Ravi Melwani – Sexual Harassment Charges, Rape Accusations – 2023 Investigation
His public persona is of a philanthropist soaked in spirituality and dedicated to serving the destitute. However, his ex-employees allege he is a serial sexual predator who brazenly exploits women on his payroll. They say he molests unabashedly, demands sexual acts upfront, normalises and glorifies it all, harasses those who deny him and rewards those who oblige. His lusty demeanour is a fact of life at the workplace, which he runs like his fief and where only young women are employed.
Conversations with 13 ex-employees over two years revealed the culture of sexual abuse in his organisation; nine said he had molested or propositioned them. Some of these experiences are over a decade old, whereas the most recent one occurred during the pandemic in 2020. These independent testimonies—only two of these women know each other—echo the dozens of anonymous complaints posted against him on the internet over a decade.
Invariably, all the ex-employees said Ravi Melwani is vengeful and dangerous and would share their stories only if their identity is not revealed. Therefore, this exposé is compelled to conceal the identity of the accused.
Who’s Ravi Melwani
He is a wealthy, middle-aged business owner with people to look after his business and charitable projects while occupying himself with his ‘spiritual’ endeavours. He has been preaching to a packed audience for years at a temple (in the pre-Covid days). He claims to have achieved “self-realisation” a few years ago.
Sample his opening remarks from a recent preaching: “I don’t know what I’m going to speak because God speaks through me. I surrender myself, and then I let go. And God gives the message.” He told this reporter in an interview that he always gets visions from God.
He operates from a spacious, beautifully landscaped office where reportedly only young women are seated, and he is the lone male among them. Male employees and other female employees occupy non-descript offices on a lower floor and the basement.
This series is based on extensive interviews with the ex-employees, Ravi Melwani himself, his key aide and dozens of online complaints.
Part 1: ‘How often do you have sex with your husband?’
(* Real name of all the people mentioned in this series has been withheld along with other identifying details to maintain their anonymity.)
Shivangi* was smitten with the plush office when she first visited it for her job interview during the Covid pandemic in 2020. “Like a resort, you can say. So beautiful, so beautiful. How do I describe it? Dogs of two-three exotic breeds, ducks, bunnies, everything!”
A month after her brush with Melwani, she shared her story with 101Reporters over a phone call. She said she was so enamoured with the luxurious interiors that she thought she would never want to return home. However, she quit after only her second day in the office because Ravi Melwani molested her on both days.
She said she had joined the organisation because of its spiritual and charitable image. She saw a father figure in Ravi Melwani and liked his “spiritual aura” after speaking with him for her job interview.
On her first day in the office, she got summoned to Melwani’s cabin, and he began a casual chat. The discussion drifted to spirituality and then to a controversial cult. He disapproved of the cult’s lavish lifestyle and said he owns property worth Rs500 crore but leads a simple life and serves the poor.
He brought up the cult’s advocacy of sex and coolly asked her: “How are you with your husband?” She was baffled. She muttered something about having a normal relationship. Ravi Melwani rephrased his question: “How often do you have sex?”
She was getting increasingly uncomfortable. Squirming in her chair, she told him they do not have sex daily; they understand each other and are on good terms.
At this, Ravi Melwani began to wax eloquent about his soul connection with her. She said he told her things like: “You and I are just bodies. We have a soul connected.” “You are a very nice girl. You’re a religious girl. I feel a connection with you.”
He then said he wanted to show her something and led her to the toilet in his cabin. She was confused: what could he possibly have here to show? Also, the toilet has no roof, just the open sky above it. She was feeling weird.
Here, Ravi Melwani told her, “Come on, give me a hug.” She was shocked and didn’t know how to react. The well-built owner and chairman of the company locked her petite frame firmly in his embrace. She froze.
“He just hugged me. And he pulled me, and he’s like, ‘Come, give me a kiss.’ I was so taken aback,” she said.
When they returned to his cabin after this molestation, he said, “Aapko laga main kuch gandagi kar raha hoon? Aapko laga main aapke saath zabardasti kar raha hoon? Nahi na! Yeh hai soul connect.” (Did you feel I was doing something dirty or forcing you? No, right! This is soul connection.)
She told this reporter she hated it but could not speak a word. She felt violated, but the perpetrator was behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Shaken, spoke with her husband after Melwani let her go. He told her to quit the job and said he was coming immediately to pick her up. She stopped him, hoping it would not happen again.
