TVF founder Arunabh Kumar accused of harassment of female colleagues; company denies allegations

Shrabonti Bagchi March 13, 2017 5 min

In a statement, The Viral Fever called allegations of molestation and harassment made against its founder, Arunabh Kumar, by the author of an anonymous blog post “completely ludicrous and defamatory,” even as more women requesting anonymity shared similar experiences on social media. The women said that TVF does not have an official human resources (HR) department, nor does it abide by the mandatory Vishakha Guidelines, put in place to make it easier for women to report cases of sexual abuse (FactorDaily has asked TVF for confirmation/clarification of this).

In her post, Indian Fowler alleges that within a month of her joining work, she was called back to office one evening by Kumar, and what followed was an inappropriate and lewd conversation, with Kumar referring to an area in Muzzaffarpur known for being a ‘red light area’

The Mumbai-headquartered company said in a statement:

“This is an official response from TVF on the anonymous article published on Medium by the Indian Fowler. The article is 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. 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.”

 

 

 

Screenshots of chats between two women alleging sexual harassment against Arunabh Kumar with Twitter user @Corporatekumar_

Sometime last night, a post appeared on Medium, written by a user calling herself ‘Indian Fowler’. The detailed and frank post spoke about alleged harassment faced by this young 20-something woman from Muzzaffarpur, Bihar, who had been working in Mumbai as a freelance production assistant. The author says that she first met TVF founder Kumar for the first time in 2014 (she was 22 years old then) and was subsequently offered a job with TVF. The post goes on to talk about the harassment faced by her at the organisation, perpetrated by Kumar, the IIT Kharagpur graduate who founded TVF in 2010 along with a bunch of comedy writers and actors such as Nidhi Bisht, Biswapati Sarkar, and Deepak Mishra.

Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum Bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho (there are commercial deals made there. You have also come on a commercial deal)” — Kumar allegedly told Indian Fowler. She also alleges Kumar grabbed her by the hand and asker her to indulge in “role play”  

In her post, Indian Fowler alleges that within a month of her joining work, she was called back to office one evening by Kumar, and what followed was an inappropriate and lewd conversation, with Kumar referring to an area in Muzzaffarpur (the town where they both grew up) known for being a ‘red light area’. “Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum Bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho (there are commercial deals made there. You have also come on a commercial deal).” She also alleges Kumar grabbed her by the hand and asker her to indulge in “role play”. Subsequently, she says, Kumar would initiate inappropriate physical contact with her.

Indian Fowler says she considered leaving the company several times, but was threatened by “legal”, who intimidated her saying she would be in “breach of contract” if she quit.

According to an ex-employee, TVF’s lawyers, the Mumbai-based Naik & Naik, put in a clause in employees’ contracts saying they could not work at any rival media company for a year after quitting TVF. Since the description of “media company” is pretty broad in scale, and since for Indian Fowler (and other women like her, who have been sharing their experience of the alleged sexist culture at TVF since this morning), this was a first job, there were real fears of not being able to find any relevant work after quitting TVF and jeopardising their careers.

From one of these conversations, it appeared that TVF might have a bit of a “dude-bro” culture issue and might be a workplace where women are undermined.

At least four women have reported facing harassment at TVF to anonymous Twitter user @corporatekumar (FactorDaily has seen screenshots of these conversations), and spoken to two women who say that they were forced to quit TVF because its culture is “fucked up.”

From one of these conversations, it appeared that TVF might have a bit of a “dude-bro” culture issue and might be a workplace where women are undermined.

Most damningly, insiders say that TVF (a fairly large company by startup standards, with over 120 employees) has NO HR department and fails to abide by the mandatory Vishakha Guidelines (or more accurately, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which replaced it).

The women said that TVF does not have an official human resources department, nor does it abide by the mandatory Vishakha Guidelines, put in place to make it easier for women to report cases of sexual abuse  

One of the women FactorDaily spoke to said that within half a day of the Medium post going up, at least 5 women had shared their unpleasant experiences of working at TVF (some citing direct sexual harassment and a few talking about the sexist culture) with each other. “They might say one person has an agenda or is seeking vendetta, but 5-6 women* can’t be making this up, right? And why has there been no statement from them yet? It’s been more than 10 hours?” she asks. She did not want to be identified by name.

The digital entertainment company, with over 1.7 million subscribers and millions of fans, targets the age group 18-34 through its original videos. It produces branded content for companies such as P&G, Flipkart, Google and many others to make money. In February 2016, TVF raised $10 million from Tiger Global and others.

If you have faced harassment (sexual or otherwise) at TVF or at any other company, please DM us at @factordaily or email shrabonti@factordaily.com.

UPDATE: Reema Sengupta, co-founder of a digital media company Catnip, alleges that Kumar touched her inappropriately when she was shooting with TVF, in a public Facebook post.

Read her post here.

Updated on Monday March 13 at 2.50 pm to add the line: “From one of these conversations, it appeared that TVF might have a bit of a “dude-bro” culture issue and might be a workplace where women are undermined.”

Updated at 3.55 pm to add: FactorDaily has asked TVF for confirmation/clarification of (existence of HR department and adherence to Vishakha Guidelines). The story will be updated as and when we receive a response.

* The number could not be independently verified by FactorDaily, although we have seen 3 written statements/chats from different women.


Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.