Banner Image Credit: Simlyn J/Feminism In India
In a series of Instagram posts, Angela Deka, a visual artist based in Delhi, accused Vaibhav Chawla of sexual assault. Vaibhav Chawla is a known name in the music circles both in Mumbai and Delhi, and had been employed as a social media executive and sound engineer at Home Delhi, a venue owned by PVR Ltd. Angela, now Vaibhav’s ex-partner, recounted detailed accounts of months of assault faced by her which involved victim-blaming, gaslighting and abuse. Angela’s posts prompted other women to come forth and relay their alleged experiences of harassment with Vaibhav as well.
About the entire incident, Angela tells us “I’m still trying to process the entire ordeal, everything that Vaibhav did to me and what followed after I confronted him and called him out on social media. I feel disappointed that I didn’t leave the relationship sooner or call him out sooner because there were definitely a lot of red flags, he would often coerce me into sex and disrespect my personal boundaries. I guess I genuinely believed he was trying to be better until he victim-blamed and gaslighted me about the assault one night. I’m glad I finally saw through his manipulative behaviour and walked away, but more importantly I’m glad I made the decision to call him out on social media. After calling him out, I got to know that there are at least a dozen women who have been either assaulted, harassed, or abused by him throughout the years, from as long ago as 2015. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories and it enraged me that he has gotten away with it for so long even though he’s been called out by multiple women before. The fact that he was still able to maintain contacts and get work within the industry, points to how there is zero accountability for abusers and that people continue to associate with them without a second thought.
Another problem is that even people who knew about his abusive behaviour decided to look the other way instead of holding him accountable. I had hoped that after sharing my experience, he would finally be held accountable but alas, he’s only chosen to make his account private and avoid accountability. His friends and fellow musicians continue to ignore my messages while keeping tabs on everything I’m posting. It’s shameful, but hardly surprising. On the other hand, I feel grateful for the support that I have received from some people in the music industry and celebrities like Saloni Chopra who knew him in the past.
My only hope is that this doesn’t just “blow over” for him in the coming months or years, because for the victims of his abuse, the trauma and harm he has caused is real and has affected our lives gravely.”
After Angela’s posts were made public, the Instagram handle of Home Delhi had disabled mentions of their account and comments on their posts. Allegedly, Vaibhav being the social media executive for the venue, had turned off the mentions and disabled the comments himself. It is unclear if anyone else in the organisation knew about this or not. Vaibhav is no longer employed with Home Delhi. When we reached out to PVR Ltd for comment on the matter, their Chief Human Resources Offer said in an official statement “Although the allegations pertain to incidents that transpired outside the workplace of the organization and are not covered by PoSH Act, we have already reached out to Ms. Angela to let her know that as an organization, we are prepared to render any appropriate assistance, to the extent practicable, that she may need to initiate any legal action in that regard. Also, the employee alleged to have been involved in the incident is no longer associated with the organization.”
Angela’s posts have reignited the larger discussion about sexual harassment in the music circles that goes by unreported. On what can be done to make venues and music circles safer for women, she says “I think it’s important to do pervasive background checks on your employees, and that should mean contacting all previous organizations or venues they have been associated with. If this was done in the case of Vaibhav, the management at Home Delhi would have found that he had been disallowed from performing at The Habitat, Mumbai (previously, Tuning Fork) over incidents of abuse and online harassment. Additionally, the venue or space should make it clear that they will not tolerate such behaviour inside or outside the venue, and take complaints against their employees seriously. They should also make themselves approachable for such complaints by ensuring that reports are handled discreetly, thus allowing women who want to remain anonymous to come forward. Venues often try to avoid taking a stand or tend to “play it safe” until they are forced to take action by public demand or threat to reputation. It shouldn’t reach that stage, they should proactively take steps to make their space safe for women and other marginalized genders.”