‘He’s very good’
After this encounter with Ravi Melwani, she said a friendly, beautiful colleague initiated a conversation with her. This woman told her: “At first, you might find it a bit odd. He’s too friendly, [but] he’s very good. What he says is so good! He has a good nature.”
Shivangi said she saw Ravi Melwani getting touchy-feely with this woman. “When I saw, I understood. This was not like a father figure. There’s something. One can tell from the vibes. I could sense what was happening. And she was convincing me that don’t feel bad.”
‘Be my backbone’
In the evening, Ravi Melwani called Shivangi again to his cabin. She was hesitant and did not want to go alone but had no choice. After a work-related talk, he told her, “I want to love you as a soul. I want to make you my backbone. Do you want to work as an employee or do you want to be my backbone?”
She said she told him she wanted to work professionally and that it was up to him to decide what role in giving her. He said he trusted her to do well and then listed the incentives of becoming his backbone.
He said she could have a salary of even a lakh rupees or more. “If you work with me, you can earn as much as you want,” he told her.
He asked if she liked to travel. She said she did, and he told her she could travel with him anywhere. She quoted him as saying: “There is so much luxury staying with me. You won’t have any problem.”
After emphasising how much she stood to gain, he embraced her. She was alert and stepped back; he let her be. That was that for her day one.
Another day, the same story
On her next day in the office, Melwani called her to his cabin and asked if she had decided whether she wanted to be just an employee or his backbone. She repeated what she had told him the day before.
“He’s a manipulator. He’s a big-time manipulator. He’s getting what I’m saying but doesn’t want to take no for an answer. He’ll ask it differently to get a yes, anyhow. That’s how he is. So he asked me, ‘Do you want to handle the entire department? Do you want to handle the entire team?’”
She told him she had interviewed for a senior position and would not take up a junior role. To this, he said: “No, no. Then you have to prove yourself. Then you have to be close to me.”
He told her that only a select few employees get to be close to him. He then got up from his chair to fetch something from the fridge behind where she was sitting.
“He came from behind, and he just, ummm, caught me,” she said. “And he started calling ‘baby, sweetheart’ and all this.”
She said she froze as he groped her and he kept trying to persuade her: “He said, ‘You stay with me. I’m not doing any bad things. Just remember, we are souls, which are connected.’ This-that… ‘You’ll work for me; I’ll work for you; you’re a smart girl.’ A lot!”
She said he kept molesting her, saying things such as: “You’ll go far if you work with me. See, there’s nothing like moh-maya in my world. I have everything, but do I need it? I need none of it. Will I take it all with me? I won’t take any of it. So don’t worry; we are in this together. Work with me, be my backbone, and I will ensure you get everything in this world.”
She said he pulled her from her seat and wrapped his arms tightly around her. She could only keep her chin firmly pressed against her chest to escape his kisses, and he kept asking her to raise her head.
‘Just for you to settle in
Shivangi told this reporter Ravi Melwani got upset with her for not cooperating. She recounted: “He told me, ‘See, there’s still hesitation inside you. You’re still not feeling free with me.’ Then he told me all this is just for you to settle in. All this kissing, doing all this, just for me to settle in. What can I even say? Disgusted. I felt disgusted. Just disgusted. To the end, to the core. I’ve never felt this disgusted. Never.”
He told her to see him again in the evening, but she quietly picked up her bag and left for good.
She said she had told the HR manager who had recruited her about both incidents on the phone but to no avail. She said the HR manager sounded sorry and sympathetic but offered no help. Also, Shivangi was never told about any anti-sexual harassment policy.
Further, she had not been given any offer letter or confirmation of joining. She was told the company would observe her performance for a week and then proceed with the formalities. From her hiring to quitting, all the communication took place on WhatsApp. This reporter has a copy of her conversations with Ravi Melwani and his voice notes.
Soon, Shivangi learnt from a friend that she, too, had met Ravi Melwani for a job interview in 2016. He was keen to teach her ‘yoga poses’ and had offered her Rs1 lakh a month despite her little experience. She declined the offer because she felt he was a pervert.
Shivangi got a new job soon after quitting. Women in this office already knew about Predator Melwani.
Part 2: In his company, sexual abuse is an occupational hazard
All the ex-employees of RVM Foundation with whom this reporter spoke gave a similar account of Ravi Melwani as Shivangi’s*. Different years, different decades, same story. Only, they had more predatory patterns to speak of.
