Sexual Harassment Case Against Asianet News CEO Abhinav Khare : Police Gives Clean Chit To Accused
The Logical Indian Crew Karnataka
October 18th, 2018 / 7:19 PM
[Update: The article title “Asianet Says They Acted In Accordance With Law In Sexual Harassment Case Filed Against Abhinav Khare” and the content has been updated on 8 May 2019 according to the latest report]
In October 2017, Abhinav Khare, the Chief Operating Officer of ARG Outlier Asianet News was accused of sexually harassing Sonam Mahajan. Mahajan was just months old in the organisation, working as a strategy consultant in Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF). Mahajan was reporting to Khare.
Now, the Bengaluru police which was probing the case has filed a B report, thereby giving a clean chit to Khare.
“None of the firm’s employees spoke in favour of the complainant. We interviewed 15 employees who worked with the woman and the accused but not one person’s testimony had anything to back the complainant’s claims. In fact many of them alleged she behaved inappropriately. Some said her performance was not satisfactory and the complaint was vendetta,” said the Police report.
In response, Sonam Mahajan has accused police of carrying out a biased investigation. Sonam Mahajan while speaking to The Logical Indian, said, “The whole investigation was conducted very shoddily. The investigation officer who was overlooking the case seemed to have a clear bias against me. As far as my cooperation with the authorities is concerned, I offered my full cooperation. Initially, the inspector refused to register to FIR at the first place saying that they did not want any headache considering big people were involved. In fact, police caused much trauma since I would be made to wait in the police station from morning to evening on multiple occasions.”
Our earlier coverage on the issue
Last year Chief Operating Officer of Asianet, Abhinav Khare, a close aide of a BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar was accused of sexually harassing a young woman working in the office in Bengaluru. Even after the in-house inquiry committee found that the accused was at fault, he was not asked to leave the place, instead, the woman, Sonam Mahajan found herself out of a job and with an ex-parte order pressed against her in the court. In response to the allegations, MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar office has said that they have acted in full accordance with the law had swiftly appointed a committee including Independent members which made its recommendations. Since both parties raised objections to report – the objections were sent back to committee to consider and finalize.
No Internal committee
According to The Wire, Sonam was working as a strategy consultant at the Namma Bengaluru Foundation when the incident of alleged sexual misconduct happened last year. BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar is the Founder Trustee and Chairman of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, and he is also a former board member of Asianet News. Abhinav Khare is the COO of the Asianet. Both the firms operate from the same building in Bengaluru.
On October 9, 2017, Sonam had joined Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s political office, but she was told that she would be under the payroll of NBF. Abhinav Khare was her reporting head.
After a months time of joining the workplace, Sonam complained about Abhinav Khare’s inappropriate behaviour. On November 16, 2017, she filed a sexual harassment case against Khare. According to The News Minute, the company said as per her payroll is an employee of Namma Bengaluru Foundation. But, as NBF does not have ten members in total, they do not have an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC).
This led to the company insisting her for a compromise. However, when Sonam insisted the company on December 1, they set up an ad hoc investigation committee to probe sexual harassment at the workplace.
As soon the committee was set up Sonam asked the company to move her to some other team as she did not want to work in the same teams as the perpetrator. However, rather than reassigning her a new team she had to go through a long process of inquiry into the case, stressful rounds of talks and finally a gag order that refrained her from speaking to anyone about her situation.
While talking to The News Minute, some employees from the same office building as Khare and Sonam said that the company initially tried to shame her. “I am not sure of the exact sequence, but I believe they tried to shame her. Till then she had only demanded that she be shifted to a new team, but later when they tried to blame her for his behaviour, she asked for an investigation,” the source said.
Case should end in 90 days
As per the rules of ICC, the investigation into a sexual harassment case is meant to be completed in 90 days. However, in Sonam’s case, the committee set by NBT took double the time. Finally, the committee delivered its report at the end of June 2018. The final report said that Khare is guilty of the charges he was accused of. The committee also asked Khare to tender a written apology to Sonam and recommended punitive measures against Khare.
According to The Wire, sadly there are no records of the company accepting and acting on the investigation committee’s recommendations nor of Khare writing an apology to her.
The in-house report came in June and from June to October, neither NBF nor Asianet made any efforts to ensure that Khare sent his apology, as reported by The News Minute.
In September, Sonam repeatedly questioned the management about why the recommendations were not acted upon. She also refused to work in the office where Khare, who was found guilty of sexual harassment is working in close proximity. She also told the NBT that since Khare is not ready to give a written apology, she would have to approach the police.
Restraining her to speak
On October 1, 2018, after Sonam threatened to go to the police, Abhinav Khare approached the Additional City Civil and Sessions Judge (ACCJ). He asked the ACCJ to put a stay on the ad-hoc committee’s report and demanded that NBF to not implement the recommendations.
In response to the allegations, the Namma Bengaluru Foundation and the office of Rajeev Chandrasekhar issued a statement.
Abhinav Khare has also responded to the allegations. He said that the entire story is false, defamatory and malicious and she alleged of harassment after her performance – lack of competence and indiscipline, in the organisation was questioned. He also alleged that Sonam Mahajan has been trying to extort money from her.
With the wave of #MeToo movement hitting India, women from all around the country are now mustering up the courage to come and speak about the harassment they have faced in the hands of men at senior positions. On October 7, Sonam too tweeted about her incident without naming the accused. The next day Khare rushed to the ACCJ again and got a gag order, that too ex-parte.
As per The Wire when they contacted Surya Raju, head of HR for Chandrasekhar’s office in Bangalore, they said that “the enquiry is over, we have acted on the recommendations … the company has zero tolerance towards sexual harassment.”
Written by : Bharat Nayak
Edited by : Shraddha Goled