The ongoing farmer protests have been in the news several times for the wrong reasons. In the last three days, allegations of sexual assault against activists associated with the protests have clouded the protests further. The allegations started with a post against one Mohammad Zuber (_emmzedd on Instagram) and opened a Pandora’s Box of many such allegations on other alleged activists. Other prominent activists who have been named so far are Varun Chouhan (member of Trolly Times), Antarpreet Singh (leader of Students For Society) and Manish Kumar (President, Swaraj For Youth).
Allegations against Mohammad Zuber
Not to be confused with Mohammad Zubair of Alt News, Zuber is one of the prominent frontrunners who were spreading ‘awareness about the farmer protests on social media networks. With 25,000+ followers on now-deleted account on Instagram, Zuber was also named as a documenter on the Kisan Ekta Morcha website (kisanekta.co).
Kisan Ekta Morcha is directly linked to Trolley Times, where Varun Chouhan (other accused) is an active contributor/leader.
So far, we only know that some girl had posted on Instagram where she alleged Mohd Zuber had raped her. After her post, Zuber deleted or deactivated his Instagram account and disappeared from social media. However, his Twitter handle is still active. A girl on Facebook had posted about Zuber and said, “Mohd Zuber (_emmzedd on Instagram ) is an alleged rapist. He raped a girl, and when she wrote about it on Instagram, Varunaditya Singh Chouhan mocked her.”
We are trying to find more information on the allegations against Zuber and will update the report accordingly.
Allegations against Varun Chouhan
Varun Chouhan has been actively covering Farmer Protests under Trolley Times. So far, he has been named by four different victims. After he was accused of sexually assaulting a victim, “The Kaur Movement” took the initiative to publish stories on behalf of the victims. The Kaur Movement has not published any names of the victims to ensure their privacy.
As narrated by the victim, she came in contact with Varun in 2019 after he sent her a friend request. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he invited her to be a part of the content team for a candidate he was endorsing. She agreed, and they became friends while working on the project. In her story, she mentioned that Varun talked a lot about his past relationship, and she felt sorry for what he went through.
After a while, he confessed his love for her. As she was in a relationship, she denied it. Varun accepted the refusal for the time being, but as time passed by, he manipulated her in a way that she broke up with her then-boyfriend. After some time, he went to Ludhiana from Delhi to meet her. She was awkward during the first meeting, so she did not stay with him. However, after a month, during his second meeting, she spent the night in his room. When she woke up, she realised that he was groping her. When she protested, he said, “I know you want it.”
He continued to touch her, and she froze. Once he was done, she cried, but he tried to console her and said it was natural. He left the next day, and they continued to stay in touch. She mentioned that he had a girlfriend in another city and felt sorry for her. As time passed by, he started to distance himself from her. “He crushed my self-esteem and pressured me to have a threesome with him and his girlfriend,” she added.
Towards the end, she said that she did not speak up before as she did not want him to contact her in any way. Also, she was scared of what would happen if her family found about it. However, after reading other women’s experiences, she realised he had done the same with many others.
The victim stated her story by pointing out that Varun is 20 years older than her. He approached her on social media, and as they were from the same social circle, they started talking. However, according to the victim, Varun took it as a license to engage in conversations that were beyond small talk. He kept on insisting on meeting even though she had made clear that she wanted to take things slow.
When Varun realised she would not engage in anything physical so soon, he started to manipulate her. He would repeatedly shame her for not being mature enough. “He knew exactly which buttons to push,” she added. When he again asked to meet her, keeping in mind the contrast of his behaviour, she declined to meet him. She said his attitude was evident that he was habitual of preying on girls.
The victim made clear at the beginning of the post that he did not attempt any physical assault on her. She met Varun in 2019 through a common friend. The idea was to get his help for her internship. However, during the meeting, she felt uncomfortable around him due to his body language. “I’d also caught him unpleasantly staring at me,” she added.
Later, he sent her a friend request on Instagram, which she accepted. Though he seemed some sort of activist, he started sending flirty messages from day 1. He sent messages like “you look yummy” on her stories. One day, she tried finding more information about him when she came across his wedding photos on Facebook. When she confronted him, he claimed he was divorced. However, her actions made him cautious.
After some time, she started sharing his posts on Instagram, after which some people approached her and told her he was a predator and cautioned her. “That’s when I realised maybe I bought his lies and all that was a trap, and he just sees women as sex objects,” she added. It took some time for her to push him away by bringing the friend in the conversation who was the reason they met.
