After receiving flak for allegedly harassing two women sexually, Bang in the Middle's Prathap Suthan now seems to be in the clear.
Recently, Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer (CCO) of Delhi-based ad-agency Bang In The Middle faced allegations of sexually harassing not one but two women during his tenure as a creative director at Trikaya Grey (today Grey) in 1999. He now seems to be in the clear, as one of the accusations has been found to be false. This allegation first appeared on Medium.com, after which Bengaluru-based writer and journalist Sandhya Menon tweeted about it. Menon is now shocked and horrified by the revelation that the accusation is, after all, false. Here's what happened.
The allegations against Suthan first surfaced in a blog post on Medium, an online publishing platform, on October 15, this year. In this post, that didn't name him directly, Suthan, an advertising professional with over 30 years of experience, who co-founded Bang in the Middle, in 2012, with his partner Naresh Gupta, was accused of sexual harassment. The accusation was made by Jaya Prasad, general manager of Serviceplan India, a Delhi-based ad agency. Prasad accused Suthan of sexually harassing her during a job interview at Grey (then Trikaya Grey) in 1999. The post was subsequently retweeted by Sandhya Menon, who has helped bring around 300 #MeToo related cases to the fore so far, of which around eight are related to people in advertising.
Then, on October 23, a trade news website picked up the story, following which Suthan refuted the allegations in his statements to the website.
On October 26, Anaiysha Chhabra Parashar, an advertising professional, seconded Prasad's allegations and accused Suthan of harassment (also during his time at Grey) in a separate blog post on Medium.
On November 1, about a fortnight after the first allegation against him surfaced, Suthan responded with a detailed media statement, not only refuting all allegations against him but also stating that both the accusers were not known to him. In his statement, Suthan alleged that the accusers who appeared to be "business rivals" were trying to "defame" him and "harm" his reputation. He also pointed out certain inconsistencies in Prasad's account, for instance, "There is no cabin and as such there can be no door of any presumed cabin. So it's not understood what and which door has she slammed" and "I asked Ms. Prasad to come over to see a 'sketch' drawn by me, whereas I am a copywriter and don't and can't sketch", among other such specifics.
Suthan ends his statement saying these accusations are "doing a great disservice to all women as, by making such false complaints/reports, they will create an unwanted and unprofessional distance and divide between men and women..."
Then on December 11, Menon tweeted saying the accusation made by Prasad is false.
What puzzled us was the time Suthan took to respond to the allegations against him, almost making it a case study on how not to handle situations like these. And we asked him as much.
"Once I said I did not have a cabin, a second accusation surfaced saying it was a cubicle. The new lady didn't accuse me of physical abuse but of using bad language. She also claimed that my wife got to know about it, got involved, and telephoned her. This never happened," Suthan tells afaqs!.
He says he had to do his bit of research to find out who both these women were, and check if one of them had interned or worked with him sometime during the 12 years he was with Grey. "Since there were two separate accusations against me, I had to gather video/photographic proof about the office/creative floor layout, and check the identity of the second lady with many of the colleagues I had worked with at Grey. The entire process took 14-15 days before I came up with a detailed, legally vetted statement," he says.
Suthan adds, "Both the ladies didn't refute my statement nor have they written against it since it was published. I haven't made any attempt to reach out to or engage/converse with either of them on any social platform, overtly or covertly. I also haven't spoken to Sandhya Menon till she tweeted about it again."
In conversation with afaqs!, Menon, says "I shared Jaya's (Prasad) story once it was on the public domain and once she had written about it in detail on Medium."
However, Menon says that Prasad's narrative, in their conversations, kept changing and that things seemed doubtful. Menon goes on to tell us that later, in a private conversation with her, Prasad finally made it clear that the accusation she made against Suthan was false.
"I was shocked and horrified by the revelation. We are already struggling really hard to build credibility around these stories. This is just ammunition for the ones who are already questioning us. This makes things more difficult for us," Menon tells us, going on to add that a few cases of false accusations like these will not silence the genuine cases.
Apart from diluting the credibility of the #MeToo movement, this entire sequence of events also points to the horror of unsubstantiated allegations. In the USA, most #MeToo related accusations are made by women who reveal their identities, through recognised newspapers, unlike in India, where most accusations so far have surfaced on social media platforms, and many of which are made anonymously.