“The Institution is Pachauri”: Why Women At TERI Felt Unable to Speak Up About Sexual Harassment

01 November 2017
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In February 2015, a 29-year-old researcher formerly employed with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) filed a first information report against RK Pachauri, the former director general of the organisation. 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 news of the first complaint broke, two other women, both former employees of TERI, came forward and released public statements about having been subjected to sexual harassment by Pachauri.

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 Pachauri had, for years, been systemically harassing women employed at TERI. Saxena wrote that Pachauri’s behaviour with women was not unknown to other employees, but that TERI fostered a “tacit acceptance of Pachauri’s conduct.” In the following section from the story, she reports on how the culture at TERI appeared to force women facing sexual harassment into silence.

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.”

Nikita Saxena is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: TERI RK Pachauri sexual harassment
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