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#MeToo: