The startup world woke up in shock about the sexual harassment allegations against the co-founder of The Viral Fever (TVF). On March 12, co-founder Arunabh Kumar found himself battling sexual harassment accusations presented by an anonymous post from an ex-TVF female employee.
The post, titled “The Indian Uber – That is TVF”, the author, @Indian Fowler, made a slew of allegations. It was followed by several other women who alleged that Arunabh had misbehaved with them too.
This has triggered industry wide reaction and questions on how new age companies work. It has also put a big question mark on whether these quick to rise firms are following important rules around the sexual harassment law. By the nature of the content and media industry, the hours men and women spend at the workplace are phenomenal. Teams work in close proximity. What could have led to the incidents as reported by different women against TVF’s Arunabh Kumar?
Ria Das takes a deep dive into the various aspects of the fast developing story.
WHAT’S THE STATE OF THE LAW?
Lawyer and author Malavika Rajkotia says, “The Vishakha Act has now been followed by a more comprehensive The Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013 but no law can deal with social change unless there is a deep tectonic shift in organisations on how they deal with the issue of gender,” following her stances on sexual harassment cases in the workforce.
SheThePeople.TV spoke to lawyer Mayank Mukherjee about the reasons for the same. He said, “It is too early to verify the truth and we should wait to condemn someone legally. However, if what is said in the blog post is true, he can be prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code.”
IS THERE NO ONE TO GO TO?
“Can you imagine the stress this person had to absorb all of her own? And for how long? And why she had to use Medium to share her travails? Because there is no other interface. And no one to go to,” insists Author Rochelle Potkar who voices strong opinions related to gender disparity, rudimentary social practices and women-related issues. She questions the system and expresses worry that it remains dominated by horrific incidents of sexual exploitation.
ElsaMarie D’Silva of Safecity, a platform that uses tech and location mapping to identify ‘places’ of sexual harassment said to SheThePeople.TV, “It is time all employers are aware of the POSH Act and implement a Policy within their organisation as well as educate their employees about the various components of the act. Sexual harassment at the workplace can be extremely debilitating to the person on the receiving end and is a serious issue that affects work and mental health. It is the responsibility of every employee irrespective of their position to know the Act and behave responsibly. Ignorance of the law is not acceptable.”
One thing everyone should understand that TVF is not a one-person’s company. If the entire team is incorrect the way these women are charging us, then probably we are at fault – Tracy DSouza, Girliyapa, TVF
STORY SO FAR
There are multiple women who have come out to report alleged sexual harassment by Arunabh Kumar. The first woman gave graphic details of how the CEO and co-founder misbehaved with her, tried to get physical and even involved her in lewd conversations.
“He (Arunabh Kumar) looks at me and asks me — “ Chaturbhuj Sthan ka naam suni ho”? I am stunned. For Non-Starters, Chaturbhuj Sthan is the Red Light District of Muzaffarpur. I didn’t respond. His second question- “Humko Chaturbhuj Sthan Bahut Pasand Hai. Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum Bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho”. I was getting where he was leading the discussion to. I avoided an interaction. I said “Arunabh, aap bade bhai hain. Meri tabiyat thodi theek nahi hai. Kya karna hai bataiye. Hum karke ghar jaayenge.” He suddenly holds my hand. Says “Madam, thoda role play karein”. I was stunned. None of this was something i had ever asked for. I ran away. Locked myself in the toilet. And cried. He went away. But i was thinking why the hell he is after me? What did i do to make this happen to me. That was the longest night of my life.”
The anonymous victim allegedly broke the spell that Kumar’s improper behaviour, especially with an employee , started back in 2014.
“Right from Pitchers to Tripling, I was molested. Be it in parties, where Arunabh would try to lift me, or would try and fall on me pretending he is drunk.”
The post and the subsequent allegations by other women took the whole industry by storm. Ex-TVF employee Aayushi Agarwal and writer-director, Reema Sengupta joined a list of many other women.
Later TVF released a statement saying:
This is an official response from TVF on the anonymous article published on Medium by the Indian Fowler. The article is completely ludicrous and defamatory against TVF and its team.