The fourth victim also met him during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She said, meeting with him changed her life forever. Initially, it was about elections, but soon he started flirting with her. Later he started sending inappropriate photos, but she kept mum. Sometime later, they decided to meet at his place, and they both got high. That was the time when he forced himself upon her.
“Amidst this, he made weird demands like asking me to video call my ex-partners to show them how good he was in bed. I denied that obviously and asked him to stop, but then he became very rough,” she added. She further said that she never thought her experience with sex was going to be like this. When he was done, he asked her to leave, but she was not in a position to walk. He decided to drop her home.
The next day she realised how ruined her clothes were. There was blood all over her clothes. “I decided to not be in touch with him. He tried contacting me after a while and asked to have sex, I did not respond to him,” she added. She further said that it is a trauma she lives in every day.
Trolley Times refused to take any step against Varun
In a shocking turn of events, though Trolley Times acknowledged they know about the allegations against Varun, they refused to take any action against him “in lack of an official complaint.”
In a post on April 5, they said, “We take into cognisance the different allegations of sexual harassment against Varun Chouhan, who has been a member of our team and has dissociated himself from the Trolley Times in the light of these allegations. We are committed to ensuring that all spaces, including sites of struggles, remain spaces that are gender just. The Trolley Times would like to share that if any complainant wishes to lodge a complaint with us, we would definitely set up an independent inquiry committee that will be constituted and will work in accordance with the process informed by the Vishakha Guidelines and the Justice Verma Committee recommendations. We also assure our complete cooperation and support should the complainants decide to lodge their complaint with any other forum/institution deemed appropriate by them. We wish to reiterate that any movement against oppressive and exploitative laws cannot be strengthened in the absence of commitment to gender and social justice.“
Later on April 5, they said that they are unconditionally with the victims, but they cannot take any action against Varun in lack of an official complaint. They said, “The Trolley Times is unconditionally with the women who are raising their voices against sexual harassment. We are deeply disturbed that Varun Chouhan, who was associated with us, has been accused of repeated instances of sexual harassment and violence. We have seen claims that people approached Trolley Times regarding Varun, and that Trolley Times failed to act. Three people did contact as via phone call, conveying that there were complaints against Varun regarding his predatory ) behaviour. We asked them repeatedly to share the nature of complaint/s and that they share the information (even if not the complaints by survivors) in writing through message or email. We NEVER asked them either to disclose any of the survivors’ identities or to provide any manner of proof.
We urged them to submit a third-party complaint or an anonymous complaint. We recognise and respect a survivor’s right to choose if and when to share about their ordeal. The only thing we requested was a complaint or a piece of written information, taking cognisance of which we can take action. None of the three people who contacted us said that it was their own complaint. We pursued people for days, repeatedly asking them for complaints. At that time, there were no social media posts against the said person for as to take suo mote cognisance. The nature of complaints now being shared on social media was also not shared with us. We were only told that there are complaints of some sort against Varun.
In the absence of any formal complaint (even anonymous or third party complaint), no disciplinary process could be initiated.
Trolley Times is committed to fully co-operate in whatever course of action the complainant/s decide/s to pursue. We firmly hold that sites of struggles that are built with the hard work of so many must remain gender just and safe for women and for people of all marginalised groups. To this end, movements and struggle sites must take prompt action on every complaint of sexual harassment.“
Allegations against Antarpreet Singh
Antarpreet Singh is a leader of Students For Society which is a student’s organization at Punjab University, Chandigarh. Antarpreet has been one of the frontrunners in spreading ‘awareness about the farmer protests at the university campus. Allegations against him were raised by three women.
In a joint statement, two of them narrated their ordeals with Antarpreet Singh. In the statement, they mentioned that after allegations were raised against Varun and Zuber, a lot of fellow women were feeling overwhelmed. As a part of ‘Not Alone Women’s Circle Time,’ they discussed the situation when both of them realized that they were abused by the same man, i.e. Antarpreet.
“During the circle time, he stood out to us because of the stark similarities of his conduct even though he wasn’t named Initially. Later, when we confirmed it with each other, It got us thinking – What if we are not the only ones? What If our silence continues to enable our abuser?” the added. In her ordeal, one victim said that Antar started to make her feel uncomfortable after a few months into the friendship. He would touch her head and caress her forehead as a gesture of care.
