The British newspaper The Observer came under heavy criticism on social media on Sunday for its story that offers a sympathetic portrayal of RK Pachauri, the former director general of The Energy and Resources Institute who has been accused of sexually harassing a female colleague.
Authored by John Vidal, the environment editor of Observer’s sister publication The Guardian, the report describes the fall from grace of an “international figure, who was named Indian of the year and has received major awards from dozens of countries”.
It recounts that in February 2015 a young colleague at TERI had publicly accused Pachauri of besieging her “with offensive messages, emails and texts” and making “carnal and perverted” advances. Based on her complaint, on March 1, the Delhi Police filed a 1,400-page chargesheet against Pachauri, accusing him of sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation.
Now “faced with prison, ruin and disgrace”, The Observer report says, Pachauri has “stepped back from Teri”. It adds: “Meanwhile, his many enemies are revelling in his discomfort, his health has suffered and he has been subject to death threats and demonstrations by women’s groups.”
In email conversations with The Observer, the report says, Pachauri claimed that “his accuser was acting for money, and was probably set up to trap him by persons unknown”. The former head of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel peace prize in 2007, even suggests that climate change sceptics are to be blamed for the charges against him.
The report, which some called an “apologia”, was widely decried on Twitter, making #Pachauri trend on the social network during the first half of Sunday. Many criticised The Observer for not fact-checking the article – for instance, the newspaper describes Pachauri as a Nobel laureate, whereas it was the UN panel on climate change under his leadership that won the award. Many including historian Ramachandra Guha tweeted their indignation over the misrepresentation and hyperbole in the article.
Here a few tweets encapsulating the outrage: