ONE DAY IN DECEMBER 2012, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, then the director general of The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI, called a staff meeting at the organisation’s headquarters in the India Habitat Centre, a plush multi-storey complex on south Delhi’s Lodhi Road. Hundreds of employees shuffled into a room on the fifth floor, adjacent to the office’s indoor badminton court. When they had gathered, Pachauri made an announcement. There had been, he explained in a sombre tone, a regrettable incident.
A young volunteer in Odisha, who was working with Lighting a Billion Lives, a global energy-access programme run by TERI, had reported being molested by the field coordinator heading her team. One night, after an event, the coordinator had told the volunteer that it was too late for her to travel home alone, and convinced her to stay back in his accommodation. There, he attempted to embrace and kiss her. She broke free from him, and left.
The volunteer was shaken, but did not report the matter immediately. Some time later, she broke down and confided in a colleague, who informed his superiors in Delhi. According to a former associate fellow of TERI, who recounted the episode to me, the organisation quickly and confidentially put together an internal investigating team. A few employees from this team travelled to Odisha to speak to the volunteer. The organisation also summoned the coordinator to Delhi. After he had arrived, TERI staffers interrogated him for around a week. The coordinator eventually confessed to assaulting the volunteer.
At the IHC meeting, Pachauri apprised his staff about the matter. The man’s actions were unpardonable, he told them. The volunteer did not make a formal complaint to the company, but TERI had, nevertheless, decided that the coordinator would not continue with the organisation. Though the employees I spoke to who attended the meeting were unsure of some details, they remembered one statement that Pachauri made: TERI, he said, had a “zero-tolerance policy” on sexual harassment.
A little over two years later, on 9 February 2015, a 29-year-old researcher at TERI met Ranjana Saikia, then a director with the organisation, and the presiding officer of TERI’s internal complaints committee, or ICC—a body that examines complaints of sexual harassment, and that every Indian workplace with more than ten employees is legally required to have. The researcher handed Saikia a written complaint, in which she stated that she had been sexually harassed by Pachauri over the year and a half she had worked with him.
Saikia told the researcher that the committee would respond to the complaint once all its members had been consulted. Four days later, having received no further word, the researcher decided to seek help elsewhere. On 13 February, she visited the Lodhi Colony police station and filed a complaint against Pachauri, setting in motion the lumbering machinery of the Indian criminal-justice system.
On 16 February, Raghav Ohri, a reporter with the Economic Times, who was preparing to break the story of the complaint, contacted Pachauri for his response to the allegations. Pachauri denied them. He then moved the Delhi High Court for an injunction that barred any individual or media house from publishing any information about the complaint. Ohri’s story made it to the Economic Times’s print edition on 18 February; its web version, however, was taken down in response to the injunction.
Pachauri’s move only stifled the news temporarily—the court lifted the injunction the next day. Over the following weeks, details of the allegations against Pachauri began to emerge. They put forward a starkly different picture of him than he had presented in December 2012, when he acted decisively in the face of sexual harassment in his organisation.
In the first information report that the researcher filed, she accused Pachauri of making “repeated and constant requests to have a romantic and physical relationship.” She added: “All his actions and words towards me had underlying sexual overtones. I told Dr Pachauri that I was not interested in any such relationship with him on countless occasions, but he refused to give up.” She also alleged that he had “forcibly grabbed my body by hugging me, holding my hands, forcibly kissing me and touching my body in an inappropriate manner. I kept pleading with him and telling him clearly not to do such things, as I found it extremely vulgar and repulsive to be touched in that manner, but it has had no effect on Dr Pachauri.” When she refused to succumb to his “carnal and perverted desires,” she said, Pachauri responded by “threatening me that he will not give me any more work in his office and that I should leave TERI or he will transfer me to some other division.”
On 1 March 2016, more than a year after the complaint was registered, the Delhi police filed a charge sheet over 1,400 pages long, in a metropolitan district court, in Saket. It charged Pachauri under the sections 354, 354A, 354D, 506 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code—laws that deal with outraging the modesty of a woman, sexual harassment, stalking, criminal intimidation and insulting the modesty of a woman, respectively.
In June, when I emailed Pachauri’s lawyer, Ashish Dixit, about the case, he said that the police had “filed the charge sheet only on the basis of the statement of complainant and no corroboration whatsoever has been done by any evidence oral or other wise.” The police, he alleged, had “deliberately concealed material witnesses (female employees of TERI) as it does not suit” their case. He added: “Unfortunately in India the investigation is not done to bring out the truth, rather always carried out to support the case in the FIR. The truth will come out in the courts.”
The case made global headlines, owing to Pachauri’s towering reputation as one of the world’s leaders in drawing attention to climate change. Apart from heading TERI, he was in his second term as the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, on behalf of which he had accepted a Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007. He was a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, and had received both the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan—two of India’s highest civilian awards. He spent a large amount of his time jetting around the globe, speaking to audiences that hung onto his every word as he delivered grave pronouncements on the fate of the planet.
Many who had heard of Pachauri and his work found it difficult to believe that he could be guilty of sexual harassment. TERI, which he had built over more than three decades, was, to all appearances, a progressive organisation that strove to hire women, across different levels. According to a February 2016 press release from TERI, 14 out of the organisation’s 30 directors are women.
In January this year, I began speaking to TERI employees to try and understand the organisation, Pachauri, and the allegations against him. It had been close to a year since the criminal complaint had been filed, and the case was crawling through the courts. Pachauri had stepped down as the chair of the IPCC and resigned from the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, but was still the director general of TERI.
Over four months, as I interacted with more than 30 present and former employees of TERI, I discovered that, despite his international image as a moral crusader, the allegations against Pachauri had not come as a surprise to many of those who knew him well. “Dr Pachauri’s tendencies with women are the development sector’s worst-kept secret,” a former research associate at TERI, who joined the institute when she was 22 years old and spent five years there, told me over the phone. “If you are a woman who is good-looking, or perceived to be good-looking, then you are expected to be careful of him.” Like most of the current and former employees I spoke with, she asked to remain anonymous. Most people who requested I withhold their names told me they feared retribution from Pachauri.
Roshni Sengupta, who worked with TERI Press—TERI’s publishing division—for eight years, till 2013, told me that “Dr Pachauri’s glad-eye was a part of the institution’s folklore.” This view was echoed by Dilip Ahuja, a professor of energy and environment policy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, in Bengaluru, who worked with TERI during the early 1980s. “Women in TERI had two choices,” Ahuja said. “They could either succumb to Pachauri’s advances, or leave.”
Most staffers told me that they knew at least three or four women who had said they were harassed by Pachauri. While seeking to hear first-hand accounts of these experiences, I asked the employees to help me contact these women. But they demurred. Many women had moved on from the organisation, they explained, and would not want to revisit a chapter of their life that had scarred them. Those who were still at TERI, the employees said, could not risk running afoul of Pachauri.
Gradually, however, I managed to get in touch with some of these women. Many of them were reticent at first. Over the months, nine women agreed to meet me, or to speak over the phone or email. Most said they took this decision not because they bore Pachauri any ill-will, but because they did not want the complainant in the ongoing case—thus far the only woman from TERI to initiate formal action against Pachauri—to stand alone in revealing what was a widely known truth. The nine included the complainant herself, and two other women who had anonymously released public letters, through the lawyer Vrinda Grover, alleging that Pachauri had harassed them too.
None of the conversations were easy. An interviewee and I would often lapse into nervous silence as she sifted through her memories. Most of the women had worked at TERI over different periods, and none knew the identities of the others to whom I was speaking. But all their accounts were eerily similar.
The women described a systematic pattern of emotional and psychological manipulation, along with physical transgressions, that became painfully familiar by the end of my reporting. Further, in each case, it appeared that TERI, as an institution, had played a key role in enabling Pachauri’s actions. If the director general had been brazen in his behaviour over the past three decades, then the combined responses of hundreds of employees had fostered an environment in which he could get away with it.
In June, I met the 75-year-old Pachauri for an interview at his residence in south Delhi’s Golf Links neighbourhood. (Pachauri agreed to the interview on the condition that he would not speak about his ongoing legal case.) The past year seemed to have taken a toll on him—he seemed frail and tired. He was extremely courteous, and referred to me throughout our two-hour conversation as “Ms Saxena.” Just as we began, Pachauri asked, “Can I ask you a naughty question?” I agreed, puzzled. He proceeded to quiz me on The Caravan’s December 2015 story on NDTV—the questions did not seem to warrant the word he used to describe them.
We spoke at length about TERI’s evolution over the years. Towards the end of the interview, I brought up the experiences of TERI employees. I said that former staffers had told me that they had been uncomfortable with some of his comments, and had spoken of “physical advances” he had made towards them.
Pachauri instantly grew agitated. He had been leaning back comfortably in his chair, but now sat up straight and began tapping his foot on the ground. His tone was polite, but steely. He denied having made any inappropriate physical or verbal advances towards his women employees. Any allegations of inappropriate physical interactions having taken place were, he said, “a matter of interpretation. There are all kinds of people. Often, I may put my arm around somebody. Now that’s, to my mind, a totally done thing. But there are some who may feel upset about it. I am a very spontaneous person, and I don’t see anything wrong as long as my intentions are clear and the other side doesn’t feel uncomfortable. If someone felt uncomfortable, then I just feel sad about it, that’s it. But I have never had any intentions of doing anything inappropriate.”
THE TATA ENERGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, as TERI was formerly known, was set up in 1974 by Darbari Seth, then the chairman of Tata Chemicals. A society incorporated under the Societies Act of 1860, TERI aimed to fund energy projects around the country. In April that year, following a meeting with Seth, Chamanlal Gupta, a reputed solar-energy scientist, established a field-research unit for TERI in Puducherry. Seth’s vision, Gupta told me when I met him in Puducherry in March this year, was simple: TERI was to be an institution that would “reach the unreached.” Guided by this objective, Gupta led a small team of researchers at the unit, and took on several projects related to alternative energy. His wife, Shipra, managed the accounts of the unit, and helped organise a documentation centre in Mumbai, which was headed by a colleague named NK Gopalakrishnan.
Pachauri, who had a background in engineering and economics, was then a faculty member of the Administrative Staff College of India, a management institute. He joined TERI as its director in 1981, and quickly sought to assert his control over the organisation. Gupta remembered feeling a sense of unease during the new director’s first visit to Puducherry, shortly after he joined. He told me that Pachauri then wrote him a letter outlining the expectations he had from the unit. “It was such a funny letter,” Gupta recalled. “It just spoke of ‘wanting this and wanting that.’ It was not a letter written to an equal.”
Pachauri did not approve of the fact that Gupta and Gopalakrishnan were designated directors of their units. When I interviewed Pachauri in June, he remembered telling Seth, “This is just not right. It’s not right for the organisation internally. And certainly not good for the projection of the institute outside. When I give my card to somebody, and I say that I am the director of TERI, they are going to say, ‘You’ve got two other directors, what are they doing?’”
Seth appears to have agreed with his argument. Gupta told me that not long after Pachauri joined TERI, a senior official from Tata Chemicals called to tell him of Pachauri’s misgivings. Gupta agreed to give up his title, and took on the designation of “chief research scientist.” “I had no affinity for being called a director anyway,” he told me.
Pachauri’s style of leadership did not suit the researchers at the field-research unit. A woman scientist who worked at the centre told me, “He wouldn’t let Chamanlal-ji take decisions independently. He wanted everything under his control.” Gupta recounted that Pachauri was “not democratic in his dealings.” Even when he consulted others, Pachauri was very “sure of himself,” he said. He added, “Being sure in politics and administration is all right. But if you have ever been a researcher, then you can never be sure. You are constantly questioning yourself and exploring further.”
By 1984, Gupta had decided to leave the organisation. He remembered telling people, “I have learnt all that I could from this experience. I cannot carry the deadweight of another man’s ambition on my back.” With Gupta gone, Seth was no longer interested in continuing the unit at Puducherry. Ten years after it began operations, the unit was shut down.
