What is the scene like at a cool workplace? Bean bags, cold coffee machine and flexible working hours. A place where you can just walk in in your shorts without caring about the creepy middle-aged uncle who could pass judgmental looks while scrutinising the length of your dress. A place that has no overarching hierarchy, where an intern’s creativity is valued as much. A place where your colleagues become your core-friend circle because you hardly have time off work. A gender neutral place where women voices count as much as the men. So, what kind of a working place was TVF?
One needs to ask this because it resembles the same kind of “cool” workspace I am talking about. Out of 200 employees at TVF, 80 are women, a fair representation of women, one would say. Till now not less than five women have come out with vivid accounts of sexual harassment and accused TVF CEO (Chief Experimenting Officer) Arunabh of being a habitual offender. None have filed a case yet and TVF has rejected these accounts as “slanderous”. It didn’t occur to the firm that all places are supposed to have a committee against sexual harassment at workplace and internally probe the allegations. Their response to the entire fiasco has been one of victim-shaming, the same behaviour that leads to women refraining from coming out in the open against such harassment. The charges must be taken into account. Remember, how Goa Police had taken suo moto cognisance against Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal based on online leaks of an alleged sexual assault of a much younger journalist at the organisation.
As the CEO of TVF, reportedly a Rs 270 crore venture, Arunabh had taken the web content platform to new heights. TVF has given us path-breaking web-series and really edgy and diverse web content. It has no parallels at least in the web content market. The behind-the-scene and subscribe calls at the end of their YouTube show cool, happy women. These happy faces hardly give us any hint of what TVF, that has produced such entertaining and gender sensitive content, is like as a working place, particularly for its women. Who would think a 34-year-old, highly driven achiever, who figured in all lists of young achievers from GQ to Forbes would be accused of being a habitual sexual molester.
Here are some accounts from the women who have accused Arunabh Kumar of sexually harassing them. All of them were either working on him in some project or happened to meet him in Mumbai through work.
- Reshma Patra:
“It was 2012. I was working with PwC, in Bombay, living in a plush service-apartment & working 12 hours a day at an international Bank’s office in Prabhadevi. Arunabh was struggling then. There was no funding, etc. So, just like I do whenever I live in any city, I try to catch-up with “people from KGP, IIT, and known circles of people”. So, I messaged Arunabh on Facebook & we met for coffee, said Hi / Hello, etc, and I wanted to leave by 8-9pm. Arunabh asks me: “Would you go to my place, and dance for me”? I was like WHAT? I thought he was being funny. But NO, he was Serious. 🙂 He said he would like to get naked & see me stripping & dancing *for him*. He also told me that….he is fond of girls from Calcutta; he has “made out” lot of times, with random girls in ‘Cal’.”
2. Rafiya Khan
“Out of now where he started telling me he just came back from some place in Ratnagiri, and he bought mangoes. He asked me if I liked mangoes, while his mouth spoke those words, his hands slided on my back, from neck to waist. Im not someone who gets scared easily, I wasn’t scared, I just knew his intentions. I moved away from him, stared and said a NO and walked off.”
3. Reema Sengupta
“I was shooting with him in the TVF office, for a web series I was directing last year. The first time we met at the recce, he asked me to send him my work, which I did out of courtesy. When we met on the day of the shoot, I asked him if he had seen the links. To this he said – why don’t you come over to my place and we can watch them together. We can also watch a movie. Which movie do you want to watch? I politely evaded the question and continued briefing him about the shoot. As I talk, he finds some lame excuse to place his hand on my hand (which was on the table in his glass cabin). In the middle of the shoot, he touches my shoulder tattoo and tells me he finds it sexy. After every other shot, he would come over to the monitor to see how the shot looks, but at the same time graze his hand against my waist. All this in a 5-hour shoot. I can only imagine what she must have gone through for 2 years!”
4. The anonymous girl’s blog that started it all. She published her account in medium.com under the name Indian Fowler. This account by an anonymous girl from Muzaffarpur, Bihar also the hometown of Arunabh Kumar went viral on 13 March. She was an ex-employee of TVF and claims that even after leaving the company hasn’t stopped harassing her. Following this blog, all the above accounts came to light.
“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.”
5. Ayushi Aggarwal, in the comment section of the same blog published by medium.com
“Hello Indian Fowler .. I don’t know who you are but I am also an ex TVF employee too and I have had to face a similar experience working there. I felt exploited and cheated and I left my job under very bad circumstances. I hope things have worked out for you. It is indeed no place for a woman. I would never recommend anybody to work there.”
Now, look at the responses given by TVF.
First their press-release: “We will leave no stones unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to justice for making such false allegations.”
Hey #TVF I just corrected your “official press release” …
— Rashi Kakkar (@rashi_kakkar) March 13, 2017
Second, Arunabh’s own interview with the Mumbai Mirror, reflects his bizarre take on the whole controversy.
“The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy – but this is only done in my personal capacity. I compliment women in my personal space and not at the workplace. Is that wrong? Is every man whose compliment a woman doesn’t like, a molester. Having said that, I am very particular about my behavior – I will approach a woman, but never force myself. However, if my words may have still offended anybody, I am open to investigation
The sense of entitlement in both the statements is simply amazing. The press release doesn’t even acknowledge that there could be such a possibility and absolves the accused of his crimes at the first go.
No one knows if these odd complaints in the online space will ever be investigated. One of the girls accuses Arunabh of claiming “police mere pocket me hai”. We might think that the new age well behaved young guys, well-educated and successful, seemingly harmless, with intellect and sense humour would be different from the previous generations of men, for whom oppression of women was a norm of life. But the fact is even in these cool offices and fog of crushed coffee bean induced creativity, there could be sexual predators sitting right at the top.