TERI's actions, mockery of law

The return of R K Pachauri to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) on a higher post has sent out a wrong and negative message about the willingness and ability of institutions to handle cases of sexual offence. The public uproar over it has now led to his going on leave, but that is a poor damage control.  Pachauri had been made to resign as the managing director after a researcher made sexual harassment charges against him and an internal inquiry found substance in the charges. The inquiry committee had recommended action and a police investigation is under way. An FIR was lodged against him a year ago on charges of molestation and criminal intimidation. But the situation has taken an opposite turn now. The young woman who has accused him of sexually harassing her has resigned from TERI. The lady who headed the internal committee has also quit. But Pachauri came back as the vice-chairman of the institution.

The reason why Pachauri had to quit is as valid now as it was then. His come back only shows that even serious charges of sexual harassment against powerful and influential persons will not be pursued effectively in the existing system. The law against sexual harassment of women at work places lays down thorough procedures to deal with cases of harassment and provides safeguards for women against such harassment. According to the law, the employer has to support the harassed woman and facilitate legal actions against accused. But in actual practice, the accused persons are shielded and the victims are harassed and shamed.  Very often, it is people in positions of power and authority who harass junior and subordinate staff. The clout they wield in their organisations and institutions protects them. The entrenched patriarchal mindset, which does not find fault with men for their misconduct with women and only blames women though are the victims, is at the root of the failure and refusal of the society to deal effectively with even the most obvious cases of sexual harassment.

 The complainant has given detailed evidence of Pachauri’s misconduct with her. A second person has also now come forward with similar charges against him. Pachauri challenged the internal committee’s findings against him and got a stay. But the legality of the stay has been questioned. It was wrong on the part of TERI to take him back. Allowing him to go on leave was only a reluctant concession to law and ethics. TERI’s actions have hurt its standing and credibility, and made a mockery of the law against sexual harassment.

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