Sexual harassment allegations pour in against many members of the media fraternity
While stand-up comedian Utsav Chakraborty, journalist Anurag Verma and author Chetan Bhagat have apologised, others have denied or refused to respond.
Several women on Friday made allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against various journalists, media professionals and writers on social media. Some of the women, including journalists, gave detailed accounts of incidents of alleged sexual harassment and misconduct they faced. Accusations continued to be made through the weekend.
Writer and columnist Chetan Bhagat was among those who apologised for his behaviour after a Twitter user accused him of misconduct. In a Facebook post, Bhagat later apologised for his behaviour and said that he had not had a physical relationship with the woman. “Maybe I was going through a phase, maybe these things just happen, or maybe I felt the person felt the same too based on our conversations [which I don’t need to repeat here]. However, it was stupid of me, to feel that way and to even share that with her.”
A former employee of Hindustan Times accused a bureau chief of the paper, Prashant Jha, of making her feel “uncomfortable”. The woman posted screenshots of their text messages on a social media platform. Attempts to reach Jha were unsuccessful, but a spokesperson of Hindustan Times told The Indian Express that the company was “verifying facts as this was two years ago”. “We are seeing whether a complaint was filed or not and whether any action was taken or not,” the spokesperson said. “An internal investigation will begin Monday.” The accuser later clarified that she was not working at the newspaper at the time.
Jha has stepped down from his position.
The Times of India Resident Editor KR Sreenivas, who was accused by a woman journalist of sexual harassment, said the company has constituted a committee to look into the allegations against him. “TOI has said the charge would be investigated by its committee against sexual harassment,” he said in a statement to Scroll.in. “A highly empowered and accessible committee under this policy and under the law is in place to investigate and address all allegations of sexual harassment. The group is headed by a senior woman executive. I will submit myself to the investigation.”
He was sent on “administrative leave” on October 8.
Another female journalist, writing in anonymously, alleged that, during an interview in a hotel room, writer Kiran Nagarkar had tried to touch her inappropriately. After the first tweet, at least two more women wrote to say they had been made uncomfortable by the writer. However, Nagarkar has denied the claims. “I have my integrity,” he told NDTV. “I am capable of no such thing.”
Former Editor in Chief of DNA in Mumbai, Gautam Adhikari, who was also accused by somejournalists, claimed he did not “recall” any of the alleged incidents. “I retired from the media industry many years ago and have no recollection of this incident,” Adhikari told The Wire in an email on October 6. “I always treated my former colleagues fairly and politely and this person was no exception I would think. I’m sorry if I have ever been unintentionally impolite to anyone but I do not recall such lapses from respectful behaviour towards all.”
On October 9, another media professional alleged that Adhikari had forcibly kissed her 12 years ago when she met him for an interview. Adhikari has since left the post of senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Journalist Anurag Verma was among those who apologised for his behaviour after some women on Twitter accused him of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment.
In a series of tweets, Verma described as “problematic” some content he had shared on Snapchat, a messaging app where images get automatically deleted as soon as the intended viewer of a photo sees them. “I have been problematic. The content that I thought was ‘funny’ at the time was actually not,” he said. “I’m sorry, I have made many of you uncomfortable with my crass photos and videos that I thought would pass as a humour. I have also used the ‘send nudes’ term very loosely. For me, it was a meme back then but I didn’t realise the damage I was doing by sending it to people.”
His statement comes a day after several women accused stand-up comic Utsav Chakraborty – who was a prominent part of comedy collective All India Bakchod – of sexual harassment. Chakraborty used to work with HuffPost India, but left the organisation in 2015. Verma was earlier employed with the media organisation till October 2017.
In a statement, HuffPost India said it was unaware of any allegations levelled against both Verma and Chakraborty while they worked there. “We are checking if there were any similar allegations while they were here,” said editor-in-chief Aman Sethi. “HuffPost India has a zero tolerance approach to any form of workplace harassment.”
