How TERI handled the sexual harassment complaint against RK Pachauri

08 January 2017

On 6 January 2017, the Delhi High Court gave the Industrial Tribunal, an independent tribunal that hears matters related to employment, the go-ahead for proceeding with its hearing on a case related to complaints of sexual harassment against RK Pachauri, the former director general of the The Energy and Research Institute (TERI), a Delhi-based think tank. In February 2015, a 29-year-old researcher formerly employed with TERI filed a first information report against Pachauri. She alleged that Pachauri had subjected her to “repeated and constant requests to have a romantic and physical relationship,” and that despite having repeatedly told him that she was not interested, “he refused to give up.” She alleged that he had also physically harassed her, and had forcibly touched and grabbed her. When she confronted Pachauri about her objection to his actions, she said, he had threatened that he would “not give me any more work in his office and that I should leave TERI or he will transfer me to some other division.” The case made global headlines, owing to Pachauri’s reputation as a world leader in drawing attention to climate change. After the first complainant registered her complaint, two other women, both former employees of TERI, came forward and released public statements about facing sexual harassment at Pachauri’s hands. Before she filed a complaint with the police, the former researcher had also filed a complaint with TERI’s internal complaints committee, a body mandated by law to investigate complaints of sexual harassment in workplaces. In May 2015, after the ICC filed its report, Pachauri registered a case with the Industrial Tribunal, alleging that the ICC had “withheld anonymous statements from unknown witnesses and rushed the enquiry.”

For her July 2016 cover story, ‘Hostile Climate,’ Nikita Saxena, the web editor at The Caravan, investigated the allegations against Pachauri. Saxena’s reporting suggested that TERI, as an organisation, had played a key role in enabling Pachauri’s actions, consequently shielding him from persecution. If the director general had been brazen in his behaviour, Saxena wrote, the combined responses of hundreds of employees had fostered an environment in which he could get away with it. In the following extract from the story, Saxena recounts how the ICC conducted its inquiry, and how the treatment meted out to both the complainant and the women who comprised the committee was indicative of TERI’s unwillingness to hold Pachauri accountable.

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?”

Nikita Saxena is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: gender labour TERI RK Pachauri sexual harassment internal complaints committee industrial tribunal