From the very beginning, Pachauri was impatient with the limited ambitions of TERI’s management. In a March 2003 speech to TERI researchers, he recounted that the institute was initially meant to focus on funding external projects, with an annual budget of around Rs 1 crore. But, Pachauri said, he had no intention to “waste my life for a tiddly-piddly outfit of this nature, where you just fund projects here and there and everywhere.”
Instead, in the early 1980s, Pachauri began building a bigger organisation—setting up an office in Delhi, hiring staff, and securing projects. The account in his speech of TERI’s early years included oddly vivid details about his secretaries. One “was hired for a princely sum of Rs 600 a month,” Pachauri said. “She was raw, but a very good secretary.” About another, he said, “I got this jovial person called Anupama Chopra on a half-time basis. She was a very nice person but I won’t make any comments about her secretarial competence.”
Employees from this time remember him as an amiable leader. A male researcher who worked with TERI back then told me, “You could argue publicly with Dr Pachauri at any point. And it would be a reasonable argument.” But, through the 1980s, as TERI gained recognition for its work and its team grew, Pachauri’s behaviour with his colleagues began to change. “Directors in this country are democratic when they are learning their job,” Ahuja, Pachauri’s colleague from the 1980s, said. “They are dictatorial once they are secure. This is what happened to him as well.”
TERI also changed during this period, from a research organisation that commissioned projects to one that began accepting projects from external sources. These included the Indian government, bodies such as the World Bank and private corporations. While Seth had originally envisaged a pure research institute, TERI now became what an associate fellow who has been working with it since 2013 called “a consultancy dressed as a think-tank.” Indeed, this vision is reflected in the shape and scale of TERI today. The organisation has regional centres across India, in Goa, Bengaluru, Guwahati and Mumbai, and affiliate institutes in North America, Europe and Japan. Its workforce is divided into a number of divisions, such as biotechnology and bioresources, earth science and climate change, and sustainable development outreach. Each division has a distinct mandate, a defined area of expertise and a revenue target. TERI’s clients have included organisations such as the World Bank, Cipla, ITC, GMR, BPCL, Kuwait Oil Company and the Asian Development Bank.
To attract projects in TERI’s early days, Pachauri deployed one of his greatest skills: networking within circles of power. “He started cultivating officers from the Indian Administrative Service right from the start,” Ahuja said. “This would mean that he would throw parties where the finest wine, whisky and beer would be served for all the IAS officers present in Delhi.” At the time, the government was one of the most significant sources of revenue for research organisations. The woman scientist who was with TERI at the time told me, “If we told him that we had applied for a grant and we hadn’t gotten it, he would automatically tell us: wine and dine.”
Pachauri didn’t just court bureaucrats, he also hired many of them after they retired. According to the woman scientist, “Pachauri makes it a point to get ex-government employees, because it gives him a handle to manage government people. All these people who retire as secretaries, they have connections. So you can have a link with other officials that way, for projects from the government and to work in those sectors.” A veteran business journalist described Pachauri’s strategy as a “standard part of networking.” The day a secretary retires, he said, “his world collapses. So if somebody is offering him a room, a desk, a chapraasi, it adds up to a lot. Businessmen used to do it. And now NGOs like the one Pachauri runs do it.”
In 1985, Pachauri recruited TN Khoshoo, India’s first environment secretary, as a “distinguished fellow.” Pachauri told me that Khoshoo was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to extend his term. “I took him to Jor Bagh, where our offices were,” Pachauri said. “I said, ‘Here is a room, you can function over here. We’ll designate you as a distinguished fellow and you can do what you want and feel totally at home here.’” Today, of the 17 distinguished fellows listed on TERI’s website, ten are former civil servants.
Pachauri also curried favour with many politicians, managing to win support from across the spectrum. When I asked him about this, he rattled off a list of names of public figures he knew well, including the former prime ministers PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He added: “Dr KR Narayanan, I had the highest respect for, and I had a very close and long relationship with. Sitaram Yechury I have a good relationship with. With Mamata-di, I know her very well. People of every party, I maintain a relationship with.”
His network proved essential as Pachauri set about searching for a permanent location for TERI’s head office in the late 1980s. He was caught in a stalemate with Seth: while Pachauri wanted an office in Delhi, Seth was keen on a location removed from the city, and suggested Munnar, in Kerala, and Baroda, in Gujarat, as options. “If we had ambitions of becoming an international organisation then Delhi certainly had advantages,” Pachauri told me. “It was a very carefully-thought-out strategic choice.” He added that Seth “was very unhappy with me. I thought he might sack me.”
Pachauri initially struck a compromise by finding a piece of land in Haryana. With the support of a former IAS officer named S Ramesh, who was working with TERI at the time, Pachauri met officials from the Haryana government and, according to his 2003 speech, “managed to interest them in acquiring land in the village of Gual Pahari—which falls on the highway between Gurgaon and Faridabad—and selling it to us.” In 1985, TERI bought around 69 acres of land for around Rs 42 lakh, which, Pachauri admitted in the speech, “was a bargain.” Seth was persuaded, Pachauri said, “because the land was outside Delhi, and I also gave him visions of how one can create a renewable-energy campus and do things that I knew were close to his heart.” Subsequently, TERI bought the surrounding plots “a few acres at a time,” directly from the farmers, and amassed an area of over 90 acres.
The land now houses the TERI RETREAT—a self-referential acronym for the Resource-Efficient TERI Retreat for Environmental Awareness and Training. The RETREAT has a golf course, and two cricket grounds, one of which is known as “Patchy Greens”—in tribute to Pachauri, who is popularly called Patchy.
On 20 February 2010, Faizan Haider—then a reporter with the magazine India Today—wrote that TERI was running “a water guzzling nine-hole golf course in Gual Pahari in Gurgaon built on institutional land thus affecting the city’s vulnerable groundwater table.” Haider pointed out that TERI was using the golf course for commercial purposes, and was charging a membership fee of Rs 25,000 for the facility. This, a government official told Haider, was in violation of the rules that govern land allotted for an institution. A spokesperson from TERI denied the allegations and claimed that the organisation had built the golf course only for its employees. When I visited the RETREAT in February, the administrative staff at the golf course told me that I could sign up to be a member of the course for an annual fee of Rs 60,000.
Even as he went about procuring the Gurgaon land, Pachauri was determined to find a place for TERI in the heart of Delhi. In the 2003 speech, he said that he managed, with the help of the Congress leader Murli Deora, to secure approval from the then minister of state for works and housing, HKL Bhagat, for getting the organisation a plot of land in Lodhi Estate. (“But of course I didn’t tell that we had acquired land in Haryana,” Pachauri added.) Pachauri joined hands with a host of other institutions to construct an integrated facility—the India Habitat Centre, where TERI would get its new office.
Ensconced in his new headquarters, Pachauri evolved into a distinctly authoritarian leader. A woman research associate who worked with TERI in the early 1990s described the organisation as “Dr Pachauri’s little fiefdom.” She added, “Regardless of the department, and the senior people in place, everything was determined by Dr Pachauri.” Jairam Ramesh, the former minister of environment and forests, told me that he once said to Pachauri, “Why do you even bother with calling this organisation TERI? Just call it PERI.”
In 2003, Pachauri made a move to gain complete control over TERI. He wrested the organisation from the Tata group, and changed its name to The Energy and Resources Institute. Observers were amazed. The business journalist told me that Ratan Tata, who heads the group, “is not the kind of man who lets go easily. So how did Pachauri manage to oust Ratan in a power game where Ratan must have been holding most of the cards?” The journalist said it was “a remarkable feat for an organisation to build the kind of resources that allow it to take away control from the Tatas.”
About the takeover, Pachauri told me, “We maintained the acronym TERI. We didn’t throw that away. I know Mr Ratan Tata has not forgiven me for that, but in these matters, you have to take decisions which will be beneficial for the organisation.”
One of the ambitions driving Pachauri was to make TERI financially self-reliant. “This was all part of a strategy, because financial autonomy gives you a certain professional independence, gives you a certain amount of protection,” he told me. According to the male researcher who had worked with TERI in its early years, Pachauri was building “an organisation in which 100 percent of the income and 100 percent of the project expenses are met by project income. There are no grants from the government or from anybody else. This is a huge feat. But in order to run an organisation like that, the management has to become a lot more authoritarian.”
“Nobody could confront Pachauri for anything,” the woman scientist who had worked with TERI told me. “You can go to him, but he doesn’t like to hear criticism.” If TERI staffers did challenge him, she said, “they were out of the office.” Each meeting he conducted, she recounted, was “a monologue, where Pachauri would talk, talk, talk, and everybody would listen. There were no questions asked.”
Every decision was controlled by Pachauri. As the former associate fellow said, “There are systems and processes within TERI, but there is also a channel that vetoes all these systems and processes, and that’s Pachauri. So he can pretty much take the last call on anything.” Though the governing council, or GC—a committee of experts from within and outside TERI, which monitors the progress and functioning of the institute—technically had authority over him, Ahuja told me that, in the institute’s initial years, Pachauri told his employees that contacting the GC with any grievances was a “fireable offence.”
When employees resigned, the male researcher who had worked with TERI in its early years said, Pachauri “would think of it as a personal slight.” The first woman who published an account of alleged harassment by Pachauri quoted a chilling warning that he issued when she quit. “When he saw my resignation letter,” she recalled, “he threatened: ‘From the airport to the University you are headed to, I have friends at every step. Let’s see if you manage to leave the country.’”
Around six months after she joined the organisation, the woman researcher who worked with TERI in the early 1990s was offered a job by the World Bank. When she told Pachauri that she was considering taking up the opportunity, he dissuaded her from resigning and offered to call the person she was in touch with at the World Bank. “Why should you call him?” she remembers thinking. “I have a job offer, you are my boss and I am telling you about it. It’s not in your place to be calling my future employer.” She believes that it was partly “subtle persuasion” and partly a “subtle threat.”
Pachauri’s clout within professional circles was so great that TERI employees devised ways to conceal information about future moves from him. Former employees told me that, particularly in the early years, it was common for researchers to closely guard or even lie about the identities of the organisations they were going to next, because they feared their job offers would be sabotaged.
The director general carefully watched over and controlled developments in TERI, through a strong camp of loyalists who supported him in any decision he made. “He needs people to run the organisation and he selects those who suck up to him,” a former research associate who worked with the renewable-energy division told me. “He promotes those people. Anyone who challenges him either gets pushed out or leaves on their own because of the conditions he creates for them.”
These staunch loyalists comprised some of the organisation’s most senior staff, including several directors. “Everybody in power has been groomed by Pachauri,” this researcher continued. “He has this dictatorial iron fist on everything.” Some of the most favoured employees, I heard, were granted benefits: unjust promotions; international trips; or repeated, and unduly high, increments. “Pachauri’s main thing is to create dependencies in people,” said a former researcher from the director general’s office, or DGO, which works directly under Pachauri. “They should not be able to function by themselves, and they should owe him something.”
Oddly for a research organisation, TERI’s staff composition was heavily skewed towards administrative employees. According to the associate fellow who has been working with the organisation since 2013, a recent informal estimate by some employees revealed that roughly 300 out of TERI’s approximately 1,000 employees are researchers; the remaining 700 or so are administrative staff. “Over the years,” a senior woman employee said, “it is believed that he has made sure such a structure gets established. These are the people who are supporting him, and they have been supporting for all the good or bad things he has been doing in his life. This is because they look at him as their godfather, the provider of their bread and butter.”
This employee told me a rift between Pachauri’s coterie of supporters and the rest of the organisation was part of the reason why there was no collective response to his behaviour towards women. A former research associate from the social-transformations division told me, “On one side, you have a young crowd which is beaming, which is enthusiastic. Then there is this regressive, old stratum. It has been there for years. It is judgmental and it is refusing to move. There have been constant struggles between these two.”