In a lengthy post shared on Twitter during India’s #MeToo movement in October 2018, Pallavi* detailed how Melwani had sexually assaulted her in the library. She confirmed her narrative to this reporter over multiple conversations on a social media platform. She said she was 23, straight out of college and naïve when she joined RVM Foundation in 2008. She said Melwani took her to the library only two days after a colleague cautioned her that he might make a move on her.
Her Twitter post reads: “He used to mention that he is Krishna and the women around him were his Gopikas. He had a library in one of the secluded basements. He once had taken me in there under the pretext of giving me a camera to work with the homeless. As soon as we entered, this lady was archiving articles and books. She snuck out, saying she wanted to have her lunch. Maybe she knew? I am not sure to date. By this time, I couldn’t breathe and was feeling claustrophobic. My heart was racing.
“He asked me if he could hug me and kiss me. Before I could say anything, he was hugging me. I froze and the next question was can I kiss you like this. I put my face down that very instant and he just was bloody able to kiss my scalp and then I pushed him away and stood as far as I could from him. I was shaking. However, I didn’t let him know I was. He then went on to say that he was testing me and I had failed.”
Her Twitter post also detailed how he often asked her about her sex life. She told this reporter that women in the office would constantly caution one another to be on guard around him. She left after the library incident because she did not want to live in fear.
“I quit the job in a month because he is a pervert.”
Library, locker, lust
Mitra*, who was 22 when she joined RVM Foundation in 2011, too was compelled to quit after a month because of unrelenting sexual harassment. She shared her experiences with this reporter over multiple conversations on WhatsApp, phone and in person. She said once an HR employee forced her to accompany Melwani for his daily walk in the office premises. He took her to the library, opened a locker packed with bundles of cash and told her: “If you cooperate with me, I’ll make you rich.”
She muttered an OK, naïvely thinking he meant she could earn incentives or a promotion if she did well. He said he had something for her from one of his foreign trips. He took a top from a cupboard and asked her to change into it before him. She told him she was uncomfortable, but he kept imploring: “You need to be comfortable with me. You need to feel you and me are the same.”
As she did not cave in, he quit insisting. But then he tried to hug her. She wriggled out of it and asked that they leave the library. He let her leave and asked her to tell the Chief* (the position he had coined for a select few loyalists) to send the next woman.
Anjali* (2011) and Swati* (2012) shared similar library experiences. “Waving a wad of cash seems familiar. He did that with me, and I said my salary would be enough,” Swati emailed. She added: “He started to kiss me very roughly, and I pushed him away… When he went on about how it was alright to touch etc., I said no, it wasn’t for me.”
Over a phone call, Anjali said she pushed him away when he tried pawing her in the library, and he responded by offering a promotion. Swati lasted three months in the organisation, and Anjali, six.
Diya* (2010) remembers a new colleague telling her tearfully that Melwani had molested her in the library just a while ago. Diya quit a month after joining because Melwani asked if he could hug and kiss her.
Even Elaine* (2012), who did not face sexual harassment, is aware of the library’s infamy. “I’ve seen women in tears,” she shared over a phone call. “He takes them inside his private room, and I don’t know what he does with them. But they come out in tears.” She said she had seen this unfold many times. “They just leave the job on the spot.”
This happened with Neeta’s* (2011) recruit, who quit on her second day. “After lunch, I saw her panic. She said that she wasn’t feeling well and needed to go home,” Neeta told this reporter on a social media platform. Her colleagues later told her they had seen Melwani leading the young woman to the “pink room”.
Mitra said a visit to the library meant molestation. They had a ‘running joke’ that lipstick and kohl disappear from women’s faces when they go to the library with Ravi Melwani.
“Going to the library, it’s very, very scary for us. At that point in time and at that place, no one could even hear you,” she noted. “Library was the worst place.”
She said no place was safe if Melwani was around. “He never used to leave any chance. I always used to run away from him,” she said.
“There was a time I actually stopped going to him because going to him means he’ll hug me, he’ll kiss me, he’ll ask me to go to the library.”
She said he would behave as if nothing had happened after molesting them. “The next day, we had to wear a face that we had done something wrong because we said no.”
She said once he denied her a leave even though she was injured. Upon seeing her swollen leg, he said: “So what! Come and sit on my lap; you’ll feel better.”
Then there was his overbearing interference in her life. “There were many times he asked me, ‘What do you message to your boyfriend?’ Thankfully, I never used to message my boyfriend; I used to call him. Even then, I had to open my call log and show it to him. Ok, how many times I have called him.”
