It has been 13 days since allegations of sexual harassment and abuse emerged against Khodu Irani, owner of popular pub High Spirits located in Koregaon Park. On October 19, the Mundhwa police initiated a suo-motu inquiry to look into these allegations and speak to the concerned people based on news reports and social media posts.
“Till now, no one has reached out to us. Victims or witnesses have not come forward to record their statements yet,” says a senior police official at the Mundhwa Police Station. He further adds that he reached out to a witness on October 19, with regard to filing a formal complaint, but they haven’t responded to the request yet.
Victims or witnesses can call the police helpline for women on 1091 and record their statements while remaining anonymous.
Another senior police official at the Yerwada police station stated that they have women constables to take up the issue when someone reaches out to them. “Anyone is free to approach us, even by email. We are also consulting our legal cell with regard to this matter. We will keep this inquiry open but until and unless someone comes forward to file an FIR, no action can be taken. If there are 30 women or more who make these claims, even if one of them comes forward to file a complaint, it will be sufficient for us to take action.”
He also informs Pune365 that the police cannot put a seal on High Spirits as they still lack evidence of the allegations or any other violations.
According to a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association, close to 70 per cent women do not report sexual harassment at the workplace due to “fear, embarrassment, lack of confidence in complaint mechanism, unawareness, and due to stigma attached to sexual harassment.” Pune was one of the cities where this survey was conducted.
Speaking about the legality of the on-going process of the investigation, Rohit Takawane, a city-based criminal lawyer, states that police can maintain anonymity of those who come forward to file a complaint. “It is necessary for someone to come forward and register an official complaint. Police cannot act on the basis of what they have seen on social media. An inquiry is all that they are permitted to do. A statement has to be recorded and then only can action be taken against the alleged perpetrator.”
Pune365 also reached out to Sheena Dabholkar, writer and editor, who in a series of threads on Twitter shared screenshots of messages from women outlining their experiences and accusing Irani of sexual harassment and abuse. Dabholkar was asked whether she would take a compilation of all these testimonials as evidence to the police. She was also asked if she would file an official complaint, or knows if any of the victims or witnesses would do so. To these questions, she responded, “I don’t have any updates.”
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