Pachauri’s shadow loomed large over the conversations I had with TERI’s present and former employees. One former research associate I met at a café in Delhi’s Khan Market would stop speaking every time someone passed by our table. A senior researcher kept looking around nervously throughout our conversation in nearby Lodhi Gardens. Another former research associate, whom I was supposed to meet at the American Diner, a restaurant at the IHC, asked to change the location because he did not “want to invite any more trouble than necessary.”
Pachauri projected himself as a strict patriarch, often in peculiar ways. He was known to chastise employees whom he saw smoking at a corner shop outside the IHC. They could be threatened with a notification to their parents, ordered back into office or made to attend workshops meant to help them quit tobacco. “It was ridiculous,” a woman research associate who joined TERI in 2014 told me. “Are we in school?”
Pachauri’s gestures of generosity could be even more bizarre. At least once every year, the former research associate who worked with the renewable-energy division said, Pachauri would send an email out to all his employees to let them know that he would be giving away toiletry kits he had collected during his various travels abroad. “The strange part wasn’t just that he sent this mail,” the former research associate told me. “It was that people actually went” to get them.
Over time, Pachauri shifted TERI’s focus away from research. The former research associate who worked with the renewable-energy division said, “Pachauri is basically interested in activities that provide him with profile. He is not particularly interested in pure research activities. The kind of work that he has been doing is driven by, ‘Are we visible? How visible are we, who is taking note of us?’” This proclivity, the researcher explained, meant that Pachauri was always keen on events such as workshops, conferences and seminars, but “with actual research work, he was not particularly there.”
Pachauri, his employees felt, ensured that TERI projected him as the face of each of its initiatives and achievements. When the IPCC won the Nobel Prize in 2007, the science editor of a current-affairs magazine recalled, TERI’s initial press release claimed that Pachauri had received the award. (The release was later withdrawn.) A woman who worked as an information analyst with TERI said, “You could not get a book out without his face on the cover, the magazine needed his editorial, you didn’t write children’s books even, or journals, without his face on it. Every project was about him. It was a well-thought-out strategy. He sells, and he knew he sells.” The male researcher who had worked with TERI in its initial years told me, “Dr Pachauri completely identified and identifies himself as TERI. So much so that, for any income that he made outside TERI, he would pay to TERI. Financially, he and TERI are completely one.”
During our conversation, Pachauri claimed that he had contributed Rs 23 crore to TERI in the last six years alone. He is not known, however, to be as forthcoming about the amount that he drew from the institution. In a February 2010 interview with The Economist, he said, “You might find that difficult to believe, but that’s a fact. I just don’t know what my salary is.”
A person who worked as an advisor at TERI nearly a decade ago believed that Pachauri’s emphasis on public prominence was only a means to a larger end. He said, “Pachauri’s vision for TERI is money. Everybody would be pressurised to bring in money: ‘What project have you got, what are your targets?’ Every meeting would be about that. The whole idea of working for a social cause evaporated.”
The research suffered. According to the woman research associate who worked with the institute in the early 1990s, “TERI was all about the rehash format. Reports, to a large degree, were just reworked and given to different organisations.” The inconsistency in the reports that TERI published did not go unnoticed. “The work at TERI was … patchy, just like its director-general’s nickname,” Jairam Ramesh told me. The science editor said that after Pachauri took over TERI, and the institute came to Delhi, “it took on very different colours, and this started giving me a very wrong perspective about where the organisation was headed.” He continued, “As for Pachauri, I knew that his science was weak—I mean, there isn’t any science to speak of.” This was surprising, he said, for someone who headed “an organisation that was doing environmental studies and dealing with environmental science and technology.”
The former research associate who worked with TERI in the early 1990s told me that, after she left the institute, she ran into a representative from the United States Agency for International Development, which had commissioned a few studies from TERI. She said the representative told her, “The reports were terrible, the work was mediocre at best.” A former research associate who worked on sustainability at TERI said, “Personally, I feel TERI is on its way down in probably the next five to ten years, if not in the next three to five years. It does not have the capacity to do the kind of exercises that are required to give good policy results or good policy analysis. There are lots of other people who are producing better results in India.”
But TERI continued to draw clients, largely on the strength of Pachauri’s networking, and of the organisation’s location in Delhi, which gave it access to key decision makers. Ahuja believed that Pachauri’s appointment as the chair of the IPCC, in 2002, also helped TERI’s clients rationalise their choice. He said, “They thought that it was an honour for them to give the money because he was the IPCC chair. They knew that these were lousy projects, that TERI has not done a good job, but international organisations were still falling over backwards to give him money.”
To most people outside TERI, the organisation and its work were inseparable from Pachauri himself. BV Sreekantan, a former member of the governing council, told me that Pachauri “built the organisation from a few crores to a few thousand crores. This credit goes to him, regardless of whether people like it or not.”
But a woman who is part of TERI’s management said, “I don’t think everyone rests on Pachauri’s laurels. There were people behind him who excelled at what they did. He created a space for people to work and do things, so a lot of credit should actually go to the professionals. It doesn’t help anyone’s case to say that he built the organisation. I’ve heard it so many times that I am tired of it now.”
Pachauri’s domineering style led to an environment in TERI where no one dared speak out against him or the institution. So much so, the woman from TERI’s management team said that, although many employees were troubled by his behaviour with the women around him for years before the formal complaint was lodged last year, everybody remained silent about it. They justified their silence, the woman said, by treating Pachauri’s conduct with his female employees as just a “matter of the two people involved.”
THE RESEARCH ASSOCIATE who joined TERI when she was 22 years old was thrilled when she was offered a job there. She was determined to prove herself capable beyond the role she had taken up. “As it is, I am very ambitious,” she told me, almost apologetically. “I would say that I would like to do so much more.”
Right away, Pachauri seemed impressed with her. “He would really go out of the way to make you feel special when you joined,” she said. Although she did not report to him directly, she “was absolutely enamoured by the fact that I would be working with someone who had an international stature and larger-than-life figure.”
Similarly, all the other eight women I spoke to who alleged that Pachauri had harassed them told me that, during their initial interactions with him, he constantly reiterated that they were talented, valuable professionals. “Each time he takes an interest in you,” a former woman research associate at TERI told me, “he does it through your work. So, it’s not about your physical appearance. It doesn’t feel like it’s because you are a woman.”
The former woman research associate had first met Pachauri at a public function in another city. After an encouraging conversation with him, she sent him her resume, and he invited her to Delhi for a TERI event. Soon after, he offered her a job with one of TERI’s divisions. When she joined, he made it a point to tell her immediate boss that she had international exposure, and would be an asset to the organisation. “You feel good about all this,” she told me. “You think that somebody is acknowledging me and giving me value. You feel very pepped up to work.” She continued, “He would text you from international waters, saying, ‘I hope work is going fine.’ And you’re thinking, ‘What a boss, yaar.’”
Though Pachauri would make it a point to regularly meet these women in his office, they gradually realised that, once they settled into the organisation, he almost never came around to talking about their work. The research associate who was 22 when she joined TERI recounted that he often left notes on her desk, asking her to meet him in his office. She would go, hopeful that they would discuss the additional responsibilities she had expressed an interest in taking on. “But there wouldn’t be any substance to his discussions,” she told me. “He would just say, ‘We will discuss it someday over drinks.’”
The former researcher from the DGO said that he peppered their initial interactions with anecdotes about his travels and his personal life. He would also ask about her social circle and personal interests. She was perplexed, but not alarmed. She assumed that the slight discomfort she felt was not because his behaviour was inappropriate, but because she was not used to figures of authority who were so easily accessible.
Once Pachauri had established a certain regularity of interaction with these women, they recounted that he would begin treading more treacherous ground. It would start, these women said, with innuendo and casually sexist comments. “He would crack a lot of non-veg jokes all the time,” the former researcher from the DGO said. “He would say these things to normalise you to such conversation.” Once, Pachauri messaged her while she was on a holiday with her friends. She responded saying that she was inebriated, and would speak to him later. She said that he replied: “Oh, it’s an orgy out there.”
The former woman research associate added that Pachauri’s jokes drew on “humour which is a little inappropriate given the employee-boss relationship.” But “it is funny,” she said, because he is a charismatic person. “You will end up laughing, and you will think, ‘He is a chilled-out guy.’” Pachauri cultivated this image so effortlessly that women would second-guess themselves before they articulated, or even acknowledged, that they were uneasy with his behaviour. “He was very friendly and he was never like a boss,” the first woman to release a public letter told me. “He tried to demolish that hierarchy, which I was constantly very aware of.” She said that he repeatedly attempted to give her the impression that, “We are on the same ground, we are buddies.”
Pachauri would attempt to deepen this familiarity in a variety of ways. Four out of the nine women I spoke to recalled his peculiar insistence on being introduced to their families. The information analyst was taken aback when Pachauri’s queries about her parents were followed by the suggestion that he should “meet them someday.” She said, “I would think, ‘No. I work for you. This is not a parent-teachers meeting. Why would I want you to meet my parents?’” The former woman research associate was equally stumped by Pachauri’s repeated requests to take her parents to his farmhouse in Gurgaon. He called her father and told him that it would be an honour to meet the parents of such a wonderful woman. Her father entertained Pachauri over the phone, but once the call was over, he looked at his daughter and said, “Samajh mein nahi aaya”—I don’t understand.
In retrospect, the former research associate said, she thought this was a tactic to ensure that women would hesitate to approach their families with any concerns. “He does these things,” she told me, “to figure out the strength of the family, to see how susceptible they will be to his charm.” That way, she added, if a woman did want to talk about her discomfort with Pachauri, her family, having interacted with him, might “advise her to give him the benefit of doubt.”
I asked Pachauri about this, telling him that the women I spoke to felt that he was crossing professional boundaries with these requests. “I treat TERI like a family,” he replied. He told me that he had given “instructions to everybody in TERI that if their children come to work on weekends, they must come and see me, and I give them chocolates. Now if I can give the children chocolates, what’s wrong with my meeting parents? I don’t see anything inappropriate or insulting in doing that.”
Many of the people I spoke to said that Pachauri would often give women nicknames, and then insist on using them, even after they had expressed discomfort with them. A former TERI employee, who briefly worked with the DGO, recalled that Pachauri called one woman GOLF—Girl of Little Faith—and another Little Mermaid. The first woman who wrote a public letter noted in it that, soon after she joined TERI, Pachauri gave her a “sexually suggestive nickname,” which she did not reveal. A former TERI employee who went on to join a public-sector undertaking recalled that, in the early years of the institute, Pachauri was in the habit of referring to a woman employee whose last name was Kaul as “Kaul girl.”
Pachauri also sent female employees poems. In one case, the former researcher from the DGO told me, two women realised that they had been sent the same poem, with a convenient alteration to the section of it that contained their names.
Though many women felt uncomfortable with Pachauri’s behaviour, they refrained from speaking out because they saw that other employees did not seem surprised when he made offensive, sexual comments in public. The staff would brush it off by saying things like, “He is like that only, just ignore him,” the woman who is part of the management team at TERI told me.
The former research associate who was 22 years old when she joined the organisation told me that Pachauri once stopped by her desk to ask her for an update on her projects. After her colleague and she summarised the progress they had made, she recounted, he said, “Well, make sure you reach your financial targets or I’ll auction the two of you and make for the deficit.” On another occasion, as a group picture was being taken in the office, the photographer asked her to move in closer to the director general. Pachauri, she told me, turned to her and quipped, “What happened? Come close, I am not going to bite you. I might do other things to you, but I will not bite you.” The woman cringed, but “everyone laughed as though it wasn’t demeaning,” she told me. “The idea was that he didn’t intentionally say anything. He was being very jovial. And when he is being jovial he can say anything to you.”
