Following an article published on Medium.com that accuses the founder of The Viral Fever (TVF), Arunabh Kumar, of sexual harassment, multiple women have come forward with similar allegations. Speaking exclusively to The Quint, a woman who formerly worked with TVF as a freelancer, alleged that Kumar had groped her during a meeting at his house.
I was in a meeting at Arunabh’s house with three other women. The meeting was taking place in the hall of the apartment. Arunabh left the meeting in the middle and went inside. Since he was gone for quite a while, I went inside the next room to call him. Suddenly, I felt someone from behind grope my breasts, and when I turned around, it was Arunabh.
“I was in shock. He was looking straight into my eyes. I rushed out of the room. The meeting resumed shortly after and lasted another 20 minutes. At the end of it, I walked out of TVF, never to return,” she added.
TVF has issued a statement rubbishing the allegations made in the Medium.com article. They called it “ludicrous and defamatory” and “categorically false, baseless and unverified”.
TVF’s comment on the article accusing Kumar of sexual harassmentWe will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.
While calling the Medium.com article “completely baseless”, TVF core team member, Nidhi Bisht, has written in a Facebook post that she was shocked to hear multiple women level sexual harassment charges at Kumar.
Earlier in the day, this is what she had tweeted.
5 yrs at TVF & no memory of who this Female employee is. It's a baseless fictitious allegation. Haters pls don't stoop down to this level :(— Nidhi NEETU Bisht (@EkThapaTiger) March 13, 2017
‘It’s Time We Do a Quicky’
The controversy started after an anonymous post on Medium.com alleging sexual harassment against Kumar went viral. Here’s an excerpt:
“I am abruptly called by Arunabh at 6.45 pm. I am in the local bank towards my home. He demands I come back to office. Apparently, I have not finished some part of my work. I reluctantly come back. There are three people in office. Two of them leave within five minutes of me coming in. And Arunabh is sitting on a chair in a casual manner. I walk up to him. He looks at me and asks me – “ Chaturbhuj Sthan ka naam suni ho”? I am stunned. For non-starters, Chaturbhuj Sthan is the Red-Light district of Muzaffarpur. I didn’t respond. His second question – “ Humko Chaturbhuj Sthan bahut pasand hai. Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho”. I was getting where he was leading the discussion to. I avoided an interaction.”
I said “Arunabh, aap bade bhai hain. Meri tabiyat thodi theek nahi hai. Kya karna hai bataiye. Hum karke ghar jaayenge.” He suddenly holds my hand. Says “Madam, thoda role play karein”.
The post goes on to detail another incident of sexual harassment during a meeting at the TVF office, and says,
The Ola team was meeting him and we were taking notes. He walks out of the meeting with some excuse and calls me for some notes. I walk up. He says it’s time we do a ‘quicky’. I am stunned. And I told him I will go to the police. He says, “ Police to meri pocket me hai”. I walked out deciding never to come back.
I walk up to my bosses and tell them that I don’t want to see him, they simply ask me to walk out. I tell (Naveen) Kasturia that this is what has happened, and he laughs it off. Says, ‘Duniya hai. Hota hai.’ I just wished I could kill myself.
100% Sure That the Blog is Fake: Naveen Kasturia
The Quint spoke to actor Naveen Kasturia, who has, in the past, worked on TVF productions, including the web series, Pitchers. Kasturia, accused of laughing off the victim’s accounts of harassment when she approached him, countered the allegations by asserting that he is “100% sure that the blog is fake”.
I have no idea who this person is. If I knew the person, I would remember saying this. I don’t remember anything or anyone like that. I don’t know any girl who fits the description of the girl mentioned in the blog.
‘He Would Repeatedly Graze My Waist’
Another woman has come out with allegations against TVF founder Arunabh Kumar. In an exclusive interview to The Quint, she recounts, “Early last year, I was shooting with Arunabh in the TVF office, for a web series on people who changed professions to follow their passions. The first time we met at the recce, he asked me to send him my work, which I did out of courtesy. When we met on the day of the shoot, I asked him if he had seen the links. To this he said – why don’t you come over to my place and we can watch them together. We can also watch a movie. Which movie do you want to watch? I politely evaded the question and continued briefing him about the shoot.”
As I talk, he finds some lame excuse to place his hand on my hand (which was on the table in his glass cabin). In the middle of the shoot, he touches my shoulder tattoo and tells me he finds it sexy. When we were reviewing the shots, he would repeatedly graze my waist with his hand. He did this at least on four different occasions.
She adds, “I had to speak to my producer to ensure that I was not left alone with him at any point of time. Later when I spoke to someone at my agency about it, she said that she too had heard similar accounts of Arunabh. At the end of that shoot, I didn’t retaliate and shrugged it off. On seeing the medium.com post, I realised that I shouldn’t have. If this is how he could behave with me, without knowing me, within 5 hours, I can’t imagine how he’d behave with women working for him for years.”
TVF has rubbished the medium.com blog and called the claims ridiculous, so I decided to come into the public domain and speak up. TVF must investigate the matter instead of rubbishing it. Why is an entire company jumping to the defence of one man?
'Arunabh Asked Me If I Would Strip Naked for Him'
Not just TVF employees, but a former IIT batchmate of Arunabh Kumar has also come forward with an alleged instance of sexual misdemeanour by the TVF founder.
