Indira Jaising is the senior advocate representing the young woman who has charged TERI bigwig Dr Rajendra Pachauri with sexual harassment. While outrage against the inaction by TERI in this case builds up, she speaks about India Inc’s betrayal of women’s rights in this case, in an email interview with Pragya Singh.
Is the Pachauri case “test case” for how sexual harassment at the workplace will be dealt with in future?
I hope this does not become a “test case” for any sexual harassment proceedings in the future. I hope in fact that the corporate sector learns from this case what not to do, rather than what to do. But it does demonstrate that when the allegation is against the person heading an organization, the fight is a difficult one and there is a tendency for management to gang up. Hence, such cases should go for decision to an external agency like the courts and not be left to the boards.
What does Pachauri's continuing at the helm of TERI tell us about the work culture of TERI, and in India?
It tells us that Big Corporate in India thinks it is above the law and that the discipline of the Constitution and rule of law does not apply to them. TERI’s Governing Council (GC), upon receipt of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) report should have immediately suspended Dr. Pachauri from his position as DG. It was their duty under the law to support the employee making the allegation and not the perpetrator who was found guilty of sexual harassment. At the GC’s meeting in Bengaluru where they announced Dr. Pachauri’s successor, they felicitated Dr. Pachauri. It must be remembered that the law requires an employer to treat an act of sexual harassment as “misconduct”. If that is the case, then on what basis can the felicitation and subsequent appointment of Dr. Pachauri as Executive Vice Chairman be justified?
What do TERI employees, the complainant, and women stand to lose if justice is denied in this case?
Work, for women, means empowerment. So, any setback in this case will be a setback for all women in their effort to create a safe working environment.
Does RK Pachauri's elevation at TERI run afoul of the law against sexual harassment?
Yes it does. TERI’s Govering Council has failed miserably in carrying out its duties, which include providing a safe working environment. It has not provided a safe working environment by allowing Dr. Pachauri to be physically present at the TERI premises. And it has definitely not treated sexual harassment as a misconduct that entails some form of punishment. It has in instead of punishing Dr. Pachauri, rewarded him with a new post through which he continues to wield executive control over TERI.
Can the government interfere in the creation of a new post for Dr Pachauri?
The Government has been made a party to the High Court proceedings where the complainant has challenged the stay obtained by Dr. Pachauri on the ICC report’s recommendations. The government therefore could, if it wanted, support the stance of the complainant in this regard. But so far nothing of the nature has been done. They can also withdraw sources of funding TERI to send a signal of zero tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace. They could ask the board to explain its decisions.
Where did the GC go wrong?
By allowing Dr. Pachauri to obtain a stay on the recommendations of the ICC report, the GC of TERI has essentially abdicated from the responsibility of taking any disciplinary action against him. The scheme of the sexual harassment law is such that the ICC is in charge of conducting the inquiry into the complaint and concluding whether the allegations have been proved or not. It is the employer that is made in charge of taking action against the accused on the basis of the ICC findings. This they did not do on receipt to the report and instead give him time to go to court and obtain a stay. If they had taken action, no court would have stayed the findings of the committee. The GC conveniently chose to not take any disciplinary action since the findings of the ICC report were put in abeyance. But despite the stay, there is nothing in law which prevents them from suspending him pending a decision—[even] this they did not do.
What relief is the complainant seeking from the courts?
She wants TERI to stand by her and all other women who work in TERI. She wants a safe working environment—which will not exist so long as Dr Pauchari is in the chair. She wants disciplinary action against him and she wants him convicted for the crime of sexual harassment.
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