(photo credit: article.wn.com)
The case of Dr R. K. Pachauri, Director General, TERI and IPCC Chair, is curious, precisely because the dog never barked.
Odd, because the alleged, continuous, sometimes physical, invasion of privacy with sexual overtones, apparently happened near continuously since 2013 in the heart of the India Habitat Center, one of the public buildings designed by Joseph Stein, the well-known German Architect and India lover just before he died in 2001. This is a popular, cultural hub and hangout for artists, the literati, social activists, gourmets and retired folk, which attracts over 30,000 visitors every month and where TERI, the NGO Pachauri heads, is housed in a five story high standalone office. TERI and Sunita Narain’s Center for Science and Environment are the two premier Delhi think tanks on energy and the environment.
“Quiet” some-times, partly consensual, sexual alliances of varying degrees are not unknown between powerful chief executives and compliant assistants. Indeed, the worst sexual assaults happen within the home away from public scrutiny.
What is strange is that such alleged behavior was possible in TERI over a period of two years (2013 to 2015) with none the wiser. TERI has a staff of 1200 of which around 35% are women. Women are at the helm in 30% of the high level professional positions.
That so many women, including those in high level, authority, positions, either did not know of the plight of the assistant or chose to ignore it sounds odd. Why didn’t some dog bark?
One strand of thinking credits RKP, as Pachauri is known, with Machiavellian might and control over his entire staff. Pachauri has a larger than life persona which feeds this perception. He is also the author of a salacious novel – an act of bravado he will surely come to regret. He is a charismatic figure, who has as many friends as he has enemies. The reason is obvious.
There are two kinds of highly successful people. Those who are content to enjoy their success privately and retain a “humble”, low key, exterior. Pachauri is not one of those.
He conforms more closely to the braggart, Richard Branson variety, He is over-the-top- in his choice of headgear (he wears a toupee); in his selection of ties and cravats and in the flamboyant style of his clothes although abstemious in his habits; a workaholic who needs little sleep and travels constantly as TERIs main outreach resource. He is also a fanatic for workplace ethics; expects total devotion to work from staffers and leads by example.
TERI’s Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS), just concluded on February 7 was attended by international luminaries, heads of multilateral development institutions and the leading lights in domestic natural resources management, business and government. A fitting tribute to the convening power of TERI, a child that Pachauri grew over 40 long years since 1974, from a one room outfit in Mumbai to an international network of committed professionals with a common concern for sustainable development.
The aggrieved staffer first approached the TERI internal committee for sexual grievances on February 9, the first working day after DSDS ended, in a sequence of events paralleling the earlier Tejpal case in Goa. What is it about huge, international conferences which either emboldens hitherto compliant assistants into “coming out” or conversely, aggravates the ferocity of the pursuit by the aggressor?
The complainant next filed a complaint with the police of February 13, following which the police acted rapidly and impounded what could be “incriminating” evidence” like computers and other communication equipment from Pachauri’s office.
The fear, voiced most vociferously in social media, is that Pachauri, a part of India’s privileged elite, will get away with his alleged indiscretion. This shows how slowly public perception changes. Escaping the law may have been possible till 2013. Among the many legislative initiatives the previous Congress government launched was amendment of the criminal laws to explicitly criminalise sexual harassment; voyeurism and stalking and impose heavily punitive sanctions including imprisonment.
Like all laws seeking to change behavior – in this case the behavior of men versus women- the law is draconian in the belief that it should scare sexual offender off and should be “stringent” enough to extract “judicially intermediated just-deserts” for such offenders.
The machinery of law is already at work. Pachauri is fearful enough of arrest to have sought anticipatory bail which he now has till February 26. The police are investigating and gathering evidence in the meantime and will file a “charge sheet” in court if a prima-facie case is made out. If this happens Pachauri will have to fight the case in court which is likely to be a long haul. RKP is stuck in this imbroglio for now.
The real issue is can TERI survive without its “Banyan tree”? Over the past four decades, RKP and TERI have spawned a large number of professionals, who today, are either in high level positions in TERI; business; multilateral and bilateral entities; NGOs and government. Will this band of professionals pull the “mother ship” out of stormy waters? Or will it be a case of studied silence and hands off a sinking ship? Watch this blog.
(Disclosure: This writer worked in the energy practice of TERI for five years from 1995 to 2000).