Posted by Fenil Seta
Cops tweet to request ‘sexual harassment complainants’ to register case against TVF CEO after anon blog labels him molester; cyber cell tries locating them
Vinay Dalvi and Sonil Dedhia (MID-DAY; March 15, 2017)
Even as digital entertainment agency, The Viral Fever (TVF)'s founder and CEO Arunabh Kumar (left) appears to be in an ugly spot following allegations of sexual harassment against him, the police says it is unable to take the investigation forward. This morning, Mumbai Police took to Twitter, requesting the women to register a complaint. "Investigations and action can be initiated once an FIR is registered. We encourage the victim to come forward," the tweet read.
The police told mid-day that they are now trying to locate the complainants in the case. The channel has come under the scanner after its founder and CEO, Kumar, was accused of sexual harassment by an ex-employee in an anonymous blog post. Thereafter, a several women came forward to ratify the claim, narrating horror stories of their own, even as the company labels the post, now viral, 'ludicrous, defamatory and unverified'.
However, none of them has approached the Mumbai Police yet. "We are checking internally with all police stations, as well as the cyber police station. But, nobody has come forward with any complaint whatsoever. We are trying to find out who these complainants are," said Mumbai Police spokesperson Ashok Dudhe.
TVF is popular for quirky comic videos such as 'Qtiyapa', 'Barely Speaking with Arnub' and web shows, 'TVF Pitchers' and 'Permanent Roommates'.
The viral post, titled 'The Indian Uber — That is TVF', is a tell-all account written under the pseudonym of Indian Fowler, which seems to have drawn inspiration from ex-Uber employee Susan Fowler's post on sexual harassment at the San Francisco-based company.
The 24-year-old begins by saying Arunabh molested her for the first time when she joined the company in 2014; after that, it became a routine affair. "Arunabh would try to lift me or would try and fall on me pretending he is drunk (sic)", she alleges. When she threatened to go to the cops, Arunabh's apparent retort was "Police to meri pocket mein hai". While she quit in 2016, TVF's legal team allegedly continues to send her reminders about breach of contract, leading to worry that she is still being tracked.
As her post went viral, shared and retweeted by netizens, at least three more ex-employees shared similar experiences. Reema Sengupta, who worked on a web series with Arunabh, shared a horrifying account of an encounter with him on Facebook.
A former employee opened up to mid-day on the condition of anonymity: "When I got my first project as an assistant, TVF seemed like the coolest workplace. But the dream run ended soon. I was compelled to go to office on a Sunday for an 'emergency' meeting. Only Arunabh was there. I must admit I have never liked the man. There was something about him that made my skin crawl. Maybe it was overt PDA, the touching, and hugging. Initially, I saw it as a work quirk and gave them the benefit of doubt. But that day, during an intense chat about work, he tried to feel me up; first, my back and then, the front. I punched him and ran. I will not raise a complaint, as I don't feel safe sharing the information. But I wish the worst for him."
Some claimed TVF does not have an HR, or anti sexual harassment policies/committee to deal with such incidents. But, the spokesperson clarified to a website, Youth Ki Awaaz, "TVF complies with all applicable labour laws, takes sexual harassment complaints seriously and processes the same in accordance with law. We have an in-house HR and legal department supported by a panel of top external law firms."
While Arunabh did not respond to calls, TVF spokesperson issued a statement that read, "All allegations made against TVF and its team in the article are categorically false, baseless and unverified. We take pride in making TVF a safe workplace that is equally comfortable for women and men. We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations. It is our humble request that you do not share an unsubstantiated, unverified and anonymous article such as this."
Writer-actor Nidhi Bisht, a TVF insider who has known Arunabh for the last eight years, calls him a 'father figure' and 'mentor'. "I don't think he can do something like this with any female employee. The allegation is fictitious."
Actress Maanvi Gagroo, who was seen in TVF's show, Tripling, says: "My experience of working with TVF has been wonderful. Arunabh has been like a brother to me."