On a hot summer afternoon in the month of April, a post-graduate student in Journalism and Mass Media from Indraprastha University, Meenal Gupta enters the swanky Gurgaon office of a prominent advertising agency for an interview that she has been called for the post of an intern. A man in his late 30s enters the visitor’s lounge and before she knows, she is already being interviewed while talking a walk towards the cabin. Meenal is impressed to see the inside of this spacious office where hardly anyone is wearing formals and people move around chattering, smiling, jokingly laughing while sipping on a cup of coffee.
She is told, “We are cool here. We do not have as such any mandatory reporting time. You can come in any time, work and leave, it’s comfortable.” The next question almost shocks her, “Do you love to drink?”
Not long ago, in the month of February, towards the end of a felicitation event at JW Marriot, Delhi, a few journalists are sipping their wine, when Arunabh Kumar of TVF walks close and says “Hello”. He makes it a point to address the female scribes while ignoring their male colleagues. He tells them, “We have a very cool office in Mumbai and the environment that we maintain is very friendly and chilled out. We have a beautiful terrace and we party almost every night. You should come and visit sometime.” The scribes tell them, “Oh you are cool, Arunabh. We really like your work.” He smiles and asks every female journalist about where they are from. He then asks them, “What are the best places to hangout in Delhi.” He takes out his phone and tries to click a picture with everyone there and asks for the female scribes’ personal contact numbers so that he may share the picture with all of them on WhatsApp. He gets it. But it is getting late- almost past 1 AM and two of the girls get a call from their cab driver who has just arrived to ferry them to their residences. Just as they are about to confirm the driver that they are coming out, Arunabh says, “Oh I am staying in the same hotel tonight. I will catch a flight to Mumbai, tomorrow.” These scribes give a last look at Arunabh, smile, say “Goodbye” and leave for their cab.
The fact is that he is the same ‘TVF guy’ who has been accused by more than 5 women of sexual overtures. However, a more alarming fact is that none of them came out before one of TVF’s employees narrated her story in an online post, mind it- anonymously. It was only then that a few other women came out and shared their own tales, this time, with their real identities.
The fear of losing a job, being branded as woman of loose character and generally, bad publicity are a few things that women in corporate today face but have to silently bear as a part of the male chauvinistic society that dominates even at the workplace. It is a new trend in the corporate India where a few companies are trying to challenge the formal set up and the new generation is only liking it from the outside, the relaxed environment these workplaces offer. But the question arises, is it not too far? If a very stringent and formal environment gets too stifling for employees, a completely opposite, outward and excessively ‘cool’ environment might too get a little uncomfortable for some of them who by nature, are not so outgoing. The post from ‘Indian Fowler’ read, “Right from Pitchers to Tripling, I was molested. Be it in parties where Arunabh would try to lift me or would try and fall on me pretending he is drunk.” She wrote that one night, he apparently made such strong advances that she had to lock herself up in the office bathroom until he went away.
In the personal capacity and the opinion of this scribe, the first instance where an intern gets asked about her drinking habits, the interviewer is just interested to know if she is good enough a hook up to taken into his office, just like the case with TVF, where under the garb of a ‘cool’ workplace, what Arunabh was running was a place to harass and persuade unsuspecting women of sexual demeanor. Such ultra-cool workplaces are as bad as an over-imposing and stifling office. The only way forward is a work culture that is based on humanism and equal opportunity while both genders enjoy the comfort of their own rights and limitations.
Note – The real name of the respondent and the name of the Ad agency have been withheld to avoid any inconvenience to the respondent.