Person of the week

RK Pachauri: The Teflon Man

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Accused of sexual harassment, the former TERI director general is back in the organisation with a bang

‘Please you are not to grab me and or kiss me ‘I wish you would see the difference between something tender and loving and something crass and vulgar...’

— reported SMS exchange between RK Pachauri and TERI’s former research associate

In a just world, even one with an outward appearance of fairness, no organisation or individual would have attempted to pull this one off. But RK Pachauri—the former chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change and the most visible face perhaps of anything to do with sustainable growth and climate control—is back at his old workplace, The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), with a new designation. This, just after a year since accusations of sexual harassment against him first became public.

Anyone else—once the avalanche of lecherous texts, emails, WhatsApp messages and poems attributed to him became public— would have slunk away in embarrassment. Not Pachauri, now TERI’s Executive Vice-Chairman, a post created exclusively for him. According to the victim, who has written a letter condemning the appointment, Pachauri is trying to muscle off the sexual harassment charge. The 29-year-old has written, ‘The ICC (the Internal Conflicts Committee which found Pachauri guilty of sexual harassment) was dissolved. The ICC president resigned from her job at the Institute. The external member of the ICC is a woman who has expertise in the said field and a novice was brought in as her replacement for matters of convenience. The current ICC has his people. TERI and RK Pachauri are inseparable.’

The ordeal for the victim, who worked as a research associate at TERI, first began, according to media reports, sometime in September 2013, immediately after she joined the organisation. It is alleged that for more than a year thereafter, Pachauri pursued her incessantly for a romantic and physical relationship, even though she expressed her dislike of these advances. Despite the spurnings, he remained persistent. There were several occasions, as the email and SMS exchanges allegedly reveal, where he hugged, touched her inappropriately, and tried to kiss her. When she continued to fob him off, she was told she would be moved to another department.

Since these allegations first hit the news, another former employee has opened up about her experiences with Pachauri at TERI. In her testimony, part of the FIR against Pachauri and released to the media by lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover, she recounts how Pachauri’s sexual innuendoes and acts, often brushed off as ‘inappropriate behaviour’, have been known to many at TERI. ‘Of the most common [instances] of such behaviour by him that many of us vividly recall was performed on the floor where his office is located... These evening sessions would often draw to a close with high-tea, and many a times with him lifting a female employee as if they were little girls. Some would run away seeing him approach them. A few coyly obliged. Some cringed, or muttered cuss words under their breath…’ He once allegedly promised to get her a pool membership if she joined him for swims on the weekend. When she eventually complained to the administrative head of TERI, she was told she had misread his warmth.

Earlier this year, a male staffer, viewed as a friend of the complainant, resigned from TERI after seniors allegedly tried to coax him to ask the complainant to settle the case outside court.

Pachauri’s behaviour is not very rare when it comes office sexual harassment. What is strange is that despite the outrage against him, he continues to thrive in the organisation while all those who stood up against him find themselves headed for the exit.