All the allegations made against TVF and its team in the article are categorically false, baseless and unverified. We take a lot of pride in our team and in making TVF a safe workplace that is equally comfortable for women and men.
We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.
TVF’S TRACY DSOUZA SPEAKS TO SHE THE PEOPLE
Tracy DSouza, the head of Girliyapa — the all-women’s wing of YouTube giants, The Viral Fever (TVF) said to SheThePeople.TV, “I am working with Arunabh for more than 3 years now and in my personal experience, I have never faced any such indecent incidents when he made inappropriate gesture. Being a great mentor as he is, I was always motivated by him. In fact, he is that kind of a mentor who always builds an environment for the employees to grow and deal with tough situations.”
Defending the team’s credibility, she said, “Of course, TVF is investigating and we don’t encourage these things or take it lightly. Internally, we are reaching out to those women who alleged him and talking to them about their experiences. If we come across any reality on the cases, required actions will be taken for sure.”
“One thing everyone should understand that TVF is not a one-person’s company. If the entire team is incorrect the way these women are charging us, then probably we are at fault,” she added.
When asked about the team was handling the current chaos, to which Tracy said they all were pretty shaken up by the news. “Honestly, it was hard to believe in because we are grown in a certain environment where nothing as such has been seen. When a sudden allegation came in the site, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Then later one by one accusations pouring in and it came as a surprise to all of us.”
“It is difficult for the team because people have now started focusing on something where we hardly want to be involved in. This brings lots of discouragements, ” she added following, “If charges are proven true, then it would obviously affect the team in general.”
ARUNABH KUMAR’S COMMENTS
In a statement to Mumbai Mirror, Kumar, on the other hand, denied all the rumors saying allegations of sexual harassment against him as “fake.” Describing the entire slanderous issue, Kumar says: “I unconditionally and unequivocally deny all these allegations. Social media has already declared me an offender, but I am ready to address all the allegations against me. I am open to receiving a police complaint so that I can respond legally as well. TVF is bigger than me and if there is a remote chance that I have done any wrong, let me be persecuted.”
Meanwhile, he broke the silence saying, “I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour,” India Today reported.
Kumar’s fellow TVF colleagues are supporting him:
Later Nidhi Bisht, an important member of TVF family from the very beginning, wrote a detailed note:
“As an entrepreneur and Head of office, I see it as an absolutely necessary responsibility of mine to create a work culture that does not allow any form of harassment,” says Vithika Yadav, the Head of RNW & Love Matters India.
“It has to be made clear that harassment, in any form, will not be tolerated and strict action will be taken. In fact all employees must understand the organizational policy on sexual harassment, what it includes; and they need to understand that they have an obligation to report sexual harassment concerns to their supervisor and/or the Human Resources Department. Ideally, a Complaints Committee should be a part of every organization for redressal of such complaints and for ensuring time bound action.”
Ms. Alina Menon, Director, Edify Consultants who is also a life coach says, “Sexual harassment continues today because these repeat offenders are confident that they will not be booked. Who gives these men the right to violate a woman’s personal space? What makes these sexual bullies so strong and confident? While it is easy to blame the judicial and other social system, it’s time we women look inside of ourselves.”
She further added, “How often does one woman stand up for another? How often does a woman believe the victim and empathise with her. Often Women are often forced to reconcile with the victim and sadly the system often find reasons to justify their deplorable actions. Can one woman garner support of there women easily? While there is a law prevalent for prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment – this law alone is not enough.”
How often does one woman stand up for another? How often does a woman believe the victim and empathise with her. Often Women are often forced to reconcile with the victim and sadly the system often find reasons to justify their deplorable actions
Harini Calamur, a Journalist who has worked at several new age digital companies said in an interview to SheThePeople.TV, “Every company should have an anti-social harassment committee, let people in the company know that it exists and aware them that there are certain kind of behaviour which is not acceptable. It is also very important that companies should build a helpful team for women so that they can find it easy to file such complaints. The sad part is that it took years for so many women to come out and speak up against it. But yet of course, anybody is innocent until proven guilty so let’s not just accuse him blindly as of now and wait for the final verdict.”
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