Harassment scandal casts ominous glow on RAW

India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been hit by another crisis. A senior female officer, working as a Director in the training branch of the agency at Gurgaon, attempted suicide on August 19 by consuming rat poison outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nisha Priya Bhatia took the extreme step after being denied entry to register a complaint regarding her allegations of sexual harassment by some colleagues in the agency. Bhatia was frustrated at the inaction of the agency as well as the government for not taking any action about her complaints of being sexually harassed.

The Supreme Court of India has clearly recognized sexual harassment as a crucial problem faced by women workers and laid down detailed guidelines for prevention and redressal of this problem. But strangely, apart from constituting inquiries, no concrete action was taken to address Bhatia’s complaint. She had even written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the harassment she was facing from some of her male colleagues within the agency.

The state of rot in the agency can be gauged from what Bhatia had alleged. According to her statement, which was widely reported in the media, Sunil Uke, a joint secretary level officer of the agency offered her around Rs 30,000 on August 3, 2007 to spend a night with him in a hotel.

According to Bhatia, her repeated pleas of an inquiry into the sexual harassment charges were scuttled by RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi himself. In fact, she even blamed Chaturvedi for using vulgar language to get sexual favour from her.

The RAW chief’s name has been under constant spotlight from sometime because of his failure to effectively lead the country’s premier intelligence agency.

So serious is the crisis within the agency that now a former RAW official has written a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to order a CBI inquiry into the suicide attempt by Nisha Priya Bhatia and to setup grievances redressal cell in the PMO for RAW employees.

R K Yadav, a former General Secretary of RAW Employees Association in the Cabinet Secretariat, has alleged that Bhatia’s case is not the first instance of sexual harassment in the agency.

“This is not the first sexual harassment in RAW. There are many incidents in the past but most of the lady employees do not report due to fear of being sacked from service in the guise of secrecy,” Yadav’s letter, which is in possession of NewsX.com, states:

“The mindset of RAW officers is reflective of a sex oriented psyche in which they are working operationally. Most of the agents whom they developed are entertained with all these ethnic facilities like providing prostitutes for sex. This sadistic working culture has provoked many of them to exploit their own lady colleagues or they were exploited by foreign agents,” the letter adds.

According to Yadav, there are numerous instances of such exploitation. The former official has mentioned them in his letter, some of which are listed here.

* 1998: Suchit Dass, an IPS officer of Orissa cadre, was caught on camera on several occasions with a lady of the Bangladesh Mission by the surveillance team of the RAW. The lady was used by Bangladesh intelligence officials to recruit Dass as their agent while he was serving in the Indian Mission at Dhaka. Dass reverted to India on completion of his tenure. The lady was also sent by the Bangladesh intelligence to continue her liaison with Dass. She managed to get secret information from Dass but no criminal action was taken against him. Instead, he was simply reverted to his parent cadre after the exposure.

* 2006: An IPS officer serving as Joint Secretary in RAW tried to sexually exploit the wife of his IAS batch mate. On the intervention of the then Prime Minister, he was reverted to his parent cadre in Manipur. He managed to re-enter the agency after some time and while serving in Jodhpur office he tried to molest a lady employee of the agency under the influence of liquor. He was then transferred to the RAW headquarters. Here too, he used double meaning words to a lady officer for seeking sexual favour. The matter was reported to then RAW chief PKH Tharakan but no action was taken against Jha. Instead, he was posted as a RAW official in Bonn (Germany).

* June, 2006: Brigadier Ujjawal Dasgupta, Director in Computer Division of RAW was arrested for his alleged link with a lady CIA operative Rosanna Minchew working in US Embassy in Delhi. He was arrested on charges of espionage and is presently lodged in Tihar Jail.

* October 2007: Ravi Nair, a Joint Secretary of RAW was abruptly recalled from Indian Embassy in Colombo for his involvement with a suspected lady Chinese agent. According to intelligence sources, the lady got involved with Nair during his Bhutan stint. This liaison continued in Hong Kong and was finally detected in Colombo. Nair has a dubious past in RAW. He worked for more than four years in Pakistan which no other officer of the agency could ever complete due to ISI interference. There are allegations of his being hobnobbing with ISI. In the instant case of his involvement with a lady spy, no harsh action was taken against him by the current RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi and curiously he was given a sensitive desk of North East.

* 2008: M M Sharma, a Director of Science & Technology Division of RAW was videotaped by the Chinese intelligence officials while having sex with a prostitute in Beijing where he was posted in the Indian Mission. He was declared Persona Non Grata and sent to India. No disciplinary or criminal action has been taken against him so far.

Meanwhile, in response to Nisha’s allegations, the Cabinet Secretariat issued a press release which blamed her for not cooperating with the committee instituted to inquire into her allegations against senior officials. On the contrary, the release suggested that she was mentally ill. It also details various complaints received against her from different officers in the agency.

The complaints ranged from insubordination, misbehavior, and abuse of authority to sending objectionable and offensive SMSs to senior government officials.

But Yadav’s claims that she is being portrayed as a psychiatric patient by RAW authorities as they want to save their skin in the current crisis.

While highlighting nepotism in the agency, the letter claims that there is rampant harassment and exploitation of RAW employees in general and women employees in particular.

The official has also accused the high-ups in the agency of overlooking merit while posting officers in critical regions like Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. According to him, officers “who are to be mentally harassed are sent to hard stations to settle personal scores by the seniors.” Hence the objective of protecting India’s national interest has gone for a toss.

The letter further alleges that a fear psychosis in the agency has been created by some senior officials. The employees of the agency are working in a traumatic and pathetic state of mind due to absence of an administrative grievance redressal mechanism, Yadav pointed out.

Now it is up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is already aware (as reported in the media) of some major blunders of the current RAW chief to address the crisis in the agency at the earliest.

(The article was published on www.newsx.com on August 29, 2008)