One of India's leading entertainment startups is in the middle of a controversy that's been described as 'India's Uber.'
the founder and CEO of The Viral Fever has been accused of sexual harassment by a number of women, a charge he denies as "ludicrous and defamatory."
The Viral Fever (TVF) was India's first YouTube channel with original content to cross a million subscribers. It created the only Indian series to feature in IMDb's Top 250 TV Shows list and is often regarded as being the "voice of millennials".
Funded by Tiger Global, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm, it's one of the few profitable digital entertainment companies in India.
Now it's in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons.
It all started when an anonymous blogpost entitled 'The Indian Uber - That is TVF' was published on Medium on Sunday.
Under the pseudonym of "Indian Fowler" (inspired by Susan Fowler, the former Uber employee who cataloged harrowing details of sexism in the company), the writer recounts two years of alleged “abuse and molestation” by Kumar.
She writes: "I was in a meeting at Arunabh’s house with three other women. The meeting was taking place in the hall of the apartment. Arunabh left the meeting in the middle and went inside. Since he was gone for quite a while, I went inside the next room to call him. Suddenly, I felt someone from behind grope my breasts, and when I turned around, it was Arunabh."
She also mentions the time when she'd been called back to office after work hours and subjected to lewd conversations, including references to "red light districts".
The allegations prompted other women to publicly share similar accounts on social media:
Reema Sengupta, a Mumbai-based digital content startup co-founder, described Kumar as a "sleaze" who creeped her out. In a Facebook post she alleges that Kumar touched her inappropriately several times during a shoot — "grazing his hand against my waist" and "touching my shoulder tattoo."
She says she "couldn't wait for the shoot to be over".
Another woman, Reshma Patra, working with a global consultant firm who met Kumar with work back in 2012, claimed that he once requested her to come home and strip.
She writes: "Arunabh asks me: "Would you go to my place, and dance for me"? I was like WHAT? I thought he was being funny. But NO, he was Serious. :) He said he would like to get naked & see me stripping & dancing *for him*. He also told me that....he is fond of girls from Calcutta; he has "made out" lot of times, with random girls in 'Cal'.
Aayushi Agarwal, describing herself as a former TVF employee, commented on the original Medium blog: "It [TVF] is indeed no place for a woman. I would never recommend anybody to work there."
A Bollywood film writer also claimed to be aware of other such incidents.
TVF on Monday posted a strongly worded statement calling the anonymous blog "completely ludicrous and defamatory". It also dismissed the allegations against CEO Kumar as "categorically false, baseless and unverified" and threatened action against the writer.
TVF's Casting Director Nidhi Bisht, the only woman in the company's top brass, said, "I am as shocked as you guys are." and called TVF "one of the best places for women to work".
Meanwhile, in an interview with the tabloid newspaper Mumbai Mirror, Kumar has called the blog "slanderous". He has "unconditionally and unequivocally" denied all of the allegations and said, "If there is a remote chance that I have done any wrong, let me be persecuted."
Also, responding to one of the Facebook allegations, he said: "The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she's sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behavior - I will approach a woman, but never force myself."
Kumar's clarification may have done him more harm than good.
Social media users reacted with anger:
And THAT my friends is why "there are so few female comics" a question that I get CONSTANTLY asked as if I should have the ans to the ques.
— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) March 13, 2017
TVF's rebuttal suggests no investigation of any sort. If they're all lies, what better way to prove that than investigate impartially?
— Rohan (@mojorojo) March 13, 2017
Don’t care if you’re friend, foe, in the ‘industry’.
If this volume of women are coming out against you.
You may have a terrible problem.
— Sorabh Pant (@hankypanty) March 13, 2017
Have enough women spoken up for Team TVF to take the allegations of sexual abuse seriously or do they have a higher number in mind?
— वरुण,ooooomnoooooo (@varungrover) March 13, 2017
The best way to hit back at TVF as common folk is to boycott then. Unsubscribe. Delete the app. Stop watching their shows. Unfollow twitter
— BookBear (@MyBookJacket) March 14, 2017
Mashable has reached out to TVF for further comment and will update this post accordingly.