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Sexual harassment, rape allegations rock Environment rights NGO, Greenpeace

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New Delhi: Environment rights NGO, Greenpeace India could be in for more trouble as an ex-staffer has gone public with allegations of rape and sexual harassment by her colleagues.

The organisation’s inaction against the perpetrators has spurred more female ex-employees to come out with similar accusations. Now, the NGO is at the receiving end with activists lambasting the organisation’s irresponsible handling of the cases.

Recently, Greenpeace was in the news after the government froze its accounts for non-compliance of norms. The Delhi High Court, however, released two of its accounts so that it could function.

In an article published on a web forum last week, an ex-employee (name withheld) of Greenpeace alleged that she had to leave her job in 2013 after being sexually harassed and raped by her colleagues.

Narrating her ordeal, she said that it started a year after she had joined the NGO at their Bengaluru office. The first incident happened during an official trip in October 2012. “I got a call from a senior colleague at 11 pm, asking me to vacate my room and insisting that I sleep in his suite. In another incident, he approached me physically despite my discomfort, insisted on force-feeding me birthday cake,” she told IANS.

Though she registered a written complaint with the HR manager, she did not receive any verbal or written communication from the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of the organisation, which looks into sexual harassment cases. To her shock, she learnt that the person was a serial offender and no action had been taken against him despite his misbehaviour with two other female employees.

However, she said, she was blamed for registering the complaint. “Once in an official meeting, in my absence, two senior employees indulged in character assassination against me. Even some female colleagues, part of the ICC, made me feel that I was at fault, that I didn’t know how to ‘set boundaries’,” she said.

However, matters came to a head in 2013. “It was after a party, when a male colleague whom I knew quite well found me unconscious and raped me. You cannot imagine the pain and fear I went through. I was terrified to speak and I knew even if I had, no one in this organisation would come to my aid. I did not have the strength to report my rape, neither to the police, nor to my employers. How could I, when the processes had failed me once already?” she asked. Traumatised, she left the NGO after a few months.

She said it took her long to overcome the incident, and finally, she decided to tell her story through a Facebook post in February this year. Immediately after her post, Greenpeace issued an apology on their website and promised her to re-investigate the case in an adequate manner. Admitting the lax attitude in dealing with the case in 2012, the statement said, “The victim deserves both an apology and a meticulous examination of what happened.”

However, the victim pointed out that the NGO’s subsequent actions exposed their empty talk. “The ICC, which convened in March, recommended the termination of the offender, but the executive director overrode the decision on some pretext and the only thing I received was a written apology from the molester,” she said.

Supporting the claims of the victim, another ex-senior manager Reema Ganguly, who was a part of the ICC, told IANS that she quit Greenpeace in May after executive director Samit Aich overrode the committee’s recommendation. “The committee’s suggestion of terminating the molester was overturned by the executive director, and they dismantled the committee which was only three months old, whereas the duration (for such a committee) is for three years. It was very clear that the committee is an eyewash by the NGO,” said Ganguly.

However, Aich defended the decision to dismantle the committee. “We came to know that the committee decisions were leaked to many people in the office. So I sought legal opinion on this and I was told that since it’s leaked, the decision stands invalid. So we dissolved the committee and reconstituted it,” said Aich.

When asked why they did not follow the committee’s decision of terminating the offender, Aich said a strong warning was given to the person. “I have given a strong warning to the person and as a result, he has put in his papers. I admit that there have been flaws in our earlier system and we will tighten our disciplinary actions in future,” he added.

Reacting to the allegations, Programme Director for Greenpeace India, Divya Raghunandan, told IANS that the former employees had raised some valid issues and that they will investigate it in a “serious manner”. Acknowledging that there were flaws in the earlier system, Raghunandan said, “When we revisited the cases, we felt that it should have been handled in a better way.”

Asserting that they were re-evaluating the overall procedures for handling complaints of sexual harassment, she said that the employee in question had resigned. “We have reconstituted the ICC and ordered an audit into the old cases. The implicated employee has put in his papers already,” she said.

However, activists and former employees question the failure of the NGO in punishing a serial offender and protecting him for years.

Holding the executive director of Greenpeace India responsible for the shabby handling of the cases, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said that the events had tarnished the image of the NGO. “Greenpeace failed to stand by their promise of punishing the offender. They disbanded a committee, which recommended punishment for the molester. The NGO is muzzling voices of dissent. They have stretched the cases for so many years. The punishment has to be spelt out clearly,” Krishnan said adding that they have written to Greenpeace International and were waiting for their response to act further.

Voicing similar concerns, Usha Saxena, a former employee, alleged that she was forced to quit Greenpeace because she took a stand against the rampant cases of harassment in the NGO. Saxena, who joined Greenpeace in 2009, said that her protests against sexist jokes and remarks fell on deaf ears. “I filed a misconduct complaint against senior HR director for making discriminatory and threatening remarks about my gender, my age and ordering me to seek ‘psychological counselling’. For that, I was bullied out in 2013,” Saxena told IANS.

Another ex-staffer (name withheld) also said that she was harassed by the same person implicated in the first incident. She said she resigned in March 2015 after inaction by the NGO. “He made some objectionable comments in front of many senior colleagues, including the executive director. No one reacted, rather they were all amused.” Though she registered a complaint with the HR Department the next day, it met the same fate as the previous ones, she told IANS. She also said she would take further legal action if the offender is not punished. (IANS)

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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Government invites entries for first National CSR Awards VOA

At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

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Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

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Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

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The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)