The former information analyst told me of a particularly humiliating ordeal she suffered at an event she helped organise. She was 23 years old then, and had worked hard for the event, which she was anticipating it with a mix of panic and excitement. Dressed in a sari and wearing heels, she stood backstage with Pachauri and a few of her male colleagues. Suddenly, she recounted, Pachauri turned to the men in the room and said, about her, “This one is a pretty girl, isn’t she? This one is a smart one.” The information analyst looked at him, paralysed. She had been the person Pachauri had coordinated with to arrange every tiny detail of the event, and he was now dismissing her as just a “pretty face.” The men laughed and told him, “We’ve seen prettier.” The former information analyst’s face was flushed even as she described this incident to me this March.
“It was ridiculously sexist,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is horrible.’ I didn’t articulate it in the moment, of course, because I thought that it is only right to laugh, and I stood there, uncomfortably giggling.” But Pachauri’s comments had a much deeper impact on her than she let on at the event. She told me, “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘Why is he looking at me like that?’ I have never felt more objectified in my life.”
A woman who worked with TERI Press recounted how Pachauri pressured her to put him in touch with a publisher who could release his novel. This eventually came out as Return to Almora, which tells the story of Sanjay Nath, an academic turned environmentalist, and his spiritual realisations and sexual conquests. The woman said that Pachauri described to her, in detail, the fascination that Nath held for women’s breasts. The first woman to release a public letter stated that Pachauri had asked her to read the preliminary draft of the novel. “When I thumbed through the manuscript, I came across graphic descriptions of sex,” she wrote in her letter. “I was horrified and angry that he gave something of this nature to a young female employee who was younger than his children.”
The plot of the novel appears to bear disquieting parallels with Pachauri’s real life. In it, a woman tells the protagonist that she is pursuing a relationship with her boss, who is in an unhappy marriage. “It was the old familiar story of an older, more powerful man exploiting this younger, more impressionable woman who was new to the organisation,” Nath thinks to himself.
Nath’s disapproval for such arrangements notwithstanding, the women I spoke to told me that Pachauri used the excuse of a tumultous relationship with his wife to justify his own trespasses. Several of them recalled him saying that his relationship with his wife was purely platonic. The woman who worked with TERI Press told me that he would often speak about “his volatile family life.”
The institute’s tacit acceptance of Pachauri’s conduct also meant that he often took liberties with women in public. Particularly well known was his affinity for lifting women into the air, usually at parties. Many women in the institute came to dread their birthdays because it would mean that he would use the occasion as an excuse to lift them up. The woman from the management team who has been with TERI for more than a decade said, “Picking up of women was his habit. I have seen him do it. He would do it in jest. I found it disgusting. There are women who’ve told him, ‘Dr Pachauri, please. Stay away.’ But then there are some other people who just don’t know how to handle something like this.”
A senior employee from TERI remembered feeling acutely embarrassed when Pachauri picked her up on her birthday several years ago. “Many years back, he did pick me up when a birthday song was sang,” she told me. “He said that, ‘I can give her the birthday bump,’ and he just picked me up. I was at a loss of words, I never expected that.” Since such behaviour on Pachauri’s part had become common, she did not even consider complaining. “Because I had observed him do that with many people, I brushed it away thinking that he gives it to everybody,” she said.
Indeed, the first woman to release a public letter told me, “Men who would stand next to us would say, ‘Ab dekhte hain aaj kisko uthata hai, ab kiski baari hai’”—let’s see who he picks up today, whose turn it is. “Women would actually literally run away from him giggling, laughing.”
Eight of the nine women I spoke to told me that Pachauri’s unwelcome displays of affection extended into their private meetings with him. It was customary for him to sweep a woman into an embrace when she was either entering or leaving his office. The woman who worked with TERI Press told me, “While you are conversing across the table, your defence is in the control. But when you are leaving, he would get up and walk you up to the door. That is when he tries to get physical.”
Exchanging hugs as a form of salutation is not uncommon, but the fervour with which Pachauri held the women made them feel violated. The former researcher from the DGO told me, “When he hugs, he tries to hug you really tight and then he loosens the grip just enough so he has you at face level. It’s just something you have to deal with by pushing him away.” The former information analyst said that he would “envelop you in this bear hug, squeeze your boobs, and my hands would be flailing outside in a silent protest, saying I am not responding to this, and then I would push him.”
She decided to make it a point to sit down across from Pachauri as soon as she entered his office. But when she tried this, she recounted, he said, “What is this? Get up, give me a hug!” The woman who worked with TERI Press said that, occasionally, Pachauri would “try to put his hand on my back and try to feel my bra strap.”
The information analyst recounted that, during one meeting, she had decided that she would simply not allow Pachauri to hug her. She said that as he approached her for his customary embrace, she crossed her arms in front of her. Pachauri, she said, pried her arms open and drew her in. “That was the moment which stuck in my head,” she said. “That was the moment in which I got uncomfortable. But it wasn’t just that. It was a lot more than that. It was the sense of shame that I had that this had happened to me.”
Over time, these women said, the frequency and duration of their interactions in Pachauri’s office would increase. The conversations would become more overtly personal, with Pachauri commenting on their appearances, and their sexual and personal lives, and encouraging them to meet him outside the office. In some cases, they said, he would also grow bolder with his physical advances.
The first woman to release a public letter told me that Pachauri once called her to his office at 8 am, citing a pressing project on which he needed her assistance. There were no other employees on his floor at that hour. Pachauri asked her to sit on his desk so that she could work on the document he had prepared. When she did, he stood behind her. Then, he told her she looked beautiful with wet hair. In another instance, she said, he held her and kissed her on the face just before she left his office.
The former research associate had married at a young age and was divorced by the time she joined the institute. Pachauri, she told me, would often bring up her marital history, offering his sympathy and unsolicited advice. During one of these exchanges, she said, he asked her why she had not remarried. She told him that she was not inclined to. “Don’t tell me a woman like you hasn’t slept around after your divorce,” she told me he replied. “The first time, I just laughed, wondering if he actually said that to me,” she recalled. “I was flabbergasted, because he would say it in a concerned tone, like a dad would say these things.”
Several employees from TERI—both men and women—told me that Pachauri could also grow frighteningly possessive with women. He would chide them for their taste in men, criticise their partners and accuse them of flirting with their male colleagues. The researcher who had worked with TERI in the early 1990s told me that, when she got engaged towards the end of her two-year stint at the institute, “Pachauri was obnoxious about it.” She said, “He would make derogatory remarks about my relationship with my fiancé, about what I was doing with my life.” The former researcher from the DGO said that Pachauri would constantly put her partner down, telling her that she deserved better. On one occasion, Pachauri rebuked her for conversing with a well-known personality he was sharing the stage with for a public lecture. “Aap badi baatein kar rahe the saath mein”—you both seemed to have a lot to talk about, Pachauri told the woman.
These women told me that Pachauri could react unpredictably when they tried to quell his advances. The second woman who released a public letter alleging that she had been harassed by Pachauri told me over email, “On previous occasions I remember him becoming in a very bad mood, almost childishly so, after I had politely tried to invoke distance between us.” He would berate the women for misconstruing his warmth, express his abject hurt at being mistaken for a predator, or brush aside their objections entirely. The former woman research associate told me, “The more you resist, the more aggressive he gets. There comes a stage when you’re either cutting off each sexual undertone or you’re ignoring it.”
Years later, many of the women wondered why their unease was not more pronounced when Pachauri first crossed the line. The former researcher from the DGO told me, “You just think that this is a poor guy who has fallen in love with you, you don’t think of it as sexual harassment at all. Throughout the time that he was harassing me, I never thought of it as harassment.” A second former researcher from the DGO said, “Even when I was facing this with Pachauri, I thought bad things only happen to others and not me. It took me time to realise that I am being objectified. I actually felt like an object. This man, forget treating me like a woman, he had failed to treat me like a human being.” For most women, she said, “the word harassment is so strong, that you don’t want to feel that, ‘I was sexually harassed.’” The second woman to release a public letter—who is a citizen of a European country—told me that she did not report Pachauri’s actions to any of the senior directors because, “For me at that time, the concept of being harassed was a more violent one.”
But even as these women struggle to articulate their experiences today, the former research associate who worked with TERI in the 1990s said that identifying harassment was even more difficult then, because awareness of gender crimes was abysmally low. “We grew up in sheltered environments,” she said. Women could recognise “overt misbehaviour on the road or in a DTC bus,” but Pachauri’s behaviour “is more suave harassment, which one is not really used to.” The woman from TERI Press agreed. “It never came to the point where I said, ‘Dr Pachauri stop it,’” she said. “You have to also think, in 2006, gender harassment and these things were still not widely discussed.” The former research associate who worked with TERI in the 1990s believes that today, “women are less hesitant to come out.”
Some women told me they faced professional setbacks after trying to distance themselves from Pachauri. The former research associate who had joined the organisation when she was 22 years old recounted that, after she repeatedly tried to discuss work with him only to be met with invitations to drinks, she rebuffed him. “I don’t think we have anything to discuss,” she remembered telling him. “Because I will not drink and you will not discuss anything of importance with me until I drink. So, I better go.” She told me that she felt the repercussions of this confrontation immediately. Pachauri discouraged her division’s director, a senior woman employee, from including her in projects, arguing that she did not add any value to the work she was assigned. Her boss, who was impressed with the former research associate’s work, would defend her. The former research associate recounted her superior repeatedly saying, “I don’t understand what his problem with you is.”
When her probationary period of six months was over, the former research associate secured a permanent position at TERI with her boss’s support. But she would still have “sleepless nights” before any meetings with Pachauri. “I did not have the luxury of getting by with any mistake,” she told me. “The smallest of mistakes, he would spot them and highlight it and send it back to me. He may have ignored it if it was others, but nothing got ignored for me.”
The former woman research associate recounted a sequence of events that indicated how Pachauri could react when women challenged him. After calling her to his office one day, she said, Pachauri made a sexually suggestive remark. She responded by saying that such behaviour did not befit a person of his age. He responded, “A man is only as old as the woman he dates.” Then, to her horror, he picked her up and strode across the room. She recounted that she forced him to let her down and told Pachauri, “As a woman, for me, all I have is my respect.” If anyone else in the organisation were to spot them, she added, “no one will point a finger at you, they will point a finger at me.”
Frustrated by his increasingly frequent propositioning, she decided to report the matter to the senior directors at the institute. To her dismay, she said, she found that even senior women employees did not take the issue seriously. When she approached her immediate superior, a senior woman director, she was told, “Uska khada nahi hona waise bhi, kya farak padta hai (How does it matter, he cannot get it up anyway). He’s harmless.” She was dumbstruck. “I didn’t know how to react to that,” she told me.
The former woman research associate was left desperate. She hadn’t anticipated the institute’s lack of cooperation. She tried reaching out to other employees, but then realised that “all lanes lead to one person and one room.” She grew emotionally and mentally exhausted. She had spent more than six months in the institute without being assigned any noteworthy projects, and was anxious about how her stint at TERI would reflect on her resume. “You get scared,” she told me. “Because you are thinking, ‘How will I go out in the market, I have not learnt anything.’”
Cornered, she decided to speak to Pachauri to ask for a role that would better suit her. To her relief, he told her that he would ensure that she was treated fairly, and would help her procure the opportunities she was being denied.
But despite his assurances, she said, her situation did not improve. Pachauri initiated a project that involved several divisions at TERI, and asked the woman to be its single point of contact for coordinating between the various divisions. He called a meeting that included several directors, introduced her to them as the project head, and allocated a budget for its execution. The woman was encouraged. She told me, “You think, ‘Maybe he has assumed I am going to be a workhorse.’ You keep hoping against hope, because you’re sinking by the minute.”
But when she began work on the project and reached out to the directors who had been called to the meeting, they brushed her off. One of them told her that Pachauri often launched projects to impress the women he was trying to woo, but that these ventures seldom saw the light of day.
“And that director was right,” she told me. “Nothing moved.” Disheartened, she informed Pachauri that she was unable to convince any of the directors to participate. She told me he wrote them stern emails and reprimanded them for their attitude. “But he knew the director would do nothing, and the director knew that this was Pachauri’s modus operandi,” she said. She realised in retrospect that, “There is just a new kid on the block, and Pachauri is making her run around. She would go back to Pachauri defeated, and say, ‘Nahi ho raha hai—it’s not happening.’ And Pachauri would then say, ‘No problem, you come to the DGO. I will be your immediate boss then.’”