Speaking to The Quint, she says, “This incident took place in 2012 in Mumbai. I had messaged Arunabh because he was a former batchmate from IIT-Kharagpur.”
When we met for coffee, Arunabh asked me, “Would you go to my place, and dance for me?” I was shocked. He said he would like to get naked & see me stripping & dancing for him.
‘He Came From Behind and Held Me, Even When I Told Him to Move Away’
A young woman also echoed similar experiences with Kumar when she told The Quint about how Kumar invited her to his place and then grabbed her waist from behind. She said:
I liked one of his posts on Instagram, and after that numbers were exchanged. He then, just asked me to come over to his place to watch a movie, it was very weird. We were supposed to go out on a coffee, and then he asked me to go to his place. So we were in the balcony of his home, having tea and I had given him no hint that I wanted something to happen. I told him I went paragliding once, so he just suddenly came from behind him and held me. Even when I tried to get away, he held me by my waist. It was totally uncalled for. I told him to move away. I am so glad that finally someone has spoken up against him.
'He Slid His Hands Down My Back, From Neck to Waist'
One of Arunabh’s neighbours has also alleged sexual harassment. Speaking to The Quint, she said, “One day, I was talking on the phone and walking outside the studio when Arunabh spotted me and called me. I looked at him, just smiled, and he gestured me to walk to him and put his arms around me. Out of nowhere, he started telling me that he had just came back from some place in Ratnagiri, and brought mangoes.”
He asked me if I liked mangoes and while his mouth spoke those words, his hands slid down my back, from neck to waist. I’m not someone who gets scared easily, I wasn’t scared, I just knew his intentions. I moved away from him, stared and said ‘NO’ and walked off. I should have punched him, but I didn’t.
‘It’s Just Your Word Against His’: Not Just Kumar, TVF Culture Also Under the Scanner
The sexual allegations which are coming to the fore, are not just against Kumar. In an exclusive interview to The Quint, a former employee of TVF spoke out against her experience of sexual harassment. She said:
During the screening of TVF Tripling, Arunabh brought hash brownies for everyone and I was offered one too. I ate it without the knowledge of it having hash in it. Later that night, I go to the washroom and there was a guy, who used to be my friend, who locked the door from inside. I told him I wanted to leave, and he didn’t allow me to do that. I ran away through the door. The guy followed me and he said he loved me, and touched my face in a very uncomfortable manner.
“The next day I filed a complaint stating that I was not in a sober state of mind and he was trying to take advantage of me, and the entire experience was very shocking and disturbing. I told the HR in Delhi office, telling them everything, but there was no response. Then, I wrote a formal email to the Bombay office, again no action was taken.”
They later held a meeting and heard both of us out. And then they told me, “What can we do? It’s just your word against his. We can’t fire him because you’re telling us this.”
Commenting on the workplace environment at TVF, she said,
It is a part of a culture, so many male employees had disgusting comments to make about women and in my email which I sent to HR, I have spoken about the workplace environment.
TVF's Response: Allegations Ludicrous
TVF has released a statement that calls the allegations in the Medium.com article “completely ludicrous and defamatory against TVF and its team”.
“All the allegations made against TVF and its team in the article are categorically false, baseless and unverified. We take a lot of pride in our team and in making TVF a safe workplace that is equally comfortable for women and men.”
TVF’s statement We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.
TVF though has not made it clear whether there was any internal probe within the organisation on the matter, and if the allegations of the article being “ludicrous” were made without an investigation.
Kumar did not respond to The Quint’s phone calls and email. A detailed questionnaire to him included whether he would consider stepping down from his position at TVF to facilitate an internal probe into these allegations.
Speaking exclusively to The Quint, actor-writer at TVF, Biswapati Sarkar, said,
We would know if there was a person who fits the description. I don’t know if the person is real. A lot of things mentioned in the article don’t seem to be true. Of course, this is someone trying to fabricate an issue.
Amit Golani, a director at TVF tweeted about the issue too.
Those wondering why the strong worded response. because there is no such person and this all seems very conveniently orchestrated— Amit Golani (@GolOpinions) March 13, 2017
No Laughing Matter: Leading Comedians React
Aditi Mittal, a female comedian, in a series of tweets questioned the comedian community’s silence:
Silence from the comedy community is deafening.EVERYONE still"texting contacts"/"verifying facts" inspite of hearing stories abt it for yrs?— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) March 13, 2017
The fact that the diggaj-log of comedy who make videos & even take money from brands for their saleable feminism are quiet today is telling— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) March 13, 2017
She even questioned Golani about his tweet.
Amit, why are there more than 9 women/young girls with this claim? How is everyone coming out to tell a concerted lie AT THE SAME TIME? https://t.co/mgWIzhWCBe— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) March 13, 2017
TVF's rebuttal suggests no investigation of any sort. If they're all lies, what better way to prove that than investigate impartially?— Rohan (@mojorojo) March 13, 2017
Women I personally know are now opening up about this. This is heartbreaking. Hope the right action is taken now. https://t.co/ZFvyfrIRls— Sapan Verma (@sapanv) March 13, 2017
As a barrage of fresh testimonies keep surfacing, is it not time for The Viral Fever to stop rubbishing the allegations and begin an internal probe into the matter?
If you have undergone a similar experience, please email The Quint’s reporters at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to assure you that anonymity will be maintained at every step.