Trial of Pachauri to begin tomorrow

pachoriCourtroom 506, in the south-east wing of Delhi’s purpose-built Saket district court, does not often sit centre stage in criminal cases of international interest.

Its last appearance in the spotlight was three years ago, as journalists from around the world arrived in India’s capital for the trial of suspects in the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh.

On Saturday, Rajendra Pachauri, former chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will face charges of stalking, intimidation and sexual assault of a former employee in one of the most high-profile cases of alleged workplace sexual harassment in Indian history.

It is a case that is likely to be closely watched by scientists, media and diplomats, as well as the controversial scientist’s critics.

The IPCC, which Pachauri headed, was jointly awarded a Nobel peace prize with Al Gore in 2007. Now he is facing charges that he harassed a 29-year-old former employee who worked for him at the Energy Resources Institute (Teri), based in New Delhi.

Concerning a high-profile figure, prominent in national and international media, the case has become a symbol of women’s struggle to speak out against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace in India, where abuses against women are often hidden.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, says Pachauri, 75, made sexual advances to her soon after she joined Teri in late 2013. A string of emails, texts and WhatsApp messages, which reportedly contain poems and declarations of love, have been submitted to the police as evidence. In February 2015, Delhi police filed the first report against Pachauri, setting in motion a legal process that has made headlines around the world.

Since then, two other women, both former employees of Teri, have come forward to make public statements accusing Pachauri of similar behaviour. One of the women, who worked at Teri in 2003, filed a police report in 2015, but is yet to hear if police will press charges against him based on her statements.

The third woman to come forward, who is not an Indian national, made a statement public in March, claiming Pachauri had made unwanted sexual advances towards her when she worked at Teri in 2008, including allegedly coming to her home with a bouquet of roses when she had taken a day of sick leave. She claims her contract was terminated early because she tried to stop his advances.

On the eve of the hearing, Pachauri announced he was stepping down from his role at Teri “to move away and get engaged in other interests which I have harboured over the past few years for activities at the global level”.

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