Looking back at how she was treated, the former woman research associate believes that Pachauri “very strategically tries to disempower you, so that you have self-doubt. You break down, you start crying in front of him and he gets an opportunity to put his hand on your back and say, ‘It’s all going to be okay. I didn’t mean for it to be like this.’ Just when he starts doing that, you think, ‘Maybe he will realise that I am not somebody who is going to sleep with him. Maybe he will give me work now.’ And then, the moment you go with your pen and paper, and you wipe your tears, he starts again. He is playing with your psychology till you break down.”
She told me that she also attempted to secure her position within the organisation by talking to another senior woman director, telling her about the harassment and her professional stagnation. According to her, the director heard her out, and said, “No, I am sorry, you are mistaken. You are wanting in your demeanour and your official conduct.” Close to a year after this woman joined TERI, she left.
Around a fortnight after she resigned, she said, Pachauri contacted her. He beseeched her to meet him, saying he would be unable to forgive himself until he apologised. He added that he would be uncomfortable meeting her at the TERI office because the employees at the institute bore her ill will. She relented, and allowed him to visit her at her house. She recounted that he arrived at 4.30 pm, carrying luggage, saying he had just disembarked from a flight. His suitcase contained bottles of alcohol, one of which he suggested opening, so that he could raise a toast to her new journey. During the course of their conversation, she said, he asked if he could kiss her. Furious, and worried that she would lash out at him, she asked him to leave. She recounted telling him, “I don’t want to talk to you. Because right now I am scared, and in my fear I might do something that you and I might both regret.’” Pachauri, she said, told her, “If you think you’re going to get away with this, you’re mistaken. I am going to finish you here and I am going to finish you anywhere you are.”
OF THE HARROWING ACCOUNTS I heard of alleged harassment by Pachauri, among the worst were those of women who worked directly under him, in the DGO. “Their misery was the worst,” the former research associate who had joined TERI when she was 22 years old said. The DGO, in which the complainant in the case against Pachauri had also worked, was situated on the fifth floor of the IHC, adjacent to Pachauri’s own office. Its staff, who were derisively called “DGO girls” by other TERI employees, were relatively isolated from the research staff, most of whom were distributed across other floors.
The women who worked with the DGO were often the subjects of brutally sexist commentary. “The corridor gossip,” a former male research associate told me, was that if a woman was under 30 and “hot,” she met the “eligibility criteria to work in his office.” According to the former research associate who worked with the renewable-energy division, the DGO was staffed by “very smart girls,” but “generally, you get the feeling that they are hired just because the guy wants eye candy.”
Some employees told me that they resented the DGO because it did not generate any revenue, leaving other divisions to cover its costs. The associate fellow who has been working with TERI since 2013 said, “Some of us were a little frustrated with the DGO, because whenever you bid for a project you have to factor in the DGO as a cost centre.”
The DGO staff were also envied for the opportunities they received. The former research associate who joined TERI when she was 22 years old told me that “the rest of TERI hated them because they got to travel with him and they got to go to meetings with him.” Some of them were fresh out of university, she said, and would, as part of their roles, meet “people like the secretary general of the United Nations. Who would not envy that?”
The women from the DGO whom I spoke to told me that their jobs were far from enriching. Not only were the DGO staff isolated from the rest of the organisation, they were also isolated from each other. Many researchers told me that Pachauri would suggest that he did not appreciate them speaking to one another, and would hint that he thought that it would “distract them,” harming their career prospects.
Further, though the opportunities for travel made DGO jobs appear glamourous, the women found the work they had to do on work trips demeaning. The former researcher from the DGO told me Pachauri would ask her to accompany him for conferences that centred on fields of study in which she had no expertise. This dented her self-confidence, since she could rarely contribute anything of value. “There would never be any substantial work,” she said, “so there was nothing that I could talk about. In a way it is the slow crushing of your perception of your intellect, so that you would stop believing in yourself.”
Two of the former DGO employees I spoke to told me that Pachauri often undermined their independence on these trips. “If you meet other people, he will make you write things down in front of them, and make you feel like his assistant,” one of the women said. “The former researcher from the DGO also recalled that though he would always refer to her as “my colleague” when he introduced her to other dignitaries, he made his displeasure clear if she sought to speak to them on her own.
The daily contact and regular travel with Pachauri made it harder for the women in the DGO to maintain a professional distance from him. On flights, these women told me, Pachauri often ensured that they travelled with him in business class, and that they were seated next to him. Here, several employees from both the DGO and other divisions told me, he would make overtures, ranging from detailing his sexual exploits to holding his employee’s hand. On one occasion, Pachauri gave the second former researcher a graphic description of a sexual encounter he had once had with a woman on a flight. He confessed that he did not feel very good about it afterwards, but was glad that he had given her a “good time.”
Yet, to a passive observer, Pachauri came across as a shining example of a great boss. The second former researcher from the DGO told me that he would insist on carrying her luggage at the airport, despite her protests. This veneer of chivalry, she said, was his way of reiterating his claim on her. Noticing his gesture, a member of an airline’s ground crew once remarked to her that she was lucky to have such a considerate colleague.
Once they reached their destinations, the women told me, Pachauri would ensure that they were housed in the same place as him—often in a room adjoining his. The former researcher from the DGO said that Pachauri would call her to his room under the pretext of preparing for an event, but would then bombard her with suggestive comments and pressure her to drink with him. More than once, she said, he received her in a robe, declaring that he was wearing his “birthday suit” underneath. Even if DGO staff weren’t staying in close proximity to Pachauri, the women told me, he would sometimes show up at their rooms at odd hours of the night, offering feeble excuses for doing so.
The former research associate who joined TERI when she was 22 years old told me that her friends from the DGO would often conjure excuses to escape such encounters. Some had their friends on speed dial, with the understanding that “the moment you got a missed call from their number, you had to call them immediately.” When they received these calls, the women would feign conversations. This research associate recounted that women “would say, ‘Hello, aunty, oh hello, uncle. I am in a very bad signal area, I have to step out. Excuse me, Dr Pachauri, I have to take this call, I am very sorry about that,’ and then they would exit.”
Refusing to travel with Pachauri, the researchers from the DGO told me, was difficult. Since these trips were all supposedly part of their work, Pachauri would call the women unprofessional if they attempted to excuse themselves. He would rebuke them similarly if they told him that they were not comfortable working late hours, or on weekends. The former researcher from the DGO said, “Any time that I said I don’t want to come to work on a Saturday, or stay late, it was that. ‘Oh, all you want to do is party. This is all fun to you. You’ve got all these things so easy. You don’t realise, you don’t put in any effort.’”
Some women told me that, after their initial interactions, Pachauri would declare that he had fallen in love with them. When they turned him down, they recounted, he would insist that he had resigned himself to unrequited love. He would say he did not expect anything from them, but that he could not help his overpowering emotions. The former researcher from the DGO told me, “He makes us feel bad for saying no to him. It would be, ‘I love you. I would give anything for you, and this is not sexual, this is not physical.’” Some women recounted that he would often cry in front of them, and tell them he was profoundly lonely. The women, who would already be filled with self-doubt over whether they had encouraged his behaviour, would also now feel guilt at his apparently wretched state. Recounting her own experiences, and those of some other women she had spoken to, the researcher said, “We’ve all felt pity for him in stages, and we have been softer in our saying no, because of that pity.”
By disguising his alleged harassment as the behaviour of a lonely man in the sway of an overpowering infatuation, Pachauri induced a sense of confusion among the women he targeted. They would be uncomfortable, but also feel guilty for the pain they would think they were causing him. Their guilt would often subdue their anger, not because the anger was unfounded, but because it was unfamiliar. As women, our first conditioned response to assault is often to question our role in inviting it. If we do manage to overcome the sense of assumed complicity, our next instinct is often to wonder whether we are overreacting to the situation. Those of us who do break out of these conditioned responses must then grapple with another daunting question: where will the public expression of this anger lead us, and at what cost?
The women from the DGO I spoke to told me that if a woman offended Pachauri, or turned down his advances repeatedly, it was not uncommon for him to retaliate by telling her that she was performing poorly at work, and transfer some of her projects to another woman within the office. The former researcher from the DGO said that after she confronted Pachauri about his behaviour, he took her off a work trip she was scheduled to go on, and went with a newer DGO employee instead. Such measures made for “a very hostile environment,” she said. Another woman from the DGO said that Pachauri once told her that a colleague had accused her of bad-mouthing him. When she asked the colleague about this, they both realised that Pachauri was concocting stories to drive a wedge between them. They decided that it would be easier to pretend that he had succeeded.
The women from the DGO told me that Pachauri tried to cultivate their dependency on him, repeatedly belittling them and reminding them that they owed him for their professional progress. Slowly, they would begin to believe that they did, indeed, depend on him absolutely. The second former researcher from the DGO said, “He talks to you in such a degrading and aggressive manner, just to break you down and make you understand that you have not reached this position because of your hard work, but because of sheer luck.”
When the women did confront Pachauri, he could be unforgiving. For the second woman to release a public letter, who was recruited into the DGO as a 19-year-old, the tipping point came when, not long after she joined, Pachauri invited her to his “summer house outside the city” for a weekend. He told her that his wife was out of town, and that they would be alone. “At this point I felt genuinely scared of what his motives for inviting me over were,” she wrote in the letter she released. Her friends, she told me in an email, advised her to fake illness and cite a doctor’s appointment. But she could not bear any more of his advances. This is when, she said in her letter, she decided “to speak out and set a firm limit. I told him that he needed to behave more professionally and that I wanted us to have no other contact than during office hours.”
Pachauri did not appreciate her candour, she recounted. He curtly told her that he was merely trying to make her feel welcome in India, and ended the conversation, saying that he was busy. Soon after, she asked for a transfer to another division in TERI. Although her request was granted, Pachauri continued to summon her to his office occasionally, under flimsy pretexts. When she told him firmly that she was not comfortable with their interactions, he called her for a final meeting.
The woman’s original contract stated that TERI had hired her for a year, but, after just four months, Pachauri told her he was ending her employment. She was shocked, but also glad. In her letter, she wrote, “When he terminated my contract, I did not think there was any point in contesting it, as from my conversations with former employees at TERI I had gotten the feeling that it would be of little use trying to challenge any decision of Pachauri’s. I also felt very relieved that I would not have to face Pachauri’s sexual harassment any longer.” She left Delhi a few weeks later, and returned to Europe. Given the fact that she was a young woman who was living away from home for the first time, she told me, “I look back and feel proud about that I did in fact stand up for myself and set firm limits against a man of such power and so little decency.”
OVER THE COURSE of my reporting, four former and present employees referred to an exchange in the movie Spotlight, which had recently won an Oscar award for best picture. The film portrays a newspaper’s investigation of sex-abuse allegations against Catholic priests. The employees used the film to explain why they also held TERI, as an institution, responsible for Pachauri’s actions. In the scene, a lawyer explains to a reporter how the church colluded with the priests. “Mark my words,” the lawyer says. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The full extent of what this meant became apparent to me gradually, as different women took me through the details of their experiences with Pachauri, as well as through TERI’s largely unsupportive responses to their ordeals.
TERI’s culture was shaped by Pachauri’s autocratic tendencies. The second woman to release a public letter told me over email that she often heard about Pachauri “being a dictator, meddling in every decision.” This, she said, was a significant reason for the institute’s indecisive “and cowardly way of reacting to the allegations he is now facing.”
The woman from the management team suggested that TERI employees’ reticence also stemmed from the fact that the organisation functioned like “a family-run enterprise.” She added, “This was evoked time and again, that we are a family, we need to get together and see what to do.” As a result, she said, TERI lost “sight of the fact that you are a public institution and you are answerable to what society expects of you.”
