#MeToo: Journalist accuses India Today anchor of sexual assault

Journalist has accused Gaurav Sawant of sexual harassment and assault

A journalist has accused India Today’s executive editor Gaurav Sawant of sexually harassing her and assaulting her during a reporting trip in 2003, The Caravan, reported in its November issue.

Vidya Krishnan who till recently was the health and science editor of The Hindu and is a regular contributor to The Caravan, said the alleged harassment took place when she was sent to cover a peacetime drill in a military station at Beas in Punjab while working at The Pioneer, a daily newspaper then edited by Chandan Mitra, who later became a Member of Parliament from the Upper House .

Krishnan recalls Sawant’s first sexual assault was when she was sitting in a military jeep. At one point, he placed his right hand on her breast from behind her, she alleges. “I didn’t feel secure enough to tell anybody and say, ‘This is happening, make it stop.’ I didn’t have the confidence to say anything,” she told The Caravan.

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Sawant has denied the allegations. In a tweet he said that the allegations are false and baseless.

Meanwhile the India Today group responded to the allegations in a statement “The article is distressing to read. Unfortunately, we are in no position to comment on it or investigate the matter since Gaurav Sawant was not employed with us in 2003.  Nevertheless, Mr. Sawant has been asked to provide an explanation. Besides dismissing the allegations entirely, he has informed us that he is consulting lawyers to seek legal remedy.” The statement was a response to NDTV’s query.

Krishnan is an award-winning journalist and a former fellow at the International Reporting Project. Sawant has been a defence correspondent, who reported extensively on the Kargil War in 1999.

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In 2003 both were a part of a trip organised by the Indian Army. Krishnan was a rookie while Sawant was already a established defence correspondent who was due to get married.

The details of the allegations: That night, Sawant sent her a text message asking her to come to his room. He told her that he wanted to get into a bathtub with her. She declined. Within minutes, he reached her room and knocked at her door. When she opened it, he let himself in. He then exposed his genitals to her and began to force her to touch it.”

The Caravan reports: “Mere minutes after he had entered her room, while he was still talking to her, he unzipped his pants, and began trying to force her hand towards his penis. She tried to push him away, but could not.”

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Krishnan recalled that she feared she would be physically overpowered by him, as he was taller and stronger than her: “In my mind, there was a fear that I might have to end up doing what he wanted.” He left her room when she started screaming, the Caravan report says.

Krishnan says this treatment of women is ingrained deep and is part of the newsroom culture’s approach to women: “It makes me furious that we have very smart, young female reporters — with good talent — whom we don’t groom because we look at them as objects. And no amount of seniority fixes it, because no matter how up you go in the food chain, there are more men higher up on that very food chain at that very level.”

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