By Suchitra Mohanty
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists in India have protested against a civil suit launched by the former head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) against a lawyer representing two women who have accused him of sexual harassment.
Rajendra K. Pachauri filed a civil suit last week against lawyer Vrinda Grover, seeking an injunction and 10 million rupees ($150,000) in damages on the ground that she was trying to prejudice the case against him.
"The very public attack on Ms. Grover is a matter of concern for all those who, like the signatories to this letter, are struggling to deliver substantive justice under the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace in India today," said a letter released late on Monday, signed by 188 activists, academics, writers and journalists.
Pachauri was formally charged with sexual harassment last month, a year after a 29-year-old woman filed a police report alleging he had harassed her via email, Whatsapp and text messaging when she worked at the Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which Pachauri headed.
She later quit the organization, saying she had been treated in the "worst possible manner" after she complained about Pachauri's behavior. A second employee alleged harassment this year. Pachauri, 75, has denied the allegations.
He went on indefinite leave from TERI in February, days after he was made executive vice chairman, amid growing outrage over his alleged behavior.
A third woman, who is not an Indian national, has since said she was also sexually harassed by Pachauri, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported last month.
Pachauri's suit against Grover "has implications that will have a chilling effect on complaints of sexual harassment, as it has all the characteristics of an instance of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP)," the letter released on Monday said.
Pachauri, who had been chairman of the IPCC since 2002, stepped down last February. The IPCC was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in 2007, for their part in galvanizing the international community to take action against climate change.
Pachauri's lawyer said his client was innocent.
"Vrinda has damaged my client's reputation. She is time and again talking to the media and damaging Pachauri's prestige and reputation," Ashish Dixit told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.
Grover said she was not worried about the suit.
"This is a diversionary tactic on the part of the accused," Grover said. "This is an attempt by Pachauri to intimidate the two women who have made their sexual harassment cases public," she said. "This suit for damages has no merit. I find it very odd."
($1 = 66.5 Indian rupees)
(Writing by Rina Chandran, editing by Tim Pearce.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)