in his group, she decided to stay over at the young woman’s house. The group left Hauz Khas Village a little after midnight.

Singh thought they were heading to the young woman’s apartment but realised she had been misled when they arrived at the home of another of Dewani’s friends. She decided to wait and leave with the young woman, but the young woman fell asleep on a couch in the living room. “I was very scared … I knew something was off,” Singh told us. A little before 2 am, Dewani and his friends went to the balcony to smoke. Singh declined to join them. “My eyes were just glued to the TV, I wasn’t even watching,” she said.

Dewani entered the room a few minutes later and sat down next to Singh. “He then put his arm around me and started caressing my arm,” she recounted. “And then it got very aggressive.” Singh said that Dewani attempted to grab her and pull her closer, and she “just froze at that point, I didn’t know what to do or say.” Dewani then grabbed her head and forcefully attempted to kiss her. “I pushed him away, and then he did it again. He did that two–three times.” She added that Dewani was so forceful in his attempts to kiss her that he “managed for a second … it was that forced.” She told us over email that she vividly remembered “how it took all of my strength to push him away,” and added, “This wasn’t a moment where one simply leans in to kiss. This was forced repeated assault.”

Singh immediately sent a message to a colleague. The colleague, who worked closely with Vijay, suggested that they contact him—at the time, he was the CEO of the company and happened to be in Delhi that evening. Singh agreed, and her colleague arranged for her to go over to Vijay’s hotel. Singh made an excuse and left Dewani’s friend’s apartment. When she reached the hotel, Vijay asked her what was wrong. She said that after she briefly indicated what had transpired, he asked, “Do you want me to do anything about it?” Surprised by his reaction and unsure of what to say, she demurred. He left early the next morning to catch a flight. Later, he sent a text message to Singh, asking her to confront Dewani.

At the time, OML did not have an ICC. Singh informed Tulika Yadav, her immediate superior, of the incident. Singh said Yadav was “shocked” and asked her to work from home. Yadav told her she had informed Ajay Nair—then the CFO of the company, whom she later married—of Singh’s complaint. According to Singh, Ajay told her during a meeting that this was “the kind of thing people get fired for.” Ajay and Yadav also informed her that members of OML’s senior management had spoken with Dewani, and that he had denied her allegations. “We know who is lying and who is telling the truth,” Singh recalled them saying.

Ajay and Yadav’s initial response gave Singh the impression that they would take her complaint seriously. After a few days passed without any word from Yadav or senior OML staffers, she grew worried. On 13 June, she wrote to Vijay, asking for an update. His brief reply said that he was out of town for the next few weeks and asked her to wait until he had returned.

Towards the end of June, Yadav suggested that Singh, who had been working from home, move to the company’s Mumbai office temporarily. “I really blindly trusted them, which is why I didn’t think twice before going to Bombay,” Singh said. Not long after arriving in the city, she met with Saurabh Abbi, then the human-resources manager at OML. Abbi told her such incidents were hard to prove, and inquired whether she had any “audio or video recordings.” He asked her to refrain from speaking to people about the incident because they may “make fun of it.” Singh said she was disturbed and furious, and nearly broke down during the conversation.

Singh also met with Vijay, who told her that he thought Dewani was “not a monster,” and referred to Dewani’s actions as a “bad lapse of judgment.” She said Vijay made puzzling remarks during the meeting—he told Singh that “the one thing which I hate in people is dishonesty” and that if Dewani “doesn’t confess, I’m going to fire him.” He also said that “OML has such a liberal culture” and that it was common for its employees to date each other. Singh said he told her, “Tomorrow, if two people have a fight or something, and somebody falsely accuses, then am I going to fire that person? … I can’t just keep firing people.” He also added that Singh ought to have gone to the police.

In August, over a month after Singh started working in Mumbai, Vijay and Abbi had another meeting with her, where they declared that the company would not take action against Dewani. They said they had consulted some lawyers, and that the assault she faced did not qualify as sexual harassment at the workplace since it had not occurred at the office. They added that they were worried Dewani would sue them if they took action. The best they could offer, they said, was have her move to Mumbai permanently so that she would not have to work with Dewani, and give her a salary hike to cover moving and living expenses.

After this meeting, Singh decided to quit OML, but Ajay and Yadav talked her out of it. She said they apologised for what Vijay and Abbi had told her. Yadav and Ajay also suggested she move to Mumbai permanently, but insisted that it was because OML’s head office was located there. Singh told us over email that the various meetings regarding her complaint were confusing because “no one was ever on the same page.” In one meeting, Singh said, Ajay “first told me you can go to the police, then he gave me a whole list of reasons why I should not go the police.” Singh said Ajay also told her that “cases lie in the courts forever,” and that in such cases, “a lot of character assassination happens.” He warned her that she would be asked for evidence and that Dewani and his friends would lie. When Singh said that she was struggling and unsure whether she could continue working, he replied, “I know it’s a hard time, but sometimes you just have to deal with things.”

Singh said she felt like she could not leave the organisation, since she had little financial security at the time, and agreed to move to Mumbai. While Singh visited Delhi to pick up her belongings, she assumed it was safe to work from the OML office there, since the senior staffers had assured her that Dewani would not be in the same working space as her.

But an hour after she reached the office, he walked in. “I just lost my shit,” Singh recalled. She emailed some of the senior staffers, including Yadav and Ajay, demanding that Dewani be asked to leave. Yadav then summoned Singh to her home. Ajay was there too, and Singh said he was “screaming at the top of his lungs. He was like, ‘Who the hell do you think you are to give us instructions, to tell us what to do?’” She added that Ajay told her that she was “not worth the money we are paying you,” and that she could leave OML if she wanted but “don’t you fucking dare talk to us like this.”

In her conversations with Yadav and Ajay, Singh asked why OML did not have an ICC, and recommended that the organisation set one up and also conduct gender-sensitisation workshops. Singh said that though Yadav and Ajay had appeared agreeable to the suggestions, she was not informed about when the ICC would be formed for months.

Over time, Yadav became openly dismissive of Singh’s evident distress. Yadav once pointed her to a woman who, she claimed, was helping OML set up the ICC. Yadav seemed unwilling to support Singh herself, and told her, “You need to talk to someone so go talk to this woman.”

On another occasion, when Singh had once again voiced her uncertainty about continuing at OML, Yadav said she was tired of seeing her own work suffer due to Singh’s “personal issues.” Yadav also told her that the incident was no longer an “official matter.”

By the end of the year, Singh said she was constantly anxious about being fired. She also recalled seeing Dewani at the music festivals that OML was hosting. On 13 December, she suffered a nervous breakdown, and then wrote a group email to the majority of the OML team, which stated that Dewani had molested her. All the employees we spoke to said that nearly everyone in the company began discussing the case at this point.

On 16 December 2013, Vijay formally responded to Singh, informing her that OML was “immediately constituting the Complaints Committee in accordance with applicable guidelines under Indian law” and would “investigate this matter in a time-bound manner.” He added that Singh could choose to be on leave in the meantime. OML “has, and shall ensure, zero tolerance for sexual harassment at workplace,” he continued.

The ICC comprised Samira Kanwar, then the head of OML’s video team Babble Fish Productions; Kanika Unnikrishnan, an executive producer; Abbi; and Sonal Mattoo, a lawyer whose organisation, Helping Hands, works with companies to set up ICCs, and who served as the mandatory external member.

Dewani’s statement to the ICC denied Singh’s version of the incident, but stated that he “gave her a kiss on her head out of affection as a friend (which is a very common thing between us at OML and even with my friends).” The ICC described this as an “unacceptable statement” about OML’s culture.

The ICC’s report noted that though Dewani denied the allegations, the committee “gives weightage to the perception of the complainant” and that Dewani’s actions would constitute “outraging her modesty.” It also stated that “the issue is one of her discomfort,” and recommended that Singh and Dewani “are separated at the workplace to ensure that she does not face further discomfort.” It decided to give Dewani no more than a strict warning. The ICC recommended that its report be included in Dewani’s file, and that he be expected to pay for any medical help that Singh had sought for trauma resulting from the assault.

Singh told us that the ICC got various details of her case wrong. The report indicated that she wished to be transferred to the Mumbai office, even though, according to her, the suggestion for the move came from Yadav. It also noted that she was transferred to Mumbai “pending investigation” of her complaint. At the time she moved permanently, however, OML’s management had categorically told her that they would not take any action against Dewani.

In an email response to us, Ajay claimed that OML was “in the process of constituting” an ICC when it received Singh’s complaint, and that “the minute we became aware” of it, the company changed her city of work and offered her a raise, and ensured that she didn’t work with Dewani. In the email, Ajay wrote that the committee’s report was in Singh’s favour, and that OML “took action for Ms. Singh even though it was not technically in the workplace with an official reprimand re the accused on file along with financial penalties.” He also claimed that senior women in the company had encouraged Singh to file a police complaint, and that as the ICC recommended, OML offered to help her file it.

OML’s handling of Singh’s case came to be seen within it as a litmus test of how it would deal with complaints of harassment—one that, in the eyes of several employees we spoke to, it failed. “After seeing what happened to Tanushree afterwards, I don’t think any of us felt like this is a good atmosphere to complain about harassment,” a former employee who worked at OML for two years, said. “There was always this sense of ‘you don’t know how you’ll get punished for it.’” According to one former employee, there were “a lot of discussions” that Dewani had been let off easy because of his important role in the company. Some employees, however, blamed Singh for the outcome. The former employee who worked with Insider recalled that people “called Tanushree names.” Others told us that though they didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect, they felt that the company had not handled the case well.

A little over two years after the ICC heard Singh’s case, another man in OML’s senior management was accused of sexual harassment. The former employee who worked at Insider registered a formal complaint with the ICC against her team’s head, Girish Raj, who had verbally harassed her.

Starting in early 2015, her initial interactions with Raj had been uncomfortable in parts. She had discussed some of these exchanges with a colleague, who admitted that they seemed worrying. But the former Insider employee said that both she and her colleague thought, “We know Girish, he’s a nice guy,” and she gave him the benefit of the doubt.

One day, she mentioned to Raj over text that she had recently had her eyebrow pierced. “Wow,” she said he replied. “I get majorly turned on by eyebrow piercings … send me a picture.” She was taken aback. “I told myself this was not normal—not even if you’re friends with your boss,” she told us.

She decided to keep her distance from him, but one evening in 2015, she found herself alone with him at an event she was attending for work. Raj said he wanted to tell her “why I find eyebrow piercings such a turn on.” He added that he was “completely breaking the employer-employee code but big deal.” Raj said that over the past few years, he had had several “distractions”—the former Insider employee said he was referring to women he had sex with outside his marriage. He described one of these women. “The reason for finding eyebrow piercings such a turn-on was because that woman whom he was sleeping with had her nipples pierced,” the former employee said Raj told her.

“At this point, I was completely frozen,” the former employee said. Raj told her he had a “distraction” in Bengaluru, then looked at her and said, “But you know what? I don’t have a current distraction in Mumbai.”

That night, the former Insider employee told us, she “kept thinking, why didn’t I tell him he was being inappropriate? … Why didn’t I just walk away?” She said she was disturbed for weeks after the incident, and unsure to whom to turn. She wondered if anyone would believe her. “Everyone in the company loves this man,” she said.

The former Insider employee said that at the time of the incident, she was not aware of the procedure to file a complaint. (One senior colleague and a peer, whom she consulted at the time, confirmed this.) In January 2016, OML held a workshop on sexual harassment at the workplace. She learnt of the ICC at this workshop and registered her complaint.

Sonal Mattoo, the external member of the committee, assured her of strict action and offered her two routes: the legal route, in which the ICC would conduct a formal investigation for up to 90 days, or an unofficial route, which would be shorter. She chose the latter. When we contacted Mattoo, she said she was bound by confidentiality and could not reveal details of the case.

At the time that the former Insider employee filed the complaint, Raj was the director of Coalition, an event that he had conceptualised in collaboration with Vijay, which was to be held in March 2016. According to the former employee, the company waited until the event had ended before taking action against Raj. In the meantime, she did not receive any formal communication about how or by whom the complaint was being handled or when to expect a decision.

On 15 March, she received an “official closing communication” from Mattoo, who wrote that Raj had been informed that his behaviour was unacceptable, and that besides causing “discomfort” to the complainant it was “an embarrassment to the company.” The email said that the management had “acted upon the recommendations of the ICC” and that Raj had been formally counselled and warned that a future transgression would result in serious consequences. Mattoo’s email also noted that Raj had written a formal apology to the former employee but reproduced only an excerpt from it, in which Raj apologised to the complainant for the “troubles that you have gone through.”

Raj, when contacted by The Caravan, did not deny discussing the eyebrow remark he had allegedly made, and he said that he wrote a “heartfelt apology” after the ICC procedure. “In it, I recall telling her I recognised that as her senior I should have been more appropriate in my interactions and mindful of my words.”

Both Singh and the former Insider employee said that the distress they experienced, as a result of the harassment, was made worse by the response of the company and the apparent indifference of several colleagues. They felt that while the company covered ground on paper, it favoured senior male harassers—Dewani was in charge of revenue generation and Raj was heading an important OML property—over junior women they harassed.

Singh recounted that the colleague whom she had called on the night of the incident later asked her, “Why are you making such a big deal of this? This happens, dude.” Yadav’s dismissiveness made Singh feel that she was wasting everyone’s time, and colleagues, some of whom were close to the senior management, either refrained from offering Singh support or indicated that they were uncomfortable speaking to her about the incident. Many of these colleagues were men. “I don’t think people understand how much complicity adds to the harassment,” Singh said. “These are supposedly the ‘good men,’ you know. What really makes them good though? Does simply not being a harasser, but being someone who knows of these acts happening and yet not saying a single word really make you a ‘good guy?’” By the end, Singh told us, “I literally felt like I was harassed by the whole company, not one man.”

“It’s a bit difficult for me to put how all this has affected me into one bucket,” Singh said. “I definitely developed severe anxiety after the incident and depression came somewhere along the way, especially after I quit. Also developed certain symptoms of PTSD eventually. I definitely believe that not having the time to process anything at my own pace and diving myself right into work 24 x 7 took a toll on me. Because of my conversations with Tulika I was constantly worried about getting fired and finding myself in a position where I didn’t have money to pay rent and my education loan. After I was permanently moved to Bombay I was instantly made to travel to various cities for work, and that too alone. I was beyond lonely and depressed and constantly stressed about work. And by then I was too afraid to make any complaints to Tulika or Ajay.”

Singh felt triggered by the very mention of OML and was unwilling to work at companies that had ties with it—leaving few options in the entertainment and music industries. Eventually, she accepted a job in Goa, to be away from Mumbai.

The former Insider employee said that at the time she registered her complaint, she had heard about Singh’s case and was worried that she would face a similar outcome. “I was grateful that the company had taken a step at all,” she said. “But now that I think of it, it was the most basic expectation.” Looking back, she felt that OML had not done enough to ensure a safe working environment for her. “I saw that man every day even immediately after the episode,” she told us. Senior staffers including Vijay had assured her that the company would do all it could to make her feel safe, but it did not separate her and Raj at the workplace. But “the same people laughed and joked with Girish as though nothing happened,” she told us.

In July 2016, she requested a transfer to Delhi, and six months later she quit OML.

We reached out to Yadav and Abbi, as well as women who served on the ICC, with individual queries. In his response to us, Ajay said he was writing on their behalf as well.

Dewani continued to work at OML until January 2016, nearly two years after Singh left. He is now the vice president at Times Network, part of India’s largest media conglomerate. Raj quit OML in late 2016 to begin his own venture, and had worked as a consultant for this magazine while organising two episodes of a conference about gender.

SEVERAL FORMER EMPLOYEES suggested that the conduct of men in OML could be traced to the upper echelons of the company.

Many said that it was common knowledge among OML’s employees and within Delhi and Mumbai’s entertainment circles that Vijay Nair was a “womaniser,” and that he regularly made sexual advances towards the young women OML employed. A former editorial intern with NH7, OML’s now defunct blog, said that Vijay was thought of as a “player.” Singh said that the impression of Vijay within the company was that he would “get fresh with everyone.”

Some women suggested that the majority of their male colleagues were almost blind to Vijay’s conduct, and saw him as an idol. “Most of the employees were men and he was a good boss … he was kind of an inspiration to them,” the former editorial intern said. She added that the predominant view of Vijay within OML was that “he is a brilliant man … he’s allowed to have these faults.” For some members of the senior management, Vijay’s conduct did not even appear to be a problem. A woman who worked with Raj, for instance, recounted how the latter had once jokingly referred to Vijay as a “manwhore.” (When we reached out to Raj, he said he had no recollection of having said this.) According to Singh, a woman who later became part of the senior management once jokingly rebuked Vijay, not for making advances on a young employee but because she did not like the young woman in question and felt his “choice in women is so bad.”

The former employee who joined OML in 2013 recounted an incident that took place the following year, at the wedding of Arjun S Ravi and Sameera Kanwar, both then members of OML’s senior management. The former employee said that she and a couple of her colleagues were attempting to help a 22-year-old woman employee, who was inebriated, get into a cab.

Vijay insisted on accompanying the 22-year-old home. This made the former employee and her colleagues uncomfortable. “At the time it was really odd because we were like how do we navigate this situation without drawing attention to ourselves or calling someone else?” she said. The former employee added that, following the wedding, Vijay openly made advances towards the 22-year-old. “Him hitting on girls was quite open, it’s not like nobody knew about it. It just seemed like everyone was fine with it, because this is just how things are.”

Several women who worked at or with OML told us that Vijay regularly messaged them after their first interaction with him. The messages were nonchalant at first, complimenting them on their work or appearance, and suggesting that they meet him. The former editorial intern recounted that Vijay sent her colleague an expensive pair of headphones as a birthday gift. This was shortly after the colleague had joined the company, and he had never interacted with her before. “It felt a little strange for a boss to be sending over such a gift to an employee,” she said.

The women often responded to him and agreed to meet. However, several women who worked at or with OML said that at the time that they were approached by him, they were unsure whether they could refuse his advances. A woman who worked in OML’s video team said that she eventually consented to meeting and having sex with Vijay because “how many times will you say no to your boss?” “I feel like if I didn’t have the pressure of seeing him every day, I wouldn’t have,” she added.

For Smriti George, giving in to Vijay’s advances felt like “the path of least resistance.” She said “it came out of a sense of, I have to work with this guy, I don’t want to fuck this up.”

George began working with Vijay in 2007 when OML helped the company she was employed with arrange the Mumbai leg of a tour for an international band. She had run into him a few times before, but their interactions had been limited. They were texting and, she said, he seemed keen to pursue sex. George said that she had consensual sex with Vijay twice, in late 2007. They continued to work together, as her company was then organising a festival for the following year.

During their interactions, Vijay messaged her to ask if they could discuss work over video chat. George agreed. After the first few minutes of the video call, Vijay, who was sitting in his office, told George that he was going to masturbate to her. “A penis was whipped out without my consent. There was masturbation. At no point was I asked, ‘Are you okay with this?’” she said.

Vijay asked her to participate as well. George was taken aback. She reacted by making moaning sounds. “I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. “I remember telling my flatmate shortly after and us making fun of it, because it was extremely absurd.” Her flatmate at the time corroborated George’s account.

George said she didn’t feel like she could walk away. “I was very aware of how much he was helping our company,” she said. At the time, Vijay was already a major name in the independent-music industry. “I was very aware of the kind of cultural influence he held in the country … He was always in a position of helping us, and we were always in a position of needing help.”

A few weeks after the video call, he flew down to Delhi. Vijay continued to send suggestive texts and messages to her, but George said she sidestepped him.

George and her company next worked with Vijay in 2009, when they had a falling-out. Vijay facilitated a deal with a band on behalf of the company George worked for, but at the last minute, the company’s partners pulled out. The company incurred a penalty, but refused to pay it. “In all probability, Vijay would have had to pay the amount,” George said. Vijay Nair, while responding to email queries from The Caravan about the incident, said, “I unequivocally deny all these allegations as presented by you and your publication.” He stated that he “met Smriti George many years ago and we had couple of casual consensual encounters. Many months after that we started working on a project which led to a professional fall out,” which was followed by a “showdown.” In his email, Vijay denied that he and George ever had a work call where the alleged incident occurred.

George told us that for several years after the video call, she did not even realise this incident was a violation. “I was embarrassed,” she said. Eventually, she came to understand that “this thing that he did, it was not okay.”

Still, she maintained a cordial relationship with Vijay, and was in touch with him as late as March 2017, when she sought professional advice from him. Vijay’s influence over the industry she worked in had only grown. “Which is why I knew I didn’t want to cross him,” she told us. In his email to us, Vijay claimed that they lost contact after the falling-out. He confirmed that they last interacted in 2017.

In May 2017, Huffington Post India published an article titled, “How a Mumbai Entrepreneur Unmasked His Vicious Cyberstalker And Lived To Tell The Tale.” The article described a series of messages, calls and emails that Vijay had reportedly received from a woman who, the piece claimed, had stalked him for months. According to the article, the woman had also been messaging some of Vijay’s colleagues at OML, as well as people with whom he interacted on social media. The alleged stalker reportedly said that Vijay was a womaniser and had been preying on women. The article claimed that she also said Vijay was her boyfriend and threatened other women about leaving him alone.

The piece described how, over time, Vijay figured out that the alleged stalker was someone he knew through work. With the help of the Mumbai Police and OML’s security personnel, he reportedly tricked her into revealing her identity, and forced her to confess.

George said she was shocked when she first read the article, and even messaged Vijay to ask if he was alright. But as she thought about it more, “I was livid.” She began to realise that the story had painted Vijay as a victim of harassment. After the article, she said, “Now if even one girl has anything to say about him, it’s going to be botched ... It was just a strategic way to kind of defer anybody coming forward and saying anything about him, and that really pissed me off.”

The article did wonders for Vijay’s already exalted status—hundreds of people, including influential figures in India’s media and culturati, shared it on social media, expressing shock at his ordeal and admiration for how Vijay had handled it.

Seeing the support Vijay received made George realise, once again how powerful he was. “It almost seemed like he had the whole industry wrapped around his finger … believing whatever he wanted them to believe,” she said. “I was so angry, thinking, ‘You don’t know anything about this man.’” Singh, too, said that several women formerly employed with OML were angered by the article’s portrayal of Vijay, because “he’s not a victim, that’s the last thing he is.”

“Every woman in OML has a Vijay story,” the woman who worked in OML’s video team said. “If a new girl joined and she was slightly cute, Vijay would hit on her.” The former employee, who worked at OML for two years, said, “Even the guys who did hotel bookings for him, and booked transport for him, would gossip about him all the time.” “Sometimes they would have to field calls from girls for Vijay. At parties, a lot of these guys would get drunk and talk about it in hushed tones like ‘Oh, that crazy one.’ It was very much like they were managing Vijay’s girls.”

Vijay’s behaviour with his women colleagues had a pattern. Capitalising on his position of power, seemingly charming personality and the operatic stardom he had acquired, Vijay benefitted from and exacerbated the troubling culture prevalent in the entertainment industry. Many women colleagues—some even in their late teenage years—who were not entirely sure whether his behaviour towards them was appropriate, ended up confused, hurt and violated, but chose not to report it.

Vijay’s position allowed him to act brazenly and with impunity. He asked a woman to get into a bathtub with him and told another at 2 am that he needed a massage. He even sent explicit images—including one in which a man appeared to be ejaculating—to a woman, without her consent. Copies of the images are in our possession.

Many of these women did not know that they could approach human resources, or were unaware of the possibility of reporting abuse to the internal committee. In one instance, a woman decided not to return to the entertainment industry or allied fields such as marketing and public relations.

Responding to our questions over email, Vijay called the allegations “preposterous,” “untrue,” “fabricated” and “deeply disturbing.” He said, “Any relationship I may have had with anyone has been completely consensual and between two consenting adults.”

We asked Ajay over email about allegations made against Vijay. His reply stated that “none of these have or were brought to the attention of our Internal Complaints Committee which has been in existence and continuous operation since December 2013.” It continued, “While we understand it is tough to bring allegations against persons who are in the management of the company, we at OML have urged people to do so, so we can follow due process and investigate.”

Ajay said that in the summer of 2018, Vijay “parted ways with OML and has not been an employee. He is also not on the board of the company.”

Ajay, who heads the company now, said that all complaints brought to the internal committee have always been investigated “impartially irrespective of the seniority of the alleged perpetrator.” He further said, “We can confirm that for all the cases that were brought to the Internal Complaints Committee’s notice in the last five years, 62.5% resulted in termination of the perpetrator and without any regard to their seniority or position in the company.” The smallest fraction, for which this exact percentage is true, is five out of eight—suggesting that OML fired at least five people in the last five years.

He also added that since Singh’s case in 2013, OML’s ICC has been “continuously active and has investigated each and every complaint brought to its notice.” The organisation’s ICC, according to Ajay’s email, has “always been led by a senior, credible external chairperson of an NGO (who is also an advocate) with in-depth experience in investigating complaints under the POSH act.” Ajay stated that over the last five years, OML has “conducted extensive workshops for all employees” regarding the prevention of sexual harassment, and that information about these workshops are emailed to all employees and displayed in the OML main office.

IT APPEARED, from the current employee’s account, that OML has been attempting to check sexism and sexual harassment at the workplace. The current employee said that the code of conduct that OML set in place earlier this year made clear that “gendered swearwords will not be entertained, any yelling of any kind will not be entertained. If there is any sexual or physical or emotional harassment then there is an ICC to deal with it.” In his email to us, Ajay wrote that OML has been working to increase representation of women across its artists, employees and senior leadership.

According to the current employee, after the town-hall meeting, employees recognised that there had been a shift in OML’s line. When OML first announced the code of conduct, “people were making jokes about it because this company has gone for so long without these policies,” the current employee said. “But now, in the last town hall, people were shit scared. Because now it’s real, and the women who are making the calls are very very stern about these things, thankfully.” The current employee voiced some scepticism about OML’s ability to reconcile with its past actions as an organisation. “They are starting to fix things now, but I don’t know how far that can go ... the people here—I don’t know how they can police their behaviour.”

(Disclaimer: One of the reporters, Bhanuj Kappal, was a freelance contributor for OML’s now defunct blog NH7.in, between 2011 and 2013. In 2012, he was asked to leave NH7 Weekender in Pune after Ajay Nair found him drinking store-bought alcohol near the box office—no outside alcohol was permitted at the venue.)

Correction: An earlier version of the article mistakenly stated that Tanushree Singh left OML in March 2014. She left the company in February that year. The Caravan regrets the error.