NEW DELHI: I can only express shock and protest over the decision to appoint R.K. Pachauri to the post of Executive Vice-chairman at The Energy And Resources Institute (TERI), in spite of the sexual harassment case that has been pending against him since last year.

Pachauri’s appointment is a huge slap in the face of all those of us who have been fighting sexual harassment in this country. It sends out the message that complaints regarding sexual harassment and violence will not be taken seriously, for one.

A major part of the fight against sexual harassment is concerned with sexual harassment in the workplace, where the message sent out by the organisation dealing with such incidents is as important as the fight for justice itself.

Let’s take a look at what exactly happened to elucidate this point further. Following the allegations of sexual harassment made by a 29 year old research scholar at TERI, R.K Pachauri stepped down from post of the chief of IPCC, UN's top body on climate change and from the PM's body of advisors on climate change, and took leave from TERI.

As an inquiry into the allegation continues, R.K. Pachauri was appointed as the executive vice-chairman of TERI – a post specially created for him.

The appointment was made by the board of TERI, which includes a number of high profile people such as HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh, former HSBC chairman HSBC Naina Lal Kidwai and DSP BlackRock Investment chairman Hemendra Kothari.

The message is loud and clear: “We back Pachauri, allegations of sexual harassment be damned.”

The question that needs to be asked is: How will this play out for the fight against sexual harassment in India? That fight has to be fought at several fronts, and if one of the most important fronts capitulates before the fight has even properly begun, what chance do we stand at all?

Add to this the problematic point that R.K Pachauri’s new appointment has come whilst the investigation against him is ongoing. Remember, Pachauri is a powerful man. The board backing him are powerful people. Will this not intimidate the complainant and/or prejudice the case against Pachauri?

For the thousands of women who suffer sexual harassment at the workplace -- by powerful men who use their power to intimidate, coerce and harass -- what message does R.K Pachauri’s new appointment send? What is the point of complaining if the organisation isn’t going to support your complaint? If it is going to go out of its way to protect the accused?

Let’s also not forget that this is not a one-off incident. Several people whom I know who have worked at TERI or know of younger employees at TERI were not at all surprised at the allegations against Pachauri. In fact, at the time of writing, another former TERI employee stepped forward Wednesday to level similar allegations of sexual harassment.

As reported by The Indian Express: Claiming that sexual harassment by Pachauri, now TERI’s Executive Vice Chairman, is “an open secret” in the organisation, the woman said she joined the institute in 2003 and worked for over a year. She alleged that a few months into her employment, Pachauri began harassing her and did not stop until she quit.

Referring to Pachauri as a “serial sexual harasser”, she said she was compelled to speak out after his “big promotion” and that everyone standing by him “knows the kind of man he is”. “He would travel very often but whenever he was back at the TERI building, he would go floor to floor and pass by cabins and work stations, winking at women and chatting with them,” the woman told The Indian Express.

“I was then in my 20s. I did not need to interact with him initially but a few months later, I was put into a position where my interaction with him increased and then the harassment began,” she said. In a statement released Wednesday, she said: “He had renamed me with a sexually suggestive nickname. He said that this was a derivative of my official name and suited me far better. Pachauri would use the excuse of work assignments to repeatedly call me to his office room, even though there was no real work that he needed to discuss. This made me feel very uncomfortable and I used to try to dodge some meetings or ask my colleagues to go for the meetings.”

“He told me that he had been working on a novel and would like me to read and make suggestions before he handed it to the publisher… When I thumbed through the manuscript, I came across graphic descriptions of sex. I was horrified and angry that he gave something of this nature to a young, female employee who was younger than his children. It was much later, after I had quit TERI, that the novel ‘Return to Almora’ got published. I did not read the novel but the reviews spoke of a ‘steamy’ story, reminding me of the anguish I had experienced while I was working at TERI,” she said in her statement.

“On another occasion when I was in his office room because he had asked me to see him, he completely, against my wishes, forcibly held and kissed me on my face just as I was leaving the room. I was shocked and very upset and left his office immediately,” she told the publication.

Of course, the original complainant is appalled by it all. “The news of promotion of a man who stands booked on charges of sexual harassment at workplace, stalking and criminal intimidation by country’s who’s who makes my flesh crawl,” she said in an open letter.

In India, sexual harassment and violence is an issue that resonates deep within us. Many of us took to the streets after the December Delhi gangrape and demanded that the government does more to bring the perpetrators of sexual assault to justice.

That fight stands no chance unless it includes within its fold the powerful of this country. As the case against Pachauri came to the limelight, the board of TERI had an opportunity to serve as an example and lead the way in the fight against sexual harassment and violence in India, particularly sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

What they chose to do instead was to send out the message that the powerful, irrespective of circumstance, will always be protected.

So what chance do we have? We are so, so disappointed in you, TERI.

(A young working woman)