The news that the former female employee of the viral content website, ScoopWhoop, has accused one of its co-founders, Suparn Pandey, of sexually harassing her and assaulting her, shook India's startup ecosystem.
As per the news reported on April 12, 2017, the complainant who has been working in this Delhi-based company for past two years added in her FIR statement that the other co-founders, Sattvik Mishra and Sriparna Tikekar tried "abetting the harassment and even attempted to sweep it under the carpet."
The FIR was filed in Delhi's Vasant Kunj Police Station which mentioned charges of sexual harassment (Section 354A of IPC) , insulting the modesty of a woman (Section 509 of IPC), and criminal intimidation (Section 506 of IPC).
In this case, the court has rejected anticipatory bail request from Suparn Pandey and ordered Delhi police to arrest the co-founder.
ScoopWhoop's CEO and co-founder Sattvik Mishra also sent an email to all the employees by highlighting the complainant's email which she had sent to Sriparna and other co-founders of the company.
As email screenshots are leaked by Inc42, they highlight some of the emails that have been exchanged between ScoopWhoop's co-founders and the complainant during her resignation. However, no mail mentions any incident of sexual harassment.
The screenshots of the following email which you'll see below have been taken from INC42 which states, "These emails were sent out by Sattvik to the entire ScoopWhoop team and have been reproduced as is without any editing. We have, however, struck out any mention of the complainant's name, email id or designation to protect her identity."
In the long email that Sattvik sent out all of his employees, he attempted to explain the nature of the complaint and that his company is sincere and unbiased while handling such issues.
He wrote the mail with subject: THE COMPLAINT!
"Let me begin by recounting the events of Saturday, 18th February, when I got a very threatening email in which a senior employee accused one of the early members of the company of sexually harassing her in June of 2016. In the same email, she had accused Sriparna (co-founder and Chief Content Officer) and myself of "negligence" and "abetting this harassment" by not providing her relief against the main accused," said Sattivk in the mail as reported by Inc42.
"The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) constituted to handle cases of sexual harassment is investigating into the said matter as we speak. Since by law, the workings of the committee are confidential in nature, I have refrained from delving into details of that on-going investigation. Also, given the grave and sensitive nature of the case at hand, I have refrained from disclosing the name of the complainant and have ensured to keep hidden the complainant's name from all evidence that I have proceeded to furnish in my account below, such as screen grabs of email correspondence, online chat records, etc," said CEO and co-founder of ScoopWhoop, Sattvik Mishra.
And then he wrote, "At this stage, please allow me to delve into the background and provide context and trace back the sequence of events that eventually led to the notice issued by the complainant as mentioned above."
"As the new fiscal year was starting from April 2017, I wanted to sit with all the editors of ScoopWhoop Media and give each one of them some constructive feedback around their work and overall functioning. On the 31st of January 2017, I called for a meeting for the same.
I sent an email to all my editors calling for a meeting, to which the complainant replied that she was on sick leave and requested the meeting to be shifted to another day. I told her that I was travelling for the next few days, so I didn't wish to postpone the meeting. I also informed her that if she was feeling unwell, she could excuse herself from the meeting and we could reconvene at a later date," Sattvik said.
Sattivk in his mail claims that the meeting took place in the conference room of the office with almost nine people besides the complainant. He says meeting began in presence of Sriparna (CCO, ScoopWhoop) which was aimed to give Editors their feedback.
As you've read, Sattvik in his mail has still not mentioned the name of ScoopWhoop's co-founder, Suparn Pandey, the alleged culprit.
Elaborating further, Sattvik in his mail said, "I then proceeded to tell the complainant that she and her team needed to up its game as it was the least performing division of the company. I also gave her examples of publications much smaller than the one she was handling, both from a financial and team strength point of view, who managed to perform much better. The feedback was not received positively, and the complainant became defensive, and an argument ensued. She continuously put the blame on everything else, from ScoopWhoop's technology team to the general lack of innovation within the company."
Sattvik says after the meeting, he reminded complainant that she is not performing up to the mark and it's only her department in the entire company whose performance has been "below average".
Also, in the mail, he urged all his employees to talk to the Editors who were present at the meeting to find out if he's wrong here.
Well, Sattvik may not be wrong here. But, still. It's not the matter of Sattvik and the complainant. Where is Suparn Pandey's statement in all of these?
Addressing the issue from FIR of bullying, public shaming and exploiting the complainant as an employee of ScoopWhoop; Sattvik says, "To be honest, I hardly interacted in-person with her during that period."
In this mail, CEO and co-founder of ScoopWhoop Sattvik asked his employees, "Does any of the correspondence below reek of patronisation or hint at harassment in any way?"
Well, maybe Sattvik forgot that this case is mainly filed against Suparn Pandey, not Sriparna or him.
The above email conversation occurred during the period in which the complainant claims that she was being targeted. However, Sriparna still chose to reply in professional and polite manner.
By this time, Sattvik has introduced everything and everyone involved in the case. But, he has still not taken then the name of the alleged co-founder of ScoopWhoop, Suparn Pandey. If Sattvik believes that Suparn is not guilty, then why he is hesitating from taking his name?
"The below email screenshot is from December 2016, 6 months into her alleged continuous harassment by Sriparna."
At the end note of these screenshots, Sattvik wrote: "It is also important to note in the above email that the complainant herself has accepted that she wasn't performing well and was slacking because of some personal circumstances."
A co-founder of ScoopWhoop, Sattvik mentions in his mail, June 2016: The Incident
"What happened in June 2016 between the complainant and Suparn? Honestly, I don't know. The applicant was a key member of the senior management, an early hire and we would have done everything to ensure that there was a free and fair enquiry into the matter. She never brought up the issue before till the night of 18th February 2017 in her complaint; a few weeks after putting in her resignation. As CEO of the company, it is my responsibility to act on any formal complaints set forth by any employee within the organisation. So the question of protecting Suparn does not arise as there was nothing that was formally brought to my notice even once in all that time," says Sattvik.
"Let me also say this, in spite of all of this…if there is any merit in the case against anyone in the company, strictest action will be taken."
"As we speak, the company is doing everything it needs to do to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the Hon. Supreme Court of India against sexual harassment at workplace. We've referred the matter the very next day to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) which constitutes of three of our most senior and experienced employees and an independent observer who has served on the ICC panel of big MNCs."
"3 out of 4 members of the ICC are women."
"We are co-operating with Police and are fully prepared to accept the findings of the investigations and dutifully take the necessary action if anyone is found guilty."
*Sattvik's mail to his employees ended here*
The news of sexual harassment at ScoopWhoop comes right after the accusation of sexual harassment by a blogger on TVF's CEO, Arunabh Kumar. Incidents like this are bringing forward the harsh realities of sexual harassment at workplace, especially, where founders of the company are young and enjoying early success in their life.
We do not claim that ScoopWhoop's co-founder, Suparn Pandey is guilty, as it could be possible that this is just another case of firing that went wrong. Court's verdict is awaited.
Disclaimer: Comments made by the writer are his personal views.