The anonymous blog posted on the night of March 12, alleging molestation by the founder-CEO of digital content creation company, TheViralFever (TVF), Arunabh Kumar, seems to have opened a can of worms. In the time since the post went viral on Monday, a number of similar allegations have surfaced against Kumar, and not all are anonymous.Writer-director Reema Sengupta posted on Facebook, where she described overtures allegedly made by Kumar while she was shooting for TVF last year. “As I talk, he finds some lame excuse to place his hand on my hand. In the middle of the shoot, he touches my shoulder tattoo and tells me he finds it sexy,” read an excerpt from the post.
The allegations come at a time when TVF has emerged at the top of what is soon going to become an organised sector, with corporate players like Yash Raj Films and Viacom 18 entering the fray. Formed in 2010, TVF has become a pioneer in the field of content for the youth. They started with creating spoofs, mash-ups, sketches on politics and cinema, providing an alternative to mainstream entertainment. They produced pathbreaking web series such as TVF Pitchers and Permanent Roommates.
However, their handling of the situation seems to have placed TVF’s reputation at stake. Initially, they called the allegations “baseless” and termed the post “completely ludicrous and defamatory”, adding, “We will leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.” This approach got TVF flak not just from activists and feminists, but also their peers, such as stand-up comic Aditi Mittal. While the TVF team remained unavailable for comment, it is learnt that a committee has been formed to investigate the matter. The controversy has also brought under focus the “bro code culture”, apparently rampant in start-ups that are chiefly male-dominated and run on adrenaline. An ex-employee of TVF, who did not wish to be named, said “this culture” is at the root of the sexual exploitation of women working at TVF. “Casual sexism was part of regular conversation when I was working there over a year ago,” she says.
The woman, whose blog post on March 12 started the controversy, also alleged that some of her male colleagues were aware of the ongoing sexual harassment by Kumar but brushed it aside. She further adds that during her tenure, TVF did not have a designated Human Resources department in place, let alone abiding to Vishaka Guidelines.
However, there are also those women who vouch for the work culture at TVF. Tracy D’Souza, the talent head of Girliyapa, the vertical that focusses on women-centric content, tweeted on Monday: “I’ve worked with Arunabh for more than 3 years now!! I’ve been treated with utmost respect! TVF has one of the best work cultures (sic).”
The incident, however, seems to have given courage to women who faced sexual harassment at workplaces other than TVF. Another anonymous post on Reddit, which has since been deleted, appeared on Monday, accusing stand-up comic with AIB, Rohan Joshi, of groping her. Unlike TVF, Joshi responded by asking the woman to seek legal recourse and assured that he would cooperate in the investigation. Also, a woman from Chennai, who goes by the handle @livetimefe on Twitter, alleged molestation by a senior colleague at a widely respected organisation she had worked with as a volunteer in 2013. In the thread of tweets, she added that the organisation did little to protect her and instead pressurised her to issue a written apology when she made an official complaint regarding the matter.