This diffidence was evident in the way people responded when women did speak out. The former research associate who joined the organisation when she was 22 years old recounted that when she tried to speak about Pachauri’s inappropriate conduct in conversations with other TERI employees, they “would brush it under the carpet, saying, ‘He is a 72-year-old. How bad can his intention be? He is a very grandfatherly figure.’” Apart from the women who alleged that Pachauri harassed them, most other TERI employees I spoke to described Pachauri’s actions in relatively benign terms. Rather than a sexual harasser, they described him as a “womaniser” or a man with a “glad-eye.”
The first woman who wrote a public letter told me people would say of Pachauri, “thode rangeele mizaaj ke hain”—he has a colourful character. “It is that sort of thing that has made us accept and endure these things.” She also wrote in her letter that when she complained about Pachauri’s behaviour to Murli Manohar Joshi—a retired Indian Air Force officer who is now a distinguished fellow at TERI, and was then the director of administration, services and TERI Press—he “refused to believe me, saying that I may have misread Mr RK Pachauri’s warmth, that such things had never been reported.” She added that he “requested me to end the matter there and started to show me a meditative selfhelp magazine that he subscribed to.”
Though it may seem surprising that an organisation with a fairly high proportion of women in senior roles did not clearly formulate an opposition to Pachauri, a researcher and activist who has been observing TERI explained that these senior employees “just own their parts” of TERI. Overall, he said, “the institution is Pachauri.”
Further, based on my interactions with TERI employees, it appeared that senior women were often also at the receiving end of sexism at TERI. Many employees seemed to believe that these women had attained success not because they were deserving, but because they had reciprocated Pachauri’s advances. A former TERI researcher who worked with the organisation from 1990 to 1995 expressed his unstinting support for the complainant, even as he told me that he had little patience for the “Lady chamchas”—sycophants—whom Pachauri apparently cultivated.
The former information analyst told me, “There was never any proof for most of these things that you keep hearing of. It was always more malicious than anything else.” Rather than Pachauri, she added, it was the women who were the target of scorn in these conversations. People would say “that they are sleazy, that they have risen to the top because they have slept with him. But it was never looked at as something he also did, that it was wrong of him to be doing this.”
The resentment against these seniors seemed to have become enmeshed with a kind of voyeurism. Many people I spoke to would tell me of a woman director who had been “caught” in a comprising position with Pachauri at the TERI guesthouse, in Delhi’s Defence Colony. They would claim that another woman director had entered the organisation as a member of the administrative staff and moved up the ladder solely because she had charmed Pachauri. They would often also declare with certainty that his relationship with another woman director had resulted in a son, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Pachauri.
Few acknowledged that, even if these rumours were true, those women, too, were in unequal power relationships with Pachauri. Those who, in office gossip circles, casually bandied about the idea that certain women had received professional benefits in exchange for sexual favours perhaps did not realise that they were describing another form of sexual harassment. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act also deals with such harassment, commonly termed “quid pro quo harassment”—in which women receive the implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment in exchange for sexual favours.
The rumours that certain women had entered into relationships with Pachauri were often used to question the credentials of any women perceived as being close to him. According to the woman from the management team, irrespective of the quality of work these women did, “in the public eye, the institute at large just thought, ‘Here is another one,’ and you would have already prejudged them.’” The former research associate who worked with the social-transformations division told me, “There was this understanding that was universal in the organisation: that this happens, that this was accepted and that women work with him because they are promiscuous.”
Even those employees I spoke to who knew of women who had allegedly faced harassment by Pachauri, and told me that they were supportive of their struggles, had been reluctant to reach out to try and help them. In fact, some criticised the women for not speaking out themselves. “I understand when a guy who has a family to support is unable to speak up,” said one male former researcher, a vocal supporter of the main complainant. “But I can’t understand why a woman who just needs her salary to buy her next set of cosmetics isn’t.”
But the woman from the management team said she believed that speaking up against Pachauri wasn’t just the responsibility of the women he had allegedly violated. “Ultimately,” she said, “everyone is connected and complicit. It is not his business—it is everybody’s business. If this happened, I think we ought to live in shame because, for years, we didn’t do anything about it.”
AS PART OF HER COMPLAINT against Pachauri, the former TERI researcher submitted to the police copies of thousands of emails, SMSes and WhatsApp messages that she alleged he had sent her. Together, they present a picture of the suffocating harassment she says Pachauri subjected her to.
Pachauri sends her poems, professes his desperate love for her, chides her for not accepting his affections, and declares that he will punish himself. At 9.53 pm on 1 October 2013, he wrote to her that “every breath of mine has you at the centre.” Later the same day, he told her that “just to prove how much I love you, I shall go on a fast after the cricket match tomorrow. I will break the fast only when you tell me that you believe I love you with sincerity and unfathomable depth.” To him, she wrote, “I do believe you and you know it but I felt a little violated. Please you are not to grab me and or kiss me.”
In other messages, Pachauri himself refers to his physical advances towards the complainant. “Even when I ‘grabbed your body,’” he wrote in an email on 14 November 2013, “I had my left hand over your right breast. Did I make even the slightest attempt to hold it in my hand or fondle you there?”
Things appear to have come to a head on 6 December 2014, when, in a message, he told her to “reflect on the massive insult you heaped on me by indicating that I was so toxic that you would prefer not to sit next to me on the plane. If that be the case there is no room for any interaction between us.” He continued, “If you had any human sensitivity, you would have realised what you have done and possibly apologised. You are welcome to remain a paid guest of TERI.” Around two months later, the researcher filed her internal complaint and criminal complaint against Pachauri.
Since news of the police complaint surfaced, Pachauri has denied sending the messages. On 26 February, the investigating officer in the case told the Saket district court that on 17 February, Pachauri filed an FIR at the Lodhi Colony police station claiming that his electronic devices and email had been hacked. When I asked Pachauri’s lawyer about this, he said, “It is misconception that my client has raised any plea of hacking; the assertion of my client has been misuse of his accounts and devices.”
On the morning of 24 February 2015, Pachauri sent an email to TERI staff. “In view of the present circumstances and in the interest of taking an immediate decision for removing any fears of my influencing the due processes being followed within the Institute,” he wrote, “I am proceeding on leave for the time being with immediate effect.” In the meantime, Pachauri decreed, his duties would be delegated to Leena Srivasatava, who was the executive director of TERI at that time. But even after he ostensibly distanced himself from TERI, as the case progressed through the institute’s internal complaints committee, the extent of Pachauri’s continuing hold over the organisation became unnervingly clear.
When the complainant filed her internal complaint on 9 February 2015, TERI’s ICC consisted of Ranjana Saikia, then the director of environment, education and youth services; Suruchi Bhadwal, an associate director; PK Agarwal, now a senior consultant with the institute; and Meeta Mehra, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who served as the mandatory external—that is, non-TERI—member. The senior employee told me that the process by which the institute constituted the ICC was surprisingly informal. Its formation, she explained, was first discussed in a meeting attended by TERI’s committee of directors in early 2014. Once the structure of the ICC was described, she said, Pachauri seemed to have selected at random the directors who would be on the committee. Remarkably, this appointment process yielded a small group that showed incredible resilience under the pressure it later faced within the organisation.
The tone of Saikia’s mails to Pachauri made clear that she was determined to conduct a fair inquiry. On 25 February, she sent him an email and solicited his response. She wrote, “You were given a copy of the complaint document on Tuesday 17th Feb 2015.” She pointed out that he was obligated, by law, to send the committee a response within ten working days. “It is important that you submit this to the committee along with relevant documents and a list of witnesses,” she wrote.
Pachauri replied with a handwritten note, dodging Saikia’s instruction. “I am currently hospitalised and under treatment for a serious cardiac condition,” he wrote. “Hence, the brevity of this response.” He asserted that he was aware that the researcher had “filed a complaint with the Delhi Police, and the matter is under investigation, thus making it sub-judice. However, if there is anything I can do to assist with the functioning of the Committee on the subject, I would be pleased to assist in whatever way possible.”
Saikia was not satisfied. She sent Pachauri another email. “The received response is incomplete as you have not provided medical papers to substantiate the same,” she noted. She explained that, as per the law, the ICC proceedings would run in parallel with the legal process. For the ICC to make progress, “we would require your response to the documented complaint along with a list of witnesses and supporting documents,” she said.
By the time the ICC began its formal investigation, Mehra, who had numerous affiliations with TERI, had recused herself as the external member, and Sonal Mattoo, a lawyer who specialises in workplace harassment and diversity issues, had replaced her. But Mehra wasn’t the only ICC member who faced potential conflicts of interest in sitting on the committee. In an ICC meeting held on 2 March, at which the complainant was present, Agarwal made clear his displeasure at her decision to go to the police. After she expressed her discomfort with his comments, Saikia sent her an email on 1 April to inform her that Agarwal had been hospitalised for a surgery, and had taken a leave of absence from TERI for a period of 45 days. She explained that he would not be a part of the ICC proceedings, adding that the decision to exclude him had, in fact, been taken before he developed health complications. Since the quorum for an ICC is three people, Saikia, Bhadwal and Mattoo decided to proceed with the inquiry.
During the course of its inquiry, the committee held several meetings with both Pachauri and the complainant, studied the documented evidence that both provided, and met witnesses who testified anonymously in the case. Of the 49 witnesses who appeared before the ICC, 19 spoke in favour of the researcher and 30 in favour of Pachauri.
In an email exchange, the complainant told me that convincing even those 19 people to speak about their experiences within the institute had been an arduous task. She had “no support from the organisation,” she wrote. “At the end of the day, it is made out to be someone else’s problem and not theirs.” She said that after she filed the complaint, she had received general messages of support from colleagues, such as “Hope you are well.” But when she asked them to testify, “most of them shirked doing anything of this nature.”
The process, an employee who knew the ICC members told me, was also distressing for the women who were on the committee. The internal members had no previous experience in conducting an inquiry of this kind; this was the first case they had been presented with after the committee was formed, in 2014. “It’s a big thing, acquitting or convicting a person,” the employee said. She believed that the ICC members had “no tools or techniques to get into the depth of things,” and had to shoulder a considerable “burden” through the process.
An employee from TERI who knew the members of the ICC told me that, at first, Pachauri seemed confident that the committee “would buckle down and put out the kind of report he wanted.” But over the course of the meetings, Pachauri “realised that this was not a group of people who were buying what he was saying.”
The committee members followed procedures rigorously, even while sections of TERI’s staff grew hostile towards them. The employee from TERI who knew the ICC members told me that they were constantly harangued by their colleagues about the inquiry, and told on multiple occasions that an unfavourable verdict would reflect badly on not just Pachauri, but on the institution too. Some employees told me that ICC members were often told, through the grapevine, that higher-ups at TERI wanted them to favour Pachauri.
Although Agarwal did not participate in the inquiry, he sent the committee his observations based on the ICC’s initial meetings with the complainant and Pachauri. In an email to Saikia on 17 May, he noted that the researcher had decided to file her complaint only after Pachauri had told her that she would be removed from the DGO. He added that since Pachauri had mentioned that he knew her parents, she should have approached them, or TERI’s director of human resources, for an intervention, instead of “going public.” Agarwal concluded that Pachauri was also “at a disadvantage,” because the complainant had “all the time” to collect material against him, whereas he was unable to do the same, since his electronic devices had been seized following the criminal complaint. He cautioned the committee against a hasty decision, saying, “As per my understanding the ICC report is an inquiry report and not an investigation report. Hence all submissions and statements need to be verified beyond doubt before drawing conclusions, in my view.”
The Sexual Harassment Act mandates that, once an inquiry process is initiated in an organisation, the ICC must complete it within 90 days. Pachauri repeatedly asked the committee to extend the time it had given him to respond, citing ill health and an inability to access his electronic devices. The ICC informed him that, according to the procedure laid down by the act, he could approach a court for an extension, since the committee did not have the authority to relax the deadline. Pachauri asserted that the committee was violating his right to a fair hearing.
On 19 May, the ICC submitted copies of its report to Pachauri, the researcher and TERI’s management. The report declared Pachauri guilty of sexual harassment. The report stated, “The ICC finds that such repeated attempts as described above to foster personal relationships with reporting employees is not only a conflict of interest and misuse of designation, it also amounts to a violation of the prevention of sexual harassment policy.”
The committee also drew attention to the pressures it had faced. “The ICC has been subject to a very hostile environment with pressure and intimidation from certain individuals within the organisation, including visits to the internal ICC members’ home at late hours,” the report said. “The ICC requests TERI to protect the ICC members and uphold the neutral process adopted by the ICC.”
According to Section 13 of the Sexual Harassment Act, the management must act upon the recommendations of the ICC within 60 days. If the ICC finds an accused employee guilty of sexual harassment, the act recommends, among other possible measures, that the management deduct “from the salary or wages of the respondent such sum as it may consider appropriate to be paid to the aggrieved woman.” The ICC advised the management to take disciplinary action against Pachauri, and award monetary compensation to the complainant.
No such steps were ever initiated. Ten days after the committee submitted its findings, Pachauri approached an industrial tribunal, at Karkardooma in east Delhi, and asked for a stay on the report. He claimed that the ICC had not given him an opportunity to defend himself or present his case, noting that it had “withheld anonymous statements from unknown witnesses and rushed the enquiry.” The tribunal granted the stay.
Though TERI did not oppose the tribunal’s verdict, the complainant did. In a writ petition filed in the Delhi High Court, the complainant contested TERI’s handling of the case. She provided an elaborate account of the manner in which officials at TERI had ignored her grievances and mistreated her once she had filed her complaint. She alleged that, by refusing to place Pachauri under suspension during the period of inquiry, and even after the ICC found him guilty, TERI had failed in its duty of providing her with a safe working environment.
The researcher’s distress at TERI’s failure to support her is also apparent in the emails she exchanged with the organisation’s management in the days after she filed her ICC complaint. These emails form a part of the complainant’s writ petition.
After she filed her complaint, she had gone on leave. On 30 March 2015, she wrote to Srivastava, asking that she be allowed to work from home for a few weeks. On 2 April, Srivastava sent the researcher an email, stating that her projects had been reallocated to her colleagues. “As such we will need to make a fresh start when you return,” she wrote. “For this purpose you would obviously have to meet the Director in whose Division you can most usefully contribute to arrive at a future work plan. Since you have just two more weeks of your leave remaining, my suggestion is that we should wait till you join back to determine next steps.”
The researcher sent a mail to Srivastava on the same day, expressing her surprise at not being informed that her projects were being passed on to others. She reminded Srivastava that she was entitled to the leave for which she had applied. Rather than address these concerns, Dinesh Varma, TERI’s director of human resources, sent the researcher an email to inform her that the institute had decided to transfer her to its office in Gual Pahari, in Gurgaon.
The researcher was dismayed. She wrote to Varma, saying, “This is not the work I was doing in the DGO.” She added that she found it “unacceptable to consider this suggestion” because she felt it would cause “further damage to my career.”
In an email he sent on 22 April, Varma told the researcher that, according to her appointment letter, she had “accepted the condition of your being posted anywhere in India without any riders, including such notions as of suiting your career goals.” No such clause is mentioned in the researcher’s contract, which is also part of her writ petition. Varma added, “You are certainly free to make your work choices in accordance with your respective commitments if the required work at TERI does not appeal to you.”
The researcher expressed her anxieties in an email on the same day, saying, “It gives me a feeling that I am being shuttled out of my work as a measure of punishment for standing up against Mr Pachauri.” She had “strong apprehensions about my physical presence in office,” she said. “I request you to be sensitive towards the prevailing circumstances and accommodate my request to work from home.”
Varma wrote back to her two days later, saying, “While respecting your concerns, you do have the option for asking of a leave extension of one more month. You can either avail that or join duty immediately.” If she didn’t want to extend her leave or return to work, he added, “we may have to consider your continued absence as being on leave without pay.”
Left with no options, the researcher applied for an extension for another month and agreed to proceed on leave without pay after that. On 19 June 2015, Varma sent her an email stating, “Your request to mark your continued absence as leave without pay is approved by the competent authority upto 31 July 2015. However, you have to confirm prior to 31 July 2015 about your resumption of duty, as leave without pay cannot be granted indefinitely.”
While the researcher found herself entangled in administrative red tape, Pachauri encountered very little resistance from either the law or TERI. On 17 July 2015, five months after the case against him was registered, an additional sessions judge at the Saket district court modified his anticipatory bail order and permitted him to resume work at TERI. Pachauri took charge the same day. He was barred from entering the institute’s headquarters at the IHC and its office in Gual Pahari, but was allowed to access its other branches in Delhi and across the country.
According to the writ petition, the main grounds on which Pachauri’s lawyers had argued for the modification of his bail order was the researcher’s impending transfer to TERI’s Gual Pahari division. But this information was classified and meant to be known only to the complainant, Srivastava, Varma and the members of the ICC. Prashant Mendiratta, the lawyer who is representing the complainant in the criminal case against Pachauri, pointed this out in court. Pachauri’s counsel stated that the members of the ICC had informed him of this development during one of the meetings. When the complainant reached out to the ICC to check whether this was true, the members said they had not made any statements of this nature.
Within TERI headquarters, news of Pachauri’s return to the institute stirred considerable confusion. A woman research associate who joined TERI in 2014 told me, “We were in a meeting with one of the directors, and we got the NDTV update that Pachauri is allowed to come to TERI.” Soon after, she added, the directors of TERI received an email informing them of a meeting of the committee of directors at the Defence Colony office. “Everybody started panicking, because nobody had expected him to come back,” she said.
According to the minutes of the meeting, held that evening, the committee of directors extended “a very warm welcome to the DG.” Pachauri thanked Srivastava for leading the institute in his absence, and emphasised the importance of TERI’s financial independence. If he made any reference to the allegations against him, the minutes of the meeting did not mention it.
Shortly after the meeting, at 7.31 pm, Pachauri emailed the staff of TERI. The subject of the email read “Eid Mubarak.” Pachauri wrote, “May I convey my warmest greetings for Eid to all TERI Colleagues. For me personally this Eid is particularly significant because I am once again with my family of TERIers.”
Although Saikia was a director with TERI at the time, she did not attend the meeting at the Defence Colony office. According to the senior employee of TERI, Srivastava called her after she heard that Pachauri was returning, and advised her to take a long leave of absence. In September 2015, Saikia tendered her resignation.
“Ranjana decided to resign on her own, because she did not think it would be ethical to continue in an institute where she has put in a report against somebody,” the senior employee told me. “She had her own reservations of reporting into an office in which he was allowed to come despite the cases being registered against him.” Expressing her displeasure with the institutional nonchalance towards Saikia’s exit, the senior employee said, “Pachauri is 16 years beyond his age of retirement. So why is the court so damn bothered about his retirement, but not bothered about the complainant’s resignation, and not bothered about Ranjana’s leaving? The ICC is a requirement of the government of India. And if somebody from the ICC gets affected, under whatsoever circumstances she has left the institute, why didn’t the government reinstate her saying that you are protected?”
As the complainant fought these battles, and as the ICC resisted extreme pressures, the body within TERI that could have most effectively responded to Pachauri on behalf of the organisation failed to do so. This was the governing council, or GC, which included prominent professionals such as Naina Lal Kidwai, the former country head of HSBC India, Deepak Parekh, the chairman of Housing Development Finance Corporation and Hemendra Kothari, the chairman of DSP BlackRock Investment Manager. The GC failed to make any statements or take action when the complaint first came to light. Many of the statements that GC members made to the media over the course of the controversy were anonymous. “I do not understand why the GC members are speaking with the press requesting anonymity,” the complainant told me in an email in May 2016. “If they themselves cannot speak openly then how in the world was it expected that employees in TERI will speak up openly?”
A former member of the GC told me, “It is such a personal matter, it is a fight between him and the lady. So we said, ‘Let the court decide.’ There is nothing that we could do.” He said that he did not know of the complainant’s predicament because she never reached out to the GC. He told me, “There was no request from her for anything from the council. There was nothing for the council. Absolutely nothing.”
This was untrue. On 3 April 2015, the complainant wrote a letter to all the members of the GC. She sought a response on why no action had been taken against Pachauri and said that the institute was colluding with Pachauri during the police investigation. No member of the GC ever responded to or acknowledged the letter.
One of the first open comments about the case from a member of the GC came on 4 January 2016, when, in an interview with the Economic Times, Kidwai said, “The guiding principles are the laws. In this case, if it was left to the board, it would have been dealt with in a particular way. But unfortunately, it went straight to the courts.” Kidwai also dismissed the credibility of the ICC, without justification, saying, “The ICC must conduct itself right. If the ICC does not conduct itself right, which also happened in the case of TERI, the matter goes into courts. And that goes against the woman.”
Pachauri’s return to TERI in July 2015 irked several employees at the institute. When they learnt that the GC was scheduled to convene in Bengaluru on 23 July, they began to discuss the possibility of sending a letter to the members of the council ahead of the meeting, to voice their opposition to Pachauri’s continued presence at the institute. A researcher who was a part of this group told me that on 20 July, they met at the American Diner in IHC to discuss the plan. Ibrahim Rehman, a director at TERI who was aware of the letter, approached the group, and attempted to convince them to speak to Pachauri directly. They began to argue, and then, according to this employee, Rehman told one of the researchers he knew, “Anyway, I have already told Pachauri that you are not happy that he has come back.”
“We all froze,” the employee told me. Someone asked Rehman if he would tell Pachauri that they were working on this petition. The employee told me that Rehman said, “It is my duty to report everything to him.” In April, I called Rehman to request for an interview for the story. He declined to speak.
The researchers were rattled. Outraged by what they saw as Rehman’s barely disguised attempt to intimidate them, they decided that they would write the petition and send it to the GC. Although at first the researchers had planned to sign the letter, they later decided to send it anonymously.
By 23 July, the researchers had released their letter to the media, expressing “anxiety and distress, arising from the return of Dr Pachauri as Director General.” The letter noted that his return created a possible conflict of interest, since Pachauri could influence witnesses in the ongoing criminal case. The researchers claimed that Pachauri’s continued leadership would harm morale in the organisation, dent TERI’s reputation and set a bad precedent for the institution’s response to such cases in future.
In her January 2016 interview to the Economic Times, however, Kidwai suggested that Pachauri had the support of TERI’s female employees. “How do you evaluate that?” she added. “At the end of the day, you have loyalties on all sides. Your entire senior team has asked in writing for the same person who is under evaluation to come back.”
But Kidwai appears to have misrepresented the extent of support for Pachauri. Of the four senior women employees I spoke to, two told me that they had not signed any document indicating that they backed him.
When I spoke to the former member of the GC about the 23 July 2015 meeting, he told me, “All the directors, 16 or 17, they came to Bangalore to say that we should not change anything and that they want Pachauri to be there.” When I asked the woman who was part of the management team whether this was true, she denied it. According to her, only four directors had flown to Bengaluru to meet the GC: Srivastava and Rehman, as well as Annapurna Vancheshwaran, who heads the sustainable-development outreach division, and Mili Majumdar, who was then the director of the sustainable-habitat division.
After the meeting on 23 July, TERI circulated a press release to announce that the institute would be appointing Ajay Mathur, who was then the director general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, as the new director general of TERI. The release also praised Pachauri for his 34-year stint at TERI and lauded him for turning the institution from “a concept to a major, financially autonomous, professionally dynamic organisation on the global stage.” It made no mention of when Mathur would be joining TERI.
