Ex-employee accuses TVF Founder of molestation; Startup denies allegations

Sainul Abudheen

“Locked myself in the toilet. And cried. He went away. But i was thinking why the hell he is after me? What did i do to make this happen to me. That was the longest night of my life”

A few hours ago, an article appeared on Medium.com in which a 24-year-old girl accused Arunabh Kumar, Founder and CEO of The Viral Fever (TVF), of sexually assaulting her when she was employed at the startup three years ago.

Under the pseudonym ‘Indian Fowler’, the writer, who was 22 back then, says Kumar abused her not just in office but also at various parties and events. When she tried to escape, the company threatened her with legal consequences, she noted.

Her ordeal began on the 21st day of her work at Mumbai-based TVF. She was called by Kumar at 6:45 PM and tried to make sexual advances towards her.

“Day 21- I am abruptly called by Arunabh at 6.45 PM. He demands I come back to office. Apparently i have not finished some part of my work. I reluctantly come back. There are 3 people in office. 2 of them leave within 5 minutes of me coming in. And Arunabh is sitting on a Chair in a casual manner. I walk up to him. He looks at me and asks me — “ Chaturbhuj Sthan ka naam suni ho”? (Have you heard of Chaturbhuj Sthan?). I am stunned. For Non Starters, Chaturbhuj Sthan is the Red Light District (an area of a town or city containing many brothels, strip clubs, and other sex businesses) of Muzaffarpur. I didn’t respond. His second question- “Humko Chaturbhuj Sthan Bahut Pasand Hai. Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum Bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho” (loosely let translated as “I like Muzaffarpur where commercial deals happen. You have also come for commercial deal”). I was getting where he was leading the discussion to. I avoided an interaction. I said “Arunabh, aap bade bhai hain. Meri tabiyat thodi theek nahi hai. Kya karna hai bataiye. Hum karke ghar jaayenge” (You are my elder brother. I am not feeling well and need to go home). He suddenly holds my hand. Says “Madam, thoda role play karein”. I was stunned. None of this was something i had ever asked for. I ran away. Locked myself in the toilet. And cried. He went away. But i was thinking why the hell he is after me? What did i do to make this happen to me. That was the longest night of my life.”

TVF Founder CEO Arunabh Kumar

TVF Founder CEO Arunabh Kumar

The girl first met Kumar at a small cafe in Mumbai in 2014. She admits that she was charmed and awed by him and their conversation started with what she had done and where she had grown up, etc. She was fresh out of a DU college then and was trying to get some job as a freelancer in production because no one would give her a full-time job.

“As it turned out, there was one more connecting dot. He came from the same city. Muzaffarpur (Bihar). So we moved from “Main” to “Hum” (‘I’ to ‘We’). The typical way Bihari’s speak. “Humko Bambai me Bahut Akelapan Mahsoos Hota Hai” (“I was feeling lonely in Mumbai”). His typical response to how the city has been. And then he spoke about his struggles. I was in Awe. They way he had built his startup. And yes, now that i look back at those days, 2.5 years back when startup’s were cool, He looked Uber Cool.” she writes.

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He offered her a job at TVF and she joined, she adds in the article. According to her, there was nothing better that could have happened to her.

“Bisht & Singh, Biswa and Arunabh were the one’s who were running the show. Bisht would spend nights getting things done. And I would wonder where is Arunabh in all this. The answer was, he is hiring talent. Yes. He was hiring. Talent or not [I] dont know. 3 years down the line I know what he was hiring. He was hiring his toys. Yes people this is my story of abuse and molestation.”

The girl also adds that Kumar molested her everywhere wherever he got a chance. At parties, Kumar would try to lift her or would try and fall on her pretending he was drunk. One instance was at an event when TVF was signing a deal with Ola, she adds.

“Ola team was meeting him and we were taking notes. He walks out of the meeting with some excuse and calls me for some notes. I walk up. He says its time we do a quickly (sic). I am stunned. And i told him i will go to the police. He says “Police to meri pocket me hai” (The police are in my pocket). I walked out deciding never to come back. Then get a call from Legal saying that I am in a breach of contract. Even my Mom tells me not to fight them. Why? Because a 24-year old girl cant fight an IIT guy with so much of money. He calls up my father and tells him that i am making up stories. Whatever that means”, she goes on.

She then apparently went on a long leave. She came back to office in March 2016. However, Kumar had no plans to give up on her, says she. He would walk up to her and ask her how she was doing. “I walk up to my bosses and tell them that [I] dont want to see him, they would say then walk out. I tell Kasturia that this is what has happened, and he laughs off. Says “Duniya hai. Hota hai” (This is quite natural) I just wished i could kill myself.”

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TVF has, however, denied these allegations. In an official response, a company spokesperson said:

“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.”

Meanwhile, another woman who claims to have worked on a web-series for TVF came out in support of ‘Indian Fowler’. In a Facebook post, she said Kumar acted funny with her several times during a 5-hour shoot.

To everyone doubting if this is true, know that this girl definitely isn’t the only girl he has been a sleaze to.

I was shooting with him in the TVF office, for a web series I was directing last year. The first time we met at the recce, he asked me to send him my work, which I did out of courtesy. When we met on the day of the shoot, I asked him if he had seen the links. To this he said – why don’t you come over to my place and we can watch them together. We can also watch a movie. Which movie do you want to watch? I politely evaded the question and continued briefing him about the shoot. As I talk, he finds some lame excuse to place his hand on my hand (which was on the table in his glass cabin). In the middle of the shoot, he touches my shoulder tattoo and tells me he finds it sexy. After every other shot, he would come over to the monitor to see how the shot looks, but at the same time graze his hand against my waist. All this in a 5-hour shoot. I can only imagine what she must have gone through for 2 years!

I remember telling my producer how creeped out I was and how I couldn’t wait for the shoot to be over. He made sure I wasn’t alone with Arunabh for the rest of the shoot. I also told someone at the agency we were working with about it. In fact, this article was sent to me by a friend who knew what had happened with me, asking ‘Same guy, no?’. Do I wish I had retaliated immediately? Yes. I didn’t because the agency and the client would have both suffered. In hindsight, that was wrong and I’m sure they would’ve supported my decision. But today, I had to choose between keeping quiet and extending my support to a girl who has bravely spoken up. So I am choosing to do the right thing. TVF can release as many ‘official responses’ rubbishing these claims as they’d like. This is my truth.

Indian Fowler, whoever you are, please get in touch if you need help.

Founded in 2012, TVF runs a premium content platform under the brand TVFPlay. It caters to all those who want to have a premium content experience, but cannot find anything worth watching in the traditional channels. It hosts all of TVF’s premium shows as well as shows and content from around the world. On TVFPlay, you can browse and watch regular shows and content, created and curated especially for the young audience, across variety of genres like humour, drama, trends, etc.

The company rose to national prominence with TVF Pitchers — a 5-episode long web-series about a group of young graduates who try to start a company in India. The series had struck a chord with India’s growing entrepreneur population.

In January 2016, the startup raised US$10 million from Tiger Global.

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Image Credit: adamgregor / 123RF Stock Photo

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