In desperately trying to clear its name, TVF even threatened the alleged victim.

“We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations,” the company wrote in its post, prompting some Twitter users to suggest some more appropriate edits.

Botched recovery

While TVF remained skeptical about Indian Fowler’s anonymous claims, it couldn’t turn a blind eye to allegations from women who came out in the open. For instance, Reema Sengupta, co-founder of Mumbai-based digital content startup CATNIP, detailed her disconcerting experience with Kumar, while a fellow IIT-Kharagpur alumnus wrote of his demand that she go home with him and then strip and dance.

Though the company didn’t revise its official statement, Nidhi Bisht, the casting director and protagonist of TVF’s upcoming series Bisht, Please!, used her Facebook page as a megaphone. In a post, she expressed shock at the subsequent allegations, saying TVF has “zero tolerance towards workplace harassment and an investigation will be conducted and appropriate actions will be taken.”

For a while, Bisht’s damage-control offered respite, and a slew of TVF employees shared her post, echoing her sentiment. Two of them even said that Kumar had been a “father-figure” to them.

But just when things seemed to be cooling down, Kumar re-ignited the controversy, telling Mumbai Mirror in an interview on March 14, ”I am a heterosexual single man and when I found a woman sexy, I tell her she is sexy. I compliment women, is that wrong?”

Kumar, perhaps, was unaware that while complimenting professional competence is welcome, comments on appearances and looks are a no-go at the office. In an article for The Quint, activist Harish Iyer explained the deep-seated misogyny in Kumar’s nonchalance:

The assumption that heterosexual men have the right to say sexual things to a woman and that the woman should take it, is the epitome of a totally patriarchal mindset. And the audacity to end the sentence with, “is that wrong?” is not an innocent statement taken out of context. It is a justification of the words being said to a woman even when she clearly doesn’t appreciate it and also a slap on every woman’s face by the contaminated hands of patriarchy.

Act, don’t react

TVF and Kumar’s approach to handling the situation demonstrates the difficulty that employees face in speaking up against sexual harassment at the workplace, particularly when there’s a superior involved. Earlier this year, a survey by the Indian National Bar Association (pdf) found that 38% of the 6,047 male and female participants had faced sexual harassment at work. Of this group, 69% did not complain, fearing repercussions.

And even when women do speak out, particularly against powerful men, their voices often go unheard.

For instance, RK Pachauri continued to lead The Energy & Research Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, despite evidence that he sexually harassed a female colleague.

“Women in TERI had two choices,” Dilip Ahuja, professor of energy and environment policy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies at TERI, told Caravan Magazine. “They could either succumb to Pachauri’s advances, or leave.”

Not surprisingly, Pachauri’s victim chose the latter, just like the woman whose accusations against Indian Hotels chief executive Rakesh Sarna went unheeded, and Indian Fowler herself.

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