The head of Greenpeace India, Samit Aich, and programme director Divya Raghunandan resigned on Wednesday, months after public dissent over how they handled complaints of sexual harassment in the last three years.

An announcement released on the organisation’s blog on June 24 said Aich resigned “following an internal review of the organisation’s handling of two sexual harassment cases.”

This review by Greenpeace International, released two weeks ago, had strongly criticised how the India branch handled the case.

“It appears that there is an internal cultural problem in Greenpeace India,” the review said. While it stood by Aich’s decision to give a written warning to the employee accused of sexual harassment instead of dismissing him, it said that "senior management should actively, directly and explicitly discourage staff from putting pressure on women not to complain – either on the grounds of the external attack the organisation is under, or indeed for whatever reason is current at the time". 

Against the government

Even as Aich and Raghunandan took responsibility for the poor handling, Greenpeace’s board took care to commend him for his leadership of the organisation. Aich became the head of Greenpeace India in 2008, three years after he joined.

Since its arrival, Greenpeace India has consistently raised environmental and ecological concerns across the country, protesting forests and tribal rights being sacrificed to coal, promoting clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

The friction between the central government and the organisation intensified around a year ago, when an Intelligence Bureau report commissioned by the second UPA government and released last June cited the organisation’s funding of research projects as a threat to national interest.

In January, the Modi government prevented Greenpeace representative Priya Pillai from to the United Kingdom. A month after the Delhi High Court quashed the lookout notice against Pillai, the government cited irregularities under the under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and suspended the organisation’s foreign funding registration and all its bank accounts for six months. In May, Greenpeace announced that it would have money to pay salaries only until the end of the month.

In June, the Tamil Nadu government began to investigate Greenpeace India’s Chennai branch for alleged irregularities.

Rape and sexual harassment

Events began to unravel for Aich and Raghunandan at the height of this tension towards the end of February, when a former Greenpeace employee wrote a number of Facebook posts accusing a male employee in the organisation of raping her. She also accused an older male employee of sexual harassment.

The employee quit in 2014, almost a year after Greenpeace’s Human Resources department failed to take her complaints of sexual harassment seriously.

Greenpeace initially acknowledged her Facebook posts, writing in an official statement that “two years ago our processes failed. Our former colleague was right and we were wrong.  We have to hold up our hands and admit that.”

Aich asked the male employee accused of sexual harassment to apologise via email. The employee did not acknowledge his actions, but wrote to her saying he did not mean to intentionally hurt her feelings and hoped that they could still be friends.

The issue came back to light in June, when the former employee finding this letter inadequate, wrote a complete account of what had happened three years ago on the website Youthkiawaaz.

Divya Raghunandan’s response to this post was criticised at this time, after she ended her comment on action taken with the line, “By repeatedly accusing the organisation of inaction and insensitivity without taking cognisance of the steps taken is against the basic feminist principle of dialogue and engagement.”

Greenpeace International’s internal review came in the light of this post and the initial complaint in February.

Staff members Vinuta Gopal and Sanjiv Gopal will be interim co-Executive directors while the board begins to recruit a new head.