This story is an update to last week’s article.
High Spirits Cafe, the erstwhile popular haunt of Pune’s youth and artistic communities, continues to be embroiled in conflict after a series of allegations surfaced from ex-employees, patrons and performers about abuse and inappropriate behaviour by cafe-owner Khodu Irani and other cafe staff.
The Mundhwa Police initiated a suo motu inquiry last week into the allegations of sexual harassment against Irani. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 4) Deepak Sakore stated, “For now, it is a discreet inquiry and we are hoping that the women who have been at the receiving end of harassment come to us soon.”
On Tuesday, Irani provided a statement to the Mundhwa Police regarding allegations levied against him.
“In Irani’s statement, he has said that if he did do anything at all, then no one would wait for so long to speak out against him. He went on to say that all of this is a ploy by his competition to get him to shut down the place,” said a senior official.
Police have also reached out to Sheena Dabholkar for a statement. Dabholkar was one of the first people to speak out about the allegations in a tweet.
“The victims are still in legal counsel and will be making their decision to take this further shortly,” said Dabholkar.
Recent reports also mention that the cafe has severely restricted entry to its premises and that the crowd is extremely thin. Indus Dictum reporters were present on Sunday, Oct 22nd, at the cafe to request a comment and waited till 8.30 pm, but the cafe was closed and our reporters were denied entry by security personnel. ID has tried repeatedly to reach out to Irani and the management for comment but received no response.
Last week, we reported that Indian American band Skyharbor had dropped the venue for their performance in light of the allegations. Comedians Aditi Mittal and Tanmay Bhat also tweeted about the controversy.
Several other artists and performers have boycotted the venue and cancelled upcoming events since then, voicing their support for victims on social media. The Koniac Net is one such band which was scheduled to perform at High Spirits on Sunday, Oct 29th. The band has cancelled their performance and voiced their concerns through their official facebook page.
ID contacted band-member David Abraham, who spoke out about the allegations.
“These allegations are greatly disturbing, and I felt a need to address them personally,” said Abraham. “We have always supported the cause of women’s empowerment, and our lyrics often include the same message. To play at a venue so enshrouded in accusations of sexual harassment would conflict directly with the band’s philosophy.”
David shared with us the lyrics he referred to, a sampling of which is reproduced below:
“How long will we praise the past?
Common sense we altogether lack,
Like fools we’ve set them on a path.”
According to legal provisions, the alleged victims who were also employees are required to submit their complaints to a committee within the organisation.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, requires that every employer of a workplace shall, by an order in writing, constitute a committee to be known as the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Any organisation with 10 or more employees must constitute an ICC. Such a committee must contain the following members:
A presiding officer who must be a woman employed at a senior level at the workplace from amongst the employees; not less than two members from amongst the employees, preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge; and others. One half of the total members so nominated should be women.
According to the same Act, creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile environment for a female employee; or humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety; or implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status, may amount to sexual harassment.
Where an employer fails to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee, he shall be punishable with a fine which may extend to Rs 50,000. In case of repeated violation of the same offence, he could attract a cancellation of license, or withdrawal, or non-renewal, or cancellation of the registration by the government.
ID is investigating whether such an Internal Complaints Committee was in place at the High Spirits establishment, and has reached out to legal advisors to ascertain the consequences of such regulatory oversights.
If you or someone you know has any information on the victims or allegations, or if you need help, please contact us.
This is an ongoing story.
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