Allegations of molestation against The Viral Fever (TVF)’s founder Arunabh Kumar has now been much discussed on social media. After the first allegation came out in a Medium post, several more cases flooded on social media where women who had been associated with TVF reported harassment by the founder himself and also commented on the general sexist culture of TVF’s workplace.
The reason why the post went viral is not difficult to understand. It resonated with many women who had worked in the same office, the people who had heard about such cases in TVF office but turned a deaf ear and several other women working in private organizations where there is almost an institutional support for such kind of behaviour as it is not considered “a big deal”. I will explain this by answering the eternal questions raised in the “defense of the poor men who just compliment a woman when they like it”. For now, FIRs have been registered against Arunabh Kumar, as he had dared the women who spoke out.
Now, to the question of could the allegation made by the anonymous writer on Medium be false – Yes, it could be. As the TVF staff repeatedly say, the woman may not exist. We may accept the argument that it is a “baseless” claim to defame Arunabh Kumar and the woman should be brought to “severe justice”. But several women came up with similar charges that ranged from mixing narcotic substances in the food/drinks and misbehaving, being locked up to groping among others. So, yes – the attempt at defamation could be possible, but not with so many women and their friends/colleagues reporting similar experiences, now with an official complaint.
To answer the eternal question- why didn’t the woman/women go to the police right away? Well, if it is still a secret to you that the cases of molestation and harassment are severely under-reported, it’s time to move out of the shell and look at the reasons that lead to it. If the legitimacy of the molestation and harassment incidents would depend on the number of cases filed with the police, that comes with its own stigma and other problems like further bullying, then the cases like Bengaluru mass molestation that has a video footage as its proof and several others didn’t happen at all. No – quite literally, it is clear men around us grapple with the concept of consent. Also, there is much confusion about what constitutes Sexual Harassment and it takes only a Google search to find out.
Also, one is quick to blame the victim – and this applies to the victim’s internalized sense of oppression too. The first response to any incident of this kind is self-questioning – “Did this really happen? Did I do something to provoke it? Was it my fault?”. And on the outside, the incidents are dismissed as a “joke”, and inappropriate behaviour from men just becomes a norm to be put up with. So no, the grass isn’t greener for women. Yes, the false cases have to be dealt with too but there is a systematic lack of empathy even when the cases occur right in front of people’s eyes.
Now coming to Arunabh Kumar’s statement in his own defense – that he calls a woman “sexy” whenever he feels like it. And the argument in his favour runs like – If Arunabh is wrong, then every man trying to flirt with a woman is a molester. Well, no. People just need to be more conscious of the power positions they are holding and well… learning about consent may help with effective flirting as well (and many men need this particular lesson). Asking for a “quickie” (oh no.. joking about it), making snide remarks, and calling a woman ‘sexy’ in a situation where the factor of consent is not even considered can’t fall into the category of “flirting”. Touching a woman without her consent isn’t just “flirting”, here is an open example.
To the question of why didn’t they say ‘no’ right away. Well, they didn’t get a chance to do so. And it is not a secret that while dealing with men in positions of power, there is much more at stake – for example – jobs, prospective jobs, “reputation” as a trouble-maker and of course, stigma. If Arunabh Kumar admits to this case of calling a woman “sexy” during work without caring for consent, and understanding it to be “flirting”, that may lead us to two kinds of conclusions – first, he really doesn’t understand the power dynamics he is a part of being the woman’s employer (which he needs to) or he regards all women who work for him in such terms of assessment. It is easy to paint the victim as a liar, but it is even easier to cast the molester/perpetrator as a victim. After all, women are meant to be seen as sex objects – random innuendos (that are unasked for) and remarks are harmless and aren’t to be taken ‘seriously’. After all, one may not share your sense of humor that sexually demeans the other person, but as a woman one should keep silent (because it is all in our heads?).
Powerful men with capital get away with such cases unscathed. Because there’s a lot that they control. Right from Donald Trump’s example (in this case too, the charges were made years after the incidents) to the personalities like Johnny Depp, Bill Cosby, Alfred Hitchcock, RK Pachauri, Tarun Tejpal, among others, the accounts of abuse by their domestic partners and other women aren’t accounted for in their ‘professional’ history. It is not a secret either that these groups find it easier to control the legal system, as they can afford it. There are far less accounts of victory against the rich, male sexual offenders who run “companies” of their own. TVF’s first statement about bringing the liar to “severe justice” rather than setting up an internal probe is an echo of this confidence. Little is accounted of the fact that these very men are responsible for pushing the women back from the work culture and so are the people who choose to remain silent and “impartial”.
TVF repeatedly claims that they deal with such cases very seriously, but there are enough evidence against this. Apart from the lack of ICC to investigate cases of sexual harassment, the statements by women also reveal a whole culture of invisibilized harassment that a woman is expected to bear through. Now that the complaints have been lodged, one can hope for fair investigation and action.
And all the best to the “innocent flirt” Arunabh. May the rest of you learn how to flirt well.