NEW DELHI: R K Pachauri, TERI’s Ex-Boss, battling the charges of molesting a colleague, has now filed a civil suit against lawyer Vrinda Grover, accusing her of defaming him and pursuing him with phony molestation charges.

The counter-litigation has demanded rs 1 crore from Grover and an injunction from pursuing him further on the said charges.

In their response, a group of women activists and academics, have issued a statement condemning Pachauri for subverting the charges against him and impeding the pace of the court proceedings. The statement reads, “the very public attack on Ms. Grover is a matter of concern for all those who, like the signatories to this letter, are struggling to deliver substantive justice under the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace in India today.”

The document has been signed by, among others; noted feminist historian Uma Chakravarthy, Gender Studies scholar, Nivedita Menon, Women rights activists, and AIPWA Secretary, Kavita Krishnan, and Mary John of JNU.

The statement published on Monday criticised Pachauri for dodging the charges by trotting out conspiracy theories, such as one he fed to The Guardian, in which he maligned those accusing him for molestation as “climate change sceptics” who are out there to “defame him”. “In interviews given to The Guardian he presents himself as a man beleaguered and hounded by climate-change sceptics and women activists, conflating women activists taking up charges of sexual harassment with climate change sceptics,” the statement counters.

Pachauri is under the scanner for not one case of sexual harassment but many others, as after the first case came to light, a couple of other women too came forward and recounted their own instances of harassment at the hands of former IPCC chief. He has since resigned from both the organisations. Earlier this year, he was offered the post of Vice-Chairman at TERI by the Governing Council of the organization. The website of TERI lists Pachauri as ‘Vice Chairman (On leave)’.

Excerpts from the statement:

… All codes of professional ethics have been breached in this act of suing Grover for damages. Pachauri’s legal representative, Ashish Dixit, in The New Indian Express article titled “European Woman Accused Pachauri of Harassment”, dated March 31, 2016, has charged Grover of leading a “conspiracy to defame” R.K. Pachauri. This imputation of motives of a criminal nature to Grover, the opposing counsel, is a serious violation of the statutorily binding professional code of conduct and etiquette expected from advocates. This breach is made even more egregious by the fact that Grover is the woman lawyer representing two women in their complaints of sexual harassment by the petitioner, leading as it does to the inescapable conclusion that the civil suit is just a continuation of the intimidation and vilification of women (be they complainants or their lawyers) who have the temerity to pursue complaints of sexual harassment against powerful men.

... Now, by suing Grover for acting on her clients’ instructions to make their statements public, Pachauri seeks to restrain her from executing her responsibilities to her clients. Clearly his intent is also to deny to these two women and by implication all complainants, the right to share their experiences of sexual harassment in public when their every effort to access justice has been thwarted.

We would like to emphasise that Pachauri’s suit against opposing counsel has implications that will have a chilling effect on complaints of sexual harassment, as it has all the characteristics of an instance of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Such legal actions are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. In addition, since Pachauri’s suit also targets prominent media houses, the aim is perpetuation of a social space in which only Pachauri’s defence and allegations against complainant(s) holds sway, thereby creating an atmosphere that is in general disbelieving and often downright hostile to complainant(s) and their efforts to access justice.

... We expect those who bear the responsibility of bringing him to justice, to convey this message to Pachauri in clear and unambiguous terms. We also urge the National Commission for Women to maintain oversight of the pre-trial process and ensure that it is not influenced or subverted by those who seek to protect Pachauri from the consequences of his actions.

We call upon all like-minded individuals and organisations to join us in supporting the right of Advocate Vrinda Grover to pursue this case and bring justice where it is due.