She said he would often text her in the night—You’re being missed/I wish you could join me/I wish we could get together/If you ever need my help, you know I’m always there—and leave her agitated.
This reporter spoke with Mitra’s then-roommate, who corroborated her narrative. The roommate further shared that her cousin, who also worked at RVM Foundation, would often come over to their room; she and Mitra would fret about Ravi Melwani’s sexual advances.
Explaining how they felt constantly vulnerable, Mitra narrated an incident that she said was particularly frightening.
Molestation at midnight
Ravi Melwani has been preaching at a grand temple regularly for years. Mitra said that back then, he would ask a few women from the office to stay for the programme. It would end about midnight, and he would drop the women home in his van. It is a customised van with a furnished back compartment—sealed from the two seating rows—where he would be alone with the women one by one, in the order of their drop.
Once, Mitra was among those asked to stay for the preaching. She described what happened in the van: “He pounced on me. He tried to molest me. I was very helpless at that point of time. I said, ‘I don’t like it; please stop it. I’m not that kind of a person.’ He said, ‘Love is supposed to be shared. You’re supposed to share your love with me.’”
She said he did not back off, so she lied and said that her house had arrived. “I got dropped one kilometre away from my house. It was around 12:30 at night. I walked back to my place,” she recalled.
The Supreme Court had in 2012 banned the use of tinted glasses in vehicles, acting on a petition that contended such vehicles are used for crimes, including sexual assault on women. Nonetheless, Melwani’s van continues to sport pitch black window panes till date.)
The van, too, is infamous, like the library. Pallavi said her colleagues had warned her never to travel with him. Thus, she had excuses ready when asked to.
Hugs & kisses
Mitra’s torment ended only after she quit the organisation. She said Melwani did not spare her even when she sought his signature on the exit form.
“He tried to smooch me. I turned my face, and the bad, saliva kiss came on my cheek,” she shared over the phone. “I was so disgusted because I could see everyone was staring.”
She remembers his parting remark well: “If you ever wanna come back, the doors are always open. And my arms are always open for you too.”
Ravi Melwani has a reputation for kissing and hugging. Swati said that during her job interview, he brought up how society is restrictive and objects to even people hugging. She said she chimed in, condemning moral policing, not knowing he would then try to hug her.
“I said he was being too literal, and he stopped short, a bit taken aback. Very stupidly, he asked me why I was resisting when just then I had agreed that hugging was alright,” she said.
“He had made some grandiose statements about loving everyone and universal love. Now that sounded like quaint philosophy, so I agreed. Again, this translated into crude attempts at hugging,” she added.
Foreign trips are another standard ploy of Ravi Melwani. Swati remembers his talking about travelling for work and staying together in a hotel. Mitra said he had asked what her dream destination was and proposed taking her there. Anjali got to travel abroad with him and a few other women once; what happened there made her quit upon returning.
She said he behaved well initially but later told her: “You will have to act as my girlfriend [on the next foreign trip] because I have increased your salary and designation.”
He had promoted her after making a move on her in the library. She said he had offered her the position of Chief, but she had declined it because “I knew that if I said yes, it meant that I’ll have to do everything and anything.”
From her experience and what she gathered from her colleagues, she explained what a foreign trip entails: He travels with five-six women, and one or two have to stay with him. He convenes a meeting in the hotel itself for an hour or two. She dubbed the meeting and the label of a ‘work trip’ a sham. “You should not feel that why-why the hell did you come here? It [the meeting] is just basically faaltu ka timepass. You have to go, and then in the evening, whatever he wants with whomsoever he wants.”
She says he hugs everyone and considers his employees his family; therefore, hugging them is no big deal. All the ex-employees told this reporter that while many women resist Melwani’s sexual advances, some play along for the perks and rewards it brings.
Only oral sex
Anjali said some of her colleagues who have shared a room with Ravi Melwani told her he indulges in foreplay and oral sex alone. Swati and Mitra remember his mentioning that he desires only oral sex.
This quirk is known in the office grapevine too. Mitra said a woman in Ravi Melwani’s clique told her and another colleague who was venting about his sexual demands, “Don’t worry, it’s all oral.” Pallavi’s colleague told her he had explained the spiritual significance of abstaining from intercourse. Pallavi and Elaine said he would cite Mahatma Gandhi, who believed in preserving one’s sexual fluids for spiritual progress.
All the ex-employees said he would wear the cloak of spirituality even as he would sexually assault them. One of the oft-used terms in his lexicon is “nirvana”, which, he would tell women, is what he was ultimately seeking through physical intimacy with them.
