India’s long history with sexual harassment at workplaces

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Getting a job is tough if you are a woman in India. For many, though, finding one is only the beginning of the nightmare.

Like in other parts of the world, sexual harassment at work is a serious concern in the country. A survey by the Indian National Bar Association (INBA) (pdf) conducted earlier this year, found that of the 6,047 participants (both male and female), 38% said they’d faced harassment at the workplace. Of these, 69% did not complain about it.

While companies in Asia’s third-largest economy are legally required to have policies in place against sexual harassment at the workplace, women seldom use them to complain for fear of losing their jobs and also due to the lifelong stigma such a move could entail. Those who finally do gather the courage to act often end up entangled in long-winding legal procedures.

In the wake of serious allegations of harassment being leveled by three women against the CEO of entertainment startup The Viral Fever, Quartz revisits some of the cases that made headlines in the past few years.

Phaneesh Murthy

In 2002, Phaneesh Murthy, a director with Infosys and one of the software major’s highest-paid employees then, quit following sexual harassment allegations made by his executive secretary. Murthy and Reka Maximovitch, the complainant, reached an out-of-court settlement, with the latter being paid $3 million. During his next stint at iGate, another software services firm, he was again accused of sexual harassment. In 2013, a junior employee, with whom he allegedly had an affair in the US, sued him for charges of sexual harassment. iGate removed Murthy as CEO and president as he had not reported his relationship with the said employee. However, the company denied finding any instances of sexual misconduct.

Air India

In 2012, an employee working at a restaurant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, filed a case against a senior Air India official, accusing him of sexually harassing her. The employee worked with a firm to which Air India had outsourced work.

The woman said the official showed her porn clips, nude pictures, and made physical advances. While the police launched a probe, the woman said her complaint to an assistant general manager at Air India was ignored.

“I complained to the AGM who said that I should take a 15-day break and would be given a job at a different department. When I went back, the security staff refused to let me in. I was sacked for complaining against an higher official,” the woman had said then.

More recently, in September last year, a police complaint was filed against Binoy Jacob, vice-president, Air India SATS Airports Services, Thiruvananthapuram, for sexual harassment of a subordinate. The complaint said Jacob used sexually explicit language while talking with women employees.

Tarun Tejpal

In November 2013, Tarun Tejpal, a senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine was accused of raping a young female staffer in an elevator in a Goa hotel. The incident took place during the magazine’s annual conclave, Thinkfest. The Goa police immediately charged Tejpal with rape, sexual harassment, taking advantage of his official position and committing rape on a woman in his custody. Tejpal spent six months in jail before the supreme court granted him bail.

Soon after his arrest, Shoma Choudhary, the then managing director of Tehelka had come under criticism for her ineffective handling of the complaint and for trying to hush up the matter.

The trial in the case is yet to begin.

AK Ganguly

In December 2013, AK Ganguly, a supreme court judge was accused by an intern of sexually harassing her at a hotel in New Delhi. The intern first wrote about the incident in a blog, following which the then chief justice of India set up a fact-finding panel to ascertain the veracity of the former intern’s allegations.

A three-judge committee of the supreme court then indicted Ganguly of committing an “act of unwelcome behaviour” and “conduct of sexual nature.” In July 2014, however, India’s home ministry said there was no case against him after the Delhi police said there wasn’t enough evidence to lodge an FIR against Ganguly.


An employee of India’s public-service television broadcaster, Doordarshan, had alleged that her supervisor in Patna had sexually harassed her. She alleged that the supervisor passed obscene comments, made physical advances, and harassed her. She officially lodged a complaint in April 2015, and while her allegations were found to be true after an internal probe, no action was taken. She was transferred to another Doordarshan office.

Subsequently, she approached the police but a case was not filed.

All India Radio

All India Radio (AIR), the country’s national radio broadcaster, was in the news in 2013 when women employees complained of sexual harassment and exploitation by senior officials. Months later, an investigation confirmed charges of sexual misconduct. “Casual presenters at FM Gold and FM Rainbow seem to be in a vulnerable position because of the casual nature of their engagement,” the ministry of information and broadcast said in its report.

The report directed AIR to install closed-circuit cameras in offices and subject staff to surprise inspections.


In 2015, a woman employee at Greenpeace India said she had had to leave her job in 2013 due to sexual harassment and rape by a colleague. Despite complaints to the human resources department, no action was taken, though others, too, had complained against the same person. A member of Greenpeace’s internal complaints committee (ICC) told the Times of India in 2015 that a suggestion to oust the offender was “overturned” by the executive director.

Two years since, no action has been taken.


India’s third-largest software services firm was dragged to court by an employee who alleged that she was being discriminated against when it came to her salary and that her manager had forced her to have an alleged affair. Shreya Ukil, who worked for Wipro in London, filed a GBP1.2-million lawsuit in October 2015. Wipro contested the case and, in May 2016, said the UK Employment Tribunal had ruled in its favour. “Wipro Limited is pleased that the UK Employment Tribunal has upheld the dismissal of the complainant from the services of the organisation as appropriate and rejected claims of adverse cultural attitude towards women in the organisation,” a company spokesperson had told the Economic Times newspaper.

RK Pachauri

In February 2015, RK Pachauri, the then director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), was accused of sexually harassing a researcher at the organisation since September 2013.

The 74-year-old Pachauri, who was the former chairman of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), denied the allegations. He claimed his computer and phone were hacked, but the police rubbished this. A week after the first complaint, another woman spoke up alleging sexual harassment by Pachauri.

In March 2016, the Delhi police charged the scientist with sexual harassment, assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, stalking and gesturing, or acting with the intension of insulting the modesty of a woman. TERI first appointed Pachauri as executive vice-chairman despite the allegations, but eventually dismissed him from the institution.