On 8 August 2015, the complainant wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In the pursuit of getting justice,” she wrote, “I have been left to fend for myself from the organisation and the pace of the investigation has been slow.” The researcher noted that she had been unable to resume work and was suffering financial losses, decreased productivity and mental distress because of the ordeal. She highlighted the “scary silence” of TERI’s GC, and wrote that it was “distressing to learn that those delivering seminars and passing sermons on issues of women protection on national and international forums are unabashedly and ruthlessly unmoved.”
On 17 August, TERI issued a press release to counter the complainant’s claims that she had made in the open letter. It stated, “The record is clear that TERI has gone out of its way to accommodate and protect the complainant while her allegations are being carefully investigated by the police.” While discussing the complainant’s work arrangements, the release revealed the location of her house and the specifications of the division to which she was being asked to move. This information exposed her identity, in violation of the Sexual Harassment Act, which mandates that “the identity and addresses of the aggrieved woman” be kept confidential.
The complainant’s claims that the institution was blatantly biased were further strengthened when, on 16 September, the human-resources department at TERI sent an email to the institute’s employees to inform them that the organisation’s ICC had been reconstituted—as it turned out, on Pachauri’s orders. The new committee comprised Rehman; Majumdar; Suneel Pandey, the director of the green-growth and resource efficiency division; and Vagisha Kochar, a lawyer who was to serve as the ICC’s external member. Its presiding officer, Vibha Dhawan, is, according to TERI’s website, a senior director and distinguished fellow at the organisation.
Despite accepting the ICC role, Dhawan clearly sided with Pachauri. In February 2016, she told Ramesh Menon, the managing editor of India Legal magazine, that TERI supported Pachauri, and that the former DG had built the institute by making personal sacrifices. She said, “What has happened is very unfortunate. TERI needs him as a mentor and we stand by him.” The full extent of the committee’s potential bias became clear when, in June 2016, Ohri reported in the Economic Times that all four internal members of the ICC had deposed in front of the old ICC, as witnesses in favour of Pachauri. Pachauri responded to Ohri’s questions about the new ICC in an email, saying, “As Director General I was fully empowered to approve of and exercise the responsibility of deputing officers as members of the ICC in terms of provisions of the Act (that deals with sexual harassment of women at the workplace).”
Nine months after she had filed a formal complaint against Pachauri, the complainant decided to resign from TERI. At the beginning of November, she sent Varma an email which stated, “Your organisation has treated me in the worst possible manner. TERI failed to uphold my interests as an employee, let alone protecting them. The organisation has instead protected RK Pachauri and provided him with full immunity, despite being held guilty of sexual harassment at the work place by your own inquiry committee. The Governing Council too let me down in an unprecedented way.”
Evidence continued to emerge of institutional pressure on the complainant. On 12 January 2016, a male researcher from TERI filed a complaint at the Lodhi Colony police station. The man, a friend of the complainant’s, alleged that senior officials from the institute had been trying to persuade him to convince her to settle with Pachauri out of court. He said he had first been approached by some of his superiors in July 2015. The employees, he alleged, had told him “to reach out to your lady friend and get her to settle out of court as this will not be good for her as there is nothing more left to achieve.” The male researcher alleged that he had had multiple such encounters, and that these staffers included Sanjai Joshi, Alok Adholeya and Reena Singh.
When he was interrogated by the police, Joshi reportedly admitted to having a “casual conversation” with the male researcher, but claimed that he had done so entirely of his own accord, out of concern for TERI’s reputation. Singh denied making any demands of the researcher, and claimed that she was only “listening and reacting to the comments” he made. By the time he had filed the police complaint, the researcher had resigned from TERI and was serving his notice period of four months. In mid February, he returned from a holiday and was told that his employment was being terminated with immediate effect. When the researcher protested, employees from the administrative division in the institute told him that they would be taking away his identity card and his workstation.
A senior male employee from the institute told me that the male researcher was relieved, because he had fulfilled his duties within the institute. He said, “After this person had resigned, it was found that all the work that he needed to do in terms of transfers had been accomplished, and therefore the organisation used its prerogative and asked him to leave. His supervisors had told us that his work was done.” The researcher denied these claims, and told me, “This is an absolute lie.”
But if Pachauri and his supporters believed the organisation could not survive without him, they were failing to see the damage he was causing by clinging to power. Researchers I spoke to told me they had noticed that it had become increasingly difficult to procure funding for their projects, and that existing clients appeared to be uncomfortable about being associated with the institute. The former research associate from the renewable-energy division told me that he sensed that a German development bank that was collaborating with the institute on a workshop was getting squeamish. “They didn’t want to have TERI’s name and they decided to drop their name as well,” he told me. “Basically they said, no names in the title, just India-Germany Workshop on XYZ.”
He also said that including the names of the organisers in an event’s title was a standard practice. “But this time, they seemed to be thinking very carefully about whether or not it made sense for them,” he said. The senior male employee said, “TERI’s national and international projects have suffered. Even on existing projects, funds flow stopped or slowed because of the allegations. ... I think the nature of the complaints left a large impression on the clients’ minds.”
Researchers from the institute told me that they became wary of introducing themselves as employees of TERI. The name was no longer a badge of honour—it was a millstone. The former research associate from the renewable-energy division said, “It becomes embarrassing from a professional standpoint, people stop taking you seriously. You give your card, they see TERI and then every bloody person knows.” He also described a particularly tragicomic incident. “A guy I know from TERI had a marriage alliance come his way,” he said. “They asked him where he was working. He told them, ‘I am working in TERI.’ They left.”
Among others, two senior employees decided to speak to Pachauri after he resumed his post to tell him of discontent simmering within the organisation. They asked him if he could wait until the criminal case against him was resolved to return to the institute. Pachauri responded by pointing out that the charge sheet had still not been filed. “You know how the Indian courts work,” one recounted him saying. “Even after I am gone and dead this case will not be resolved. That would be too late for me.” The staffer said Pachauri then launched into a monologue about why his presence was critical for the organisation. “You think I am here because of myself,” one of the employees remembered Pachauri saying. “I am here because of what I have built. I have no interest in being glued to this chair. I am trying to hold TERI together.” The employee was unconvinced, but did not say so. “He is very persuasive,” the employee told me. “If you sit across a table with him, for that moment you will think that he may be right unless you clear up your head.”
Late in January this year, another researcher from the organisation initiated a similar conversation with Pachauri. She voiced her discomfort with the lack of clarity surrounding the appointment of the next director general. Pachauri admonished her for being distrustful of his intentions, and insisted he was taking all his decisions keeping in mind the best interests of TERI. “The exchange was very combative,” she told me over the phone.
On 8 February 2016, Varma sent an email to the staff at TERI. “This is to inform that Dr Ajay Mathur has joined as Director General of TERI from today,” he wrote. The same email announced that, “with immediate effect,” Pachauri had been appointed the executive vice chairperson of TERI. Following this announcement, Pachauri and Mathur held a joint conference with the employees of the organisation. A researcher who was present at the meeting told me that Mathur praised Pachauri’s achievements, and declared that he was looking forward to working with him.
As the director general, Pachauri had occupied a sprawling office on the fifth floor of TERI’s building along with his staff. When Mathur took charge, the institute, instead of giving him this office, allocated him another, smaller room on the second floor. Pachauri retained his fifth-floor office. The implication was clear: Pachauri’s designation at TERI may have undergone a change, but his stature and the extent of his influence within the organisation had not.
A day after TERI formally announced the new roles Mathur and Pachauri would be taking up, the complainant wrote an open letter to express her anguish at Pachauri’s appointment. He was facing “grave criminal charges,” she said, and yet being given power within TERI. She noted that the council seemed to think that Pachauri’s presence “is required for foreign funding.” She concluded with the words “I deserved better.”
But even as the senior staff of TERI closed ranks around Pachauri, an offensive was directed at him by another group—the students of TERI University, a nearly two-decade-old institution located in Delhi, which runs courses in fields such as environmental policy and water studies, and of which Pachauri was chancellor. By 10 February, the students had sent a letter to Rajiv Seth, then the acting vice-chancellor, protesting Pachauri’s continuing status as the chancellor of the university. They refused to accept their degrees from him at their convocation, which was scheduled for 7 March. On 11 February 2016, following this statement, Seth announced that Pachauri had gone on leave from the university.
TERI’s GC convened at the IHC a day later. Meanwhile, several women’s-rights groups staged a demonstration outside the institute’s headquarters. Soon after, the council announced that Pachauri would be going on “indefinite leave” from his position at TERI. BV Sreekantan—who had been a member of the council for over 40 years—resigned at this meeting, and was replaced by Ashok Chawla, a former finance secretary and former chairman of the Competition Commission of India. The press release stated that the council “supports the rights of women” and that it has “consistently ensured the provision of a secure environment and a safe work place for its employees.”
Many TERI employees I spoke to were disappointed with the GC’s decision. The first woman to release a public letter told the Indian Express that the council had acted too late, and that Pachauri “should have been sacked.”
The alumni of TERI University appeared to agree with her assessment. They released a statement saying they condemned the decision, and pointed out that “requesting the ‘removal or suspension from a position of higher power’” was not the same as “sending Dr Pachauri on a ‘paid leave.’” The website of the university continues to list Pachauri as its “chancellor (on leave).”
Several observers criticised the GC’s reluctance to sever ties with Pachauri. A prevailing theory regarding this restraint was that the council had been arm-twisted into being lenient because his contract was valid until July 2017, and did not have an early exit clause. Upon being asked by Nitin Sethi, a journalist with the Business Standard about this possibility in an interview published on 19 February, Mathur said, “I think it is correct that this contract did not have a early exit clause. So yes, the short point is, these are the realities within which the governing council, Dr Pachauri and TERI had to operate.”
Two months after Pachauri went on leave from TERI, the GC appeared to set this concern aside. On 21 April, Puja Mehra, a journalist with The Hindu, reported that the council had decided to pay Pachauri the entirety of the remuneration due to him for the remainder of his tenure, which was supposed to have extended to July 2017. TERI was finally ending its association with Pachauri. A spokesperson from TERI told Mehra, “Dr Pachauri’s term as a member of the governing council of TERI ended on March 31, 2016. As the post of Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) is co-terminus with this membership, his role as EVC also ended along with his membership of the Council.”
In a statement released the same day, Pachauri claimed that he had decided to leave the organisation of his own volition. He said, “My term as a Member of the Governing Council ended on March 31, 2016, and I felt that it was time for me to move away and get engaged in other interests which I have harboured over the past few years for activities at the global level.”
On 27 May, Ohri reported that these assertions were false, and that the GC had sacked Pachauri against his wishes. “It was a conscious decision of the governing council not to extend Shri Pachauri’s membership of the council and consequently end his engagement with TERI,” Chawla told Ohri. The council had concluded that the post of an executive vice-chairperson did not exist under the rules of the institute, and had deemed Pachauri’s promotion to this post a “non est factum” order—one that need not be adhered to.
“We need to create a firewall between TERI and Pachauri,” the senior employee from TERI had told me a few weeks before the announcement. “This has been his life. He doesn’t know how to do anything else.” Alluding to the criminal case, he continued, “I don’t think you’ve heard the end of the story, but as far as TERI is concerned, this story is over.”
But, unlike TERI, none of the women whom Pachauri allegedly harassed will ever have the luxury of definitively declaring that the story is over. I once asked the complainant if she would have reconsidered her decision to challenge Pachauri if she had known exactly how taxing the fight would be. She responded even before I had completed my question. “Why would I?” she asked. “I know that my conscience is clear.” In a later email, she referred me to a quote her father would often repeat to her in her moments of doubt: “Being silent in crime is being a part of the crime.”
The following errors have been corrected online. 1. The words “former research associate” were replaced with “she” in one instance to make the attribution more precise. 2. The word “mijaaz” was corrected to the Urdu word “mizaaj.” 3. In the line, “the council had been arm-twisted into being lenient because his contract was valid July 2007,” the period referred to was corrected to “until July 2017.” 4. The Societies Act, under which TERI was incorporated, was passed in 1860 and not 1870, as stated originally in the piece. The Caravan regrets the errors.