Office or trap?
Many women said the office seemed merely a ruse to have ‘pretty young things’ around Ravi Melwani. They said that the company was constantly losing people because of such a work environment, often in a day or two. Mitra said at least five other women had also quit when she did, the day after receiving salary. Thus, the company was always hiring.
One of the ex-employees this reporter spoke with was the head of the HR department. She explained the hiring criteria: young, single, needy and good-looking. She said the office did not explicitly mention this criterion to her, but it became apparent from the final selections.
“You’re being told to look for girls. You shortlist ten girls, of which always only the two who are good-looking, single, they get selected,” she said, adding that she got the cue and would then shortlist only such candidates.
She said the motive behind preferring women facing hardships was to exploit their situation by dangling money in front of them.
Sample this: The annual salary mentioned in job advertisements for Ravi Melwani’s secretary over the past couple of years is Rs 6-12 lahks, Rs 7-15 lakh, Rs8-18 lakh and Rs 20 lakh.
Diya shared that a colleague overwhelmed with Ravi Melwani’s overtures was stuck at RVM Foundation because of her financial constraints. Diya said she would not have been able to quit, although Ravi Melwani’s sexual advances, had she not gotten another job.
A woman who had a lengthy stint at RVM Foundation many years ago told this reporter on social media: “Who is still working there are people who are in a bad need for jobs. With many problems and who are ok with anything and everything!”
This is an observation everyone shared.
Those who play along
“The office was divided into women who gave him what he wanted and women who didn’t,” Swati noted.
Diya and Elaine vividly remember seeing him giving and receiving massages in his glass cabin often. “They used to feed him and massage him. And he used to like massaging girls,” Elaine said.
Mitra said it was commonplace to see him smooching women in his cabin. Anjali recounted similar scenes from the foreign trip.
“I have seen [him] kissing the Chiefs in front of all eight girls. He used to feel that he could do anything in front of anybody. Even those girls were happy doing it,” she said. “The girls who are going there, they are going with the mindset that they are ready to do each and everything.”
While aligning with Ravi Melwani meant perks, spurning his advances meant punishment. A few months after she quit, Neeta learnt from her ex-colleagues that they were moved to the ground floor for declining Ravi Melwani’s propositions. For the same reasons, Pallavi and the others said Ravi Melwani would berate their colleagues in meetings.
John*, the lone male ex-employee this reporter could speak with, said his manager resigned after the standard experience—sexual assault, bribing attempt, getting yelled at—but her torture got worse after she quit. John said she started getting threats on phone, email and Facebook, asking her to rejoin RVM Foundation as she knew too much about Ravi Melwani. This intimidation stopped only after her husband confronted Ravi Melwani.
After this episode ended, John said she messaged him to tell that she would soon change her contact details and vanish from social media to evade her harassers. She told him she would not stay in touch with him too because he was still with RVM Foundation and she feared they might extract her whereabouts from him.
John said he had complained to an HR manager multiple times about sexual abuse in the company but he was always shut out. He said the HR manager told him not to discuss any of it with anybody, not to be bothered, do his job and go home. “Don’t get into any trouble. Things are different here,” she advised him.
The HR head of RVM Foundation, whom this reporter spoke with affirmed that the company did not have any mechanism to address sexual harassment. She quipped:
“When the organisation itself is set up for harassment, what internal policy will they make!”
Wondering how Ravi Melwani is still free despite years of brazen sexual abuse, Pallavi remarked: “He has used people’s fear and shame very effectively.”
Mitra said she and a friend whom Ravi Melwani had asked for a blowjob wanted to file a police complaint. They tried persuading others to join them but got no support. “Most of us were outsiders. We are not localites. Second thing, everyone thinks good riddance, why drag it now! And then he’s very powerful. Don’t know, what will happen, what won’t,” she said.
The response of Mitra’s aforementioned friend to a request for an interview illustrated how pronounced this fear is for some. “I [am] really skeptical and scared for my life in sharing anything with anyone regarding this topic based on just a Facebook message,” she wrote. “This was not easy then and it’s still very traumatic.”
Part 3: Stripped, beaten, robbed of motherhood
One ex-employee’s story stands apart from others’. She claims Ravi Melwani battered her, had her disrobed, clicked her photographs and threatened he could circulate those online or kill her if she spoke up.