“Later, the touch progressed to his arms around my shoulder and his hands sliding to my lower back. I was confused, sometimes I would stop it, sometimes I would shake it off as a friendly touch, nothing more,” she added. She kept thinking that he was a friend and defended him in her head. When she was unable to take it anymore, she confronted him, and he apologized and promised he did not do anything similar to anyone else.
“After that, I boycotted him from all the artistic and political events I hosted except one. I also informed some poetry event organizers of the city and made them aware so that they can leave him out,” she added.
One of the victims said that her incident progressed similarly to the other one. “I do not feel comfortable in recalling and writing the details. I considered calling him ‘in’ the organization’s Executive Committee. During the investigation meeting, he denied It even happened, and in a recent conversation on the topic after Varun Chauhan’s incident, he still labelled my sexual harassment as an ‘unconscious’ act,” she added.
She said she does not what is ‘unconscious’ about touching someone inappropriately. “We have both addressed this harassment as per our own emotional and rational capacity at the time of the incident. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to see him glorified by young girls and boys, knowing that they might b vulnerable to him. Every time we see Antarpreet posting about women’s rights, speaking at rallies against rape, schooling young women activist, we cringe inside,” she added.
The ordeal of another victim
Another victim, in her post narrating her ordeal with Antarpreet, said that she met him at PU. They regularly met during different protests and had conversations. He once asked her to marry him out of the blue, which she found to be outrageous. Slowly, he started to touch her hair, shoulders, face and hug her without permission. Though she confronted him on several occasions, he continued his actions.
She said that he had manipulated her into questioning her own hard-learned sense of right and wrong. “I must reiterate the fact that I have many female and male friends, and no male friends of mine have ever made me feel this uncomfortable,” she added. He used to tell others that they were “emotionally connected” and implied there was a romantic relationship between them. There was a time when she was asked on several occasions if she was dating him.
When she finally cut off all relations with him, he called her 30 times even though her mom had explicitly asked him not to call. She added that whenever he is confronted, he plays the victim card and calls his actions’ unconscious’.
SFS’s reply to the allegations
In its reply to the allegations, SFS said that they stand with the victims. “SFS at the outset stands with the survivors, condemns in strongest possible words each and every incident of sexual harassment. The executive committee has suspended Antarpreet with immediate effect from the organisation,” they said in the statement.
They further added that in 2018, one victim had filed a complaint against Antarpreet, but at that time, she asked him to apologise and asked the organisation to give him another chance to rectify his behaviour. They said, “We are in contact with both **** and ****. We have assured them both that we will provide every possible support In whatever way they want to pursue their complaints. SFS wants to emphasise that one of the incidents as mentioned In the statement by **** and **** was reported to the organisation in 2018 by ****. SFS took immediate notice of the complaint and the organisation held Antarpreet guilty. At that time ***** asked the organisation that Antarpreet be asked to apologise and given one chance to rectify.”
Allegations against Manish Kumar
Manish Kumar, President, Youth 4 Swaraj, was also named by one of the victims. It has to be noted that Youth 4 Swaraj is the youth wing of Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj for India.
The victim has claimed in her post that she informed about the sexual assault of Yadav and other senior members, but no one paid heed to her. The victim said that the case of Varun made her feel empowered to talk about what had happened to her. She had to resign from Swaraj India (Yogendra Yadav’s organisation) after its members mentally traumatised and abused her.
She added that it was traumatising for her that even after telling the senior members about Manish Yadav’s actions, he was comfortably sitting at Youth for Swaraj’s tent at Singhu border as one of their front men.
She said that when she told Yogendra Yadav about the incident that had happened with her, she was replied with a deafening silence. Avik Saha, Vice President of his organisation, asked her to go to the police.
“And all of this happened because they knew that they could sabotage women’s cause on the “name” of a greater cause. They knew the onus of being harassed and abused would come at me, and I would be blamed for maligning the movement, but the men who have free reign and protection to abuse/threaten/harass d predate on women,” she added. When she had resigned in November 2020, she wrote a long letter to Yadav explaining her reasons to resign which can be read in one of her Instagram posts.
Swaraj 4 Youth, Swaraj India or Yogendra Yadav have not replied to the allegations yet.
This is an ongoing story. Once we get more updates, we will update it accordingly.