For her July 2016 cover story, “Hostile Climate,” Nikita Saxena, the web editor at The Caravan, investigated the allegations of sexual harassment against RK Pachauri, the former director general of The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI. Saxena’s reporting suggested that Pachauri had, for years, been systematically harassing women employed at TERI. In the following excerpt from the story, she details the various accounts she heard from present and former women employees of the institute. Saxena’s reporting also uncovered how TERI fostered a tacit acceptance of Pachauri’s conduct, often making it hard for his employees to even recognise his actions as sexual harassment.
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.’”