“We do not condone such acts in any way,” said Sethi. “HuffPost India stands with survivors and treats complaints regarding potential misconduct by its employees with utmost seriousness.”
Meanwhile, comedy group All India Bakchod on Friday accepted that one of its members, Tanmay Bhat, had received “specific, detailed allegations” about Chakraborty in a personal and private capacity after he stopped working with the group. “Tanmay confronted Utsav in a personal capacity – which led to Utsav calling the victim, leading to further harassment,” the group said in a statement on Twitter. “At the time, the accuser did not wish to pursue any further legal action. Out of respect for the person’s privacy, nobody else at AIB was inform of the specifics of the situation and the matter ended there.”
The group apologised for having continued to employ Chakraborty as a freelancer after the allegations were revealed. Tanmay Bhat later “stepped away” from the group, while another co-founder, Gursimran Khamba, was sent on temporary leave of absence following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Advertising professional Mihir Chitre, who was also called out on social media for sexual harassment, apologised on Friday for his behaviour. “I’m certainly guilty of a lack of judgement on my part about all this,” Chitre wrote on Twitter. “I’m terribly hurt that I’ve hurt you and others. That was never ever my intent. I stand corrected and I’ve too much to look within. Thank you for making me realise this. Never again. I’m sorry.”
He further said: “My idea of asking someone out or flirting has clearly been wrong enough for it to hurt some women. I don’t want to defend the hurt I have caused. People speak out because they were uncomfortable. I respect that, apologise for it and am castigating my flawed ideas.”
Two journalists have accused The Quint’s senior reporter Meghnad Bose of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour. One woman claimed that Bose touched her inappropriately when they were both students at a journalism college, while the second woman alleged that Bose “bullied and harassed” women. On Sunday, Bose apologised for his behaviour and “sexist comments, jibes and jokes” on Facebook.
Several women also posted on Twitter about journalist Mayank Jain, who worked at Scroll.in, Business Standard and BloombergQuint. One journalist posted that she had been at the “receiving end of this man’s unwelcome sexual predations”, while others posted screenshots of instances in which Jain had allegedly made unwanted advances, including sexually explicit comments, to a number of women. Jain, who resigned from Business Standard on October 9, has yet to respond to queries regarding these allegations.
BloombergQuint, a former employer of Jain’s released this statement about him: “We are deeply troubled to hear that such misbehaviour and harassment may have occurred at a work-related event in December 2016. Unfortunately, as no complaint was made, we had no way of taking any action against the person involved. Even the slightest reference (that something of this nature had occurred) would have prompted immediate corrective action. BloombergQuint has a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and we are horrified that any team member of ours would have to face such unpleasantness and ugly behaviour from a colleague. We wish the female journalist would have given us a chance to stand up for her and all other women in the workplace. Since neither person is an employee at this point no action on our part is possible.”
Shyamlal Majumdar, Business Standard editor said, “On Mayank Jain, a due process is on and we can share with you the details as and when we will have anything to say”.
In view of the statements of women who have made public their experiences of Mayank Jain’s misconduct, we at Scroll in the spirit of fair disclosure would like to state that Mayank Jain worked for Scroll from October 15, 2014 to October 30, 2016, and then from June 12, 2017 to December 31, 2017.
A woman employee informally and verbally brought to the attention of a member of the internal complaints committee (ICC) at Scroll an instance of sexually inappropriate online behaviour by Mayank Jain in 2017. The employee, however, did not want to pursue the matter through a formal written complaint, without which no formal inquiry can be initiated. Despite this, the ICC took serious note of the matter and served a written warning to Mayank Jain, reminding him of Scroll’s strict policies prohibiting sexual harassment.
We, at Scroll, commit to continuing to better understand women’s experiences at the workplace and evolve further processes that may be required to prevent, acknowledge and respond to work cultures that are not enabling for women.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include only those accounts in which the women have chosen to name themselves and their alleged harassers. Scroll.in reporters are continuing to report the story, including efforts to corroborate and cover the cases where the women have chosen to be anonymous.