“In 2009, I joined Greenpeace as a volunteer and as an employee at the Bengaluru office in 2012. When one is new to a place, it is not easy to raise objection at anything for fear of being perceived rude. This is what happened with me. From day one I realised that inappropriate jokes and vulgar puns were a norm at Greenpeace India. I had not put much thought into it until I witnessed how it culminated into the fateful sexual assault upon me.
One night at a hotel, on a work trip in October 2012, senior admin manager Uday Kumar was drunk when he made an official call to me at around 10-11pm, telling me to vacate my room and insisting I sleep in his. He approached me physically despite my obvious discomfort, followed me around, insisted on force feeding me my birthday cake and sat next to me at breakfast when there were multiple other seats empty. It took me around one and a half months to get over my initial hesitation and file an official complaint. That’s when I came to know that Uday Kumar had harassed another female employee earlier in November 2011. So, in my complaint I referred to him as a ‘repeat offender’. In December 2012, another colleague, Seema, filed a complaint against Uday Kumar. In 2015, it was found that the HR manager had not considered her complaint under sexual harassment to avoid the internal complaints committee to probe it.
‘He told me I was so beautiful that every time he saw me he had to remind himself he was married.’
It was a colleague’s birthday party at Greenpeace’s guest-house in Delhi. All the staff were invited. When I reached there, Uday Kumar was already present. He was drunk. The entire staff was there, including Divya Raghunandan and Samit H. Suddenly Uday Kumar got up and began passing lewd remarks at me. In front of everyone, he told me I was so beautiful that he could barely restrain himself and had to keep reminding himself that he was married.
I felt really uncomfortable, while everyone else laughed. No one got up and said a word in my support. I asked a colleague to drop me home but Uday Kumar blocked my way and asked me why I was running away like that. He told me to go outside with him. I could no longer stay there and left. The next day I talked to Divya about it and she told me to give Uday Kumar a warning. I did so but he never apologised for his behaviour.
After this episode, I stopped attending any parties at Greenpeace because I knew that if something similar or worse happens, no one was going to support me. But this is not the solution.
Apart from this incident, many vulgar and lewd jokes do rounds in the office, which can easily be called anti-women. There is a culture of misogyny in Greenpeace. They are cheap people. I have worked at several offices of Greenpeace across the world but never witnessed such vulgarity. When my colleague Meghna was raped, some of them even went to the extent of saying, “She deserved to be raped.”
Since both the incidents had taken place during an outstation tour, the management seemingly banned Uday from taking up any tours for one year. But he defied the ban. The decision was itself taken by organisational director Anant, against whom another female employee had already filed a complaint of sexual harassment. In 2013, a male colleague whom I knew quite well found me unconscious after a party and raped me. Pain and fear had engulfed me at the time. I did not have the courage to share it even with a friend. Later I found the man had harassed other female colleagues, including volunteers, too. He had sent obscene pictures of himself to one of them. It was painful to work in the same office with my rapist and face him on a daily basis. When I could not take the constant harassment any more, I decided to quit. On informing my manager, I was laughed at, with him saying he was relieved he didn’t have to do paperwork regarding my role any longer. This is not how one expects to be treated by an organization to which you have given your 100%.
It was a difficult time. I had to survive in a big city on my own. I was under immense mental stress. I gathered courage over a period of time and finally wrote the facebook post in February. I narrated my ordeal and raised questions over the lax attitude of the management. Following this, Greenpeace immediately issued a press release apologizing to me. HR manager Parveen wrote an email to me saying that a meticulous examination will be undertaken again. Why was there no examination the first time, I ask. I also contacted Greenpeace International about the complaints of other colleagues. They heard my grievance but no action was initiated. A few days later, I came to know that a new committee has been set up but no one contacted me. The committee decided to sack Uday Kumar but for some unknown reason then executive director Samit H disbanded the committee and reduced Uday Kumar’s punishment to a written apology. Almost two years later, the perpetrator sent the following vague email as apology. “I feel, I owe you a personal apology for my insensitive behaviour towards you. You have been a wonderful colleague and friend, and I would not intentionally hurt your feelings. Please accept my apology. I hope we can continue to work well together and be good friends.”
Was it such a trivial incident? What he was seeking apology for was not even mentioned in the mail. Is it so easy for a victim of sexual assualt to forgive? It was very unfortunate. I have many questions, but the ones who should answer them have left the organisation. I have been facing lot of personal attacks and have been called an ‘attention-seeker’ for bringing out this story. But I don’t care any more. I’m not the only one and I fight this not just for myself, but for the right of all women to live free from harassment, in this so-called ‘civil society’.”
This is the story of Meghna, a former employee of Greenpeace. In February this year, she revealed her ordeal in a post on social media about how she was sexually assaulted by one of her colleagues. Once the incident came to light, the organization which had earlier swept it under the carpet jumped immediately to act upon it. Several involved employees were hastily shown the door. A press release was issued calling the incident unfortunate and extending an apology.
Meghna says, “After I received the apology email from the perpetrator, I called up the HR manager saying that I wanted to file a complaint of sexual harassment. She replied that being a former employee I was not eligible to file a complaint with the internal committee. Later, she sent me an email contradicting her statement. I could not trust her.”
After the allegations surfaced on social media, several other female employees contacted Meghna sharing similar incidents of harassment with them.