The alleged incident unfolded on May 22, 2013. Divya*, then 34, was trying for a baby through IVF then. She says Ravi Melwani landed such hard kicks on her abdomen, leaving her uterus too damaged for childbirth.
She narrated her ordeal to this reporter in multiple conversations over two years. This reporter met her, her mother and her husband in their tiny house. She had lost her father in her early teens, her mother worked as a domestic help and she held odd jobs growing up to make ends meet.
She had worked at RVM Foundation since 2001, though not in the all-women office. She would report to Kavya*, and Sushma*, both of whom she says were complicit in her assault.
According to the ex-employees, both were the closest aides and key enablers of Ravi Melwani. Kavya worked at RVM Foundation for 10 years, five of which she was a director. Sushma has been at the company for 25+ years and is the right hand of Ravi Melwani.
Narrating the sequence of events of the day she was allegedly assaulted, Divya said she went to work as usual at about 11 am and found Sushma waiting for her at the gate. Sushma told her Ravi Melwani wanted to see her to discuss something urgent.
He gave her a stinging slap when she got into Ravi Melwani’s cabin. Then another, and another. Sushma stood watching. Kavya came after a few minutes, and she too, began slapping her hard.
They accused her of sending a tell-all email about Kavya’s rumoured affair with Ravi Melwani to Kavya’s husband. She later learnt that Kavya’s husband had received a few incriminating emails from an unidentified sender a few days ago. Divya said her aggressors believed she was the sender because she loathed Kavya and had made no bones about it.
They demanded that Divya write again to Kavya’s husband from that email id and withdraw the allegations. Divya told them she did not know anything about this but they did not believe her. She said Ravi Melwani told her: “Unless and until you send a mail, we’re not gonna stop hitting you.”
She said Sushma and Kavya restrained her as Ravi Melwani slapped her, twisted her arm, punched her and kicked her hard incessantly.
Divya said they took her to the secluded library from the glass cabin as she kept denying sending the emails. In the library, she said Kavya and Sushma restrained her and stripped her naked waist-up as Ravi Melwani clicked her photographs.
“They said that if you’re going to reveal this out, this is going to be on a website,” she recounted. “He called his driver also inside, like with his driver he’ll again take the photograph if I don’t send a mail.”
She shared the other intimidation tactics Ravi Melwani tried in the library. She quoted him as saying:
“We’ll say that you have an affair with the driver… We’ll give your family this [her photographs with him].”
“I have many girls’ photographs like this.”
“If I do anything here, nobody will ask me.”
“I have a gun with me, I’ll shoot you.” (Said while brandishing a handgun case.)
“I’m so filthy rich that If I’m killing you, if I’m throwing out from here also, we’ll say that she’s [done] suicide and she jumped.”
“Your mom is alone full time at home, no? We know how to take care of her. You’ll be in the jail and we know how to kill her also.”
Divya explained the jail threat, which Ravi Melwani did follow through on. She said they brought her back to the glass cabin and began talking as if she had committed a financial fraud. They accused her of inflating some bills and misappropriating a few thousands rupees. She alleged that Ravi Melwani repeatedly kicked her hard in the stomach as she lay crouching on the floor; he exclaimed how she was paying for the IVF treatment if she weren’t stealing from the company.
She said they asked her senior to file a police complaint against her for fraud. This manager took her to the jurisdictional police station and submitted a written plaint.
Divya said she told the police about the torment she had just been through and they asked her to give a written complaint. While she did as told, she alleged that the case was not registered until she approached the police commissioner six days later. Even when the police registered a case, they charged Ravi Melwani, Sushma and Kavya with only wrongful confinement and physical assault, leaving out the allegation of disrobing and photographing Divya.
Divya has a medical report prepared by a government hospital, where she was examined a day after the alleged assault. Some of her injuries listed in the report are: tenderness in the left shoulder joint, lower jaw, right forearm, and right elbow; tenderness and swelling on the right foot and ankle; both arms twisted; hit with boots on both legs.
The police investigated the fraud complaint against Divya, found it false, and stated so in their report to the court. The court shut the case in November 2016, noting that RVM Foundation had not challenged the police’s finding, had not been attending hearings and was not interested in pursuing the matter.
In Divya’s case, the chargesheet held Ravi Melwani and Sushma guilty of assault. Ravi Melwani engaged a law firm to challenge the chargesheet in court. On the other hand, Divya said she is too poor to hire a lawyer and would turn up for hearings, not even sure which of the two cases she appeared for.
After seven dates in one court, the case was transferred to another one in August 2016. The new judge closed the case in the first hearing, ruling in favour of Ravi Melwani. Details are unavailable as Divya has not received a court order copy.
This reporter has a copy of: her complaints to the police station and the police commissioner; her wound certificate; RVM Foundation’s complaint against her and the criminal revision petition; and the FIR and the chargesheet against Ravi Melwani and Sushma.
Role of police
Divya said the jurisdictional police supported her the first two days, but on her third visit to the police station; they turned hostile. She said they accused her of theft and threatened her with imprisonment. She claimed that when she and her husband left the police station that day, a young constable quietly approached them for a quick word. She said he told them that Ravi Melwani had greased the palms of his seniors. She said he seemed sorry and well-meaning.
While she also mentioned another supportive policeman, she said others tried to dissuade her from proceeding with her complaint. She said they tried to intimidate her with the arduous processes of investigation and hearings; they told her RVM Foundation was willing to wipe the slate clean and have her back; they asked where else she could hope to get such a pay with her education.
Nineteen days after the alleged assault, the jurisdictional police gave her a typewritten letter, bearing the signature and seal of the police inspector. It states that the police have strictly warned Ravi Melwani and others to leave her alone; it will be illegal if they bothered her; and that the police were willing to give her protection if she felt unsafe. This reporter has a copy of this letter.
Pain lingers on
Divya rues that perpetrators of such a heinous assault could get off scot-free. She is most bitter about the assault costing her motherhood. She said that when she went for the IVF treatment after this incident, the doctors told her that her uterus was so damaged that the pregnancy could be risky for her and the foetus if she ever conceived.
While the alleged thrashing extinguished her chances of conceiving, the police case against her extended her wait for adoption. It was only in October 2018—more than five years after the alleged assault—that the adoption agency fulfilled her wish, and she brought home a baby boy.
She said that while her son has given her the will to live, the pain of that fateful day lingers on. Showing the injury on her foot, she said it still hurts. Her spine hurts so much that she cannot hold her child for long. She used to take pride in her rapid note-taking skills, but now she can barely write for a short while as her hand begins to hurt.
In an interview in 2019, she said: “It’s been six years now. Still, I think of it. It’s like a nightmare for me. I couldn’t sleep properly till today. I am afraid they should not hurt me or anyone else like that. He has to get punished. That’s why I am alive.”
(Reporter’s note: Divya had initially agreed to speak on the record. On the strength of her testimony and supporting documents, the previous version of this story carried the real name of Ravi Melwani, his accomplices and his company.
News portal The Wire had 2019 agreed to consider this story for publication. This reporter took their resource person to meet Mitra and Divya, who retold their trauma to us in detail. Fourteen months later, The Wire declined the story, no reason given, even though one of its founding members had vetted, edited and approved the story.
Upon learning this, a dejected Divya said she has been fighting for seven years and wants to move on. Hence, she requested anonymity in case the story was to come out at all. With this, the story lost the ability to identify Ravi Melwani & Co.)
Part 4: I hug everybody, have hurt nobody: Ravi Melwani
In January 2020, this reporter met Ravi Melwani in his office for a long, candid interview, where he categorically denied all the allegations. He reasoned that if his office were unsafe for women, many would not be working here for decades. He contended that his accusation of forcing himself on women was an exaggeration.
“I hug the people from the street… If you’re there, for me to hug you like this, [gives the reporter a side hug] for me, there’s nothing,” he said. “I’m a very loving, caring, friendly person.”
He said he treats his employees as a part of his life and journey. “If somebody wants to take that issue and make that issue, even the court will not convict somebody for hugging. Right! A court also will not convict somebody for saying, ‘I want to kiss you.’”
Ravi Melwani: “Suppose someone tells you I told her, ‘Can I hug you?’ or ‘Can I kiss you?’ Suppose something was like that. So is that a big thing!”
Reporter: “It depends.”
Ravi Melwani: “Is that a big thing somebody told, ‘Can I hug you?’ ‘Can I kiss you?’ or ‘Can I’—He didn’t do it! Somebody asked. Is it a big article to write!”
Reporter: “If it is—”
Ravi Melwani: “Only this. Only ‘Can I hug you?’ and ‘Can I kiss you?’ Is it a big article to write!”
Reporter: “Not a big article, but as per law, Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, it amounts to sexual harassment.”
Ravi Melwani: “Ok. Even asking?”
Reporter: “Yeah, even asking. Because since you’re in a position of power—Because there’s a power imbalance.”
Ravi Melwani: “Ok. I don’t—” (Looked surprised and trailed off.)
Questions about compliance with the legal obligations to prevent sexual harassment elicited conflicting responses from him and his key aide Sushma*, who answered all the questions on email on his behalf.
Two of the main obligations of an employer is setting up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and displaying the punishment for sexual harassment at a prominent place in the office. This reporter requested to see this notice, but Ravi Melwani said the office has no notice board (one was affixed right outside the meeting hall, warning employees against “the evils of gossiping”). All communication takes place over email and WhatsApp. So this reporter requested a digital copy of the policy document, to which he said: “Ours is a family-run organisation. If anybody has a problem with anybody, they go face-to-face and talk. We’re not corporate.” He added: “There’s no protocol like that to show you anything major.”
However, in an email exchange following this interview, Sushma asserted that the company has a policy and the ICC. This reporter pressed her for both details, but she refused to share any information, stating: “We don’t need to publicise this.”
In the same vein, Sushma did not cooperate with any cross-questioning. She dismissed all the allegations and urged this reporter to do the same.
She and Ravi Melwani argued that complaints posted about him on the internet lacked credibility because these were shared anonymously and with ulterior motives. He cited a blog/an exposé about him that had appeared in October 2018. He blamed it for spreading lies about him. He said some of his ex-employees had put this blog up to scare prospective job seekers away so that there was no threat to their sway in the organisation.
“Luckily, we caught them uploading this thing on the internet while they were working,” he said.
This happens to be an utter lie. For, the blog in question was put up by this reporter after failing to find any publisher for these articles. It featured stories of some women quoted in this series and screenshots of online complaints against Ravi Melwani.
This reporter asked Ravi Melwani if he knew explicitly which ex-employees were behind this blog, and he answered with an emphatic yes. “Yeah! We know! But there’s no proof,” he added: “I don’t want to take action because they admitted. They have stolen people’s mobile phones and broken them. There are some jealous people.”
He said they were working under Sushma, and she knew everything. In an email, Sushma declined to answer any question about this purported episode.
Responding to Divya’s* allegations of assault and disrobing, Ravi Melwani exclaimed: “Complete lies! Not even one dot is true.”
Both he and Sushma (on email) stated she was caught in a fraud and was fired, which is why she was cooking up stories to get back at the organisation. When this reporter pointed out that the police investigation had given her a clean chit and the court dismissed the plaint against her, Ravi Melwani got annoyed. He said: “Can we trust even the police? And what is the condition of our judiciary today? I don’t want to say. I’d rather write a book, Hemant. If you prefer to get into this, it’s your choice. I’m not ready to get into it. It’s a shame even to hear what all she’s saying.”
“People are trying to create a situation where they will get some money out of me because they know I’m a rich man, including Divya,” he said.
He accepted that no ex-employee had contacted him for blackmail, yet he stood firm that these allegations were floated for extortion. He tossed a book and asked, “Why does it come down? Why doesn’t the book go up in the sky?” Upon getting gravity’s answer, he asked: “Can you prove it? Some things can’t be proved. Some things are by inference.”
Ripping into the complaints posted against him online, he said those plaints have no substance. “Kya kisi ne rape kiya hai! Kya kisi ne kuch murder kiya hai! Kya kisi ne kuch—Nothing is there!” (Has somebody committed a rape! Has somebody committed a murder!)
He said two women had called him out during #MeTooIndia, but even their plaints had nothing. This reporter pointed out that both these complaints accuse him of molesting and that one of these women (Pallavi*) has confirmed her narrative to this reporter.
He seemed flustered and said: “See, it’s like this. We are men, correct? Every men-Every man has some intentions, some desires. Khana-peena. But a man like me, I’ve everything in the world. Why would I do something dirty like that! It’s not that—How old are you? It’s not that you’ve not had sex in your life, but your having sex and forcing yourself are two different things. They are two different things. So please understand the difference. And if these people are saying something wrong or false, you should use your intelligence. Say, why would a guy like this want to do something like that!”
He said that after learning about the allegations against him, he had tried to find out if his actions genuinely hurt anybody. “I tried to search that part and asked somebody to let me know. And they could not find any,” he said.
“In my room, it’s forbidden to kill a mosquito. You can go and ask anybody here. It’s forbidden to kill a cockroach. I don’t hurt anybody. I have not hurt anybody. I have not intentionally harassed anybody ever in my life. That’s a statement I’m making.”