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'He tried to feel me up; first, my back and then the front'

Updated on: 14 March,2017 08:20 AM IST  | 
Sonil Dedhia |

Online digital entertainment channel The Viral Fever has come under the scanner after its founder and CEO, Arunabh Kumar, was accused of sexual harassment by ex-employee in anonymous blog post

'He tried to feel me up; first, my back and then the front'

A still from TVF's show, Permanent Roommates

Arunabh Kumar
Arunabh Kumar

Online digital entertainment channel The Viral Fever (TVF) has come under the scanner after its founder and CEO, Arunabh Kumar, was accused of sexual harassment by an ex-employee in an anonymous blog post. Thereafter, a string of skeletons have been tumbling out of the TVF closet, even as the company labels the post, now viral, "ludicrous, defamatory and unverified". The channel is popular for quirky comic videos such as Qtiyapa, Barely Speaking with Arnub and web shows, TVF Pitchers and Permanent Roommates.

mid-day editorial: Let's make the workplace a safe haven for all

Titled The Indian Uber – That is TVF, the tell-all account written under the pseudonym of Indian Fowler seems to have drawn inspiration from ex-Uber employee Susan Fowler's post on sexual harassment at the San Francisco-based company.

The 24-year-old begins by saying Arunabh molested her for the first time when she joined the company in 2014; after that, it became a routine affair. "Arunabh would try to lift me or would try and fall on me pretending he is drunk (sic)", she alleges. When she threatened to go to the cops, Arunabh's apparent retort was "Police to meri pocket mein hai". While she quit in 2016, TVF's legal team allegedly continues to send her reminders about breach of contract, leading to worry that she is still being tracked.

A still from TVF
A still from TVF's show, Permanent Roommates

As her post went viral, shared and retweeted by netizens, at least three more ex-employees shared similar experiences. Reema Sengupta, who worked on a web series with Arunabh, shared a horrifying account of an encounter with him on Facebook.

A former employee opened up to mid-day on the condition of anonymity: "When I got my first project as an assistant, TVF seemed like the coolest workplace. But the dream run ended soon. I was compelled to go to office on a Sunday for an 'emergency' meeting. Only Arunabh was there. I must admit I have never liked the man. There was something about him that made my skin crawl. Maybe it was overt PDA, the touching, and hugging. Initially, I saw it as a work quirk and gave them the benefit of doubt.

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But that day, during an intense chat about work, he tried to feel me up; first, my back and then, the front. I punched him and ran. Office records conveniently didn't have CCTV footage. I could have brought it up then, but in a man's world, does a woman's word count? I will not raise a complaint as I don't feel safe sharing the information. But I hope for the worst for him."

Some claimed TVF does not have an HR, or anti sexual harassment policies/ committee to deal with such incidents. However, the spokesperson clarified to a website, Youth Ki Awaaz, "TVF complies with all applicable labour laws, takes sexual harassment complaints seriously and processes the same in accordance with law. We have an in-house HR and legal department supported by a panel of top external law firms."

While Arunabh did not respond to calls, TVF spokesperson issued a statement that read, "All allegations made against TVF and its team in the article are categorically false, baseless and unverified. We take pride 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."

Writer-actor Nidhi Bisht, a TVF insider who has known Arunabh for the last eight years, calls him a 'father figure' and 'mentor'. "I don't think he can do something like this with any female employee. The allegation is fictitious."

Actress Maanvi Gagroo, who was seen in TVF's show, Tripling, says: "My experience of working with TVF has been wonderful. Arunabh has been like a brother to me." As of 2016, TVF has 70-odd employees. Last year, Tiger Global Management reportedly invested $10 million in it, picking up minority stake of 25 per cent. Its value is pegged at R270 crore. The money was put into its parent company, Contagious Online Media Network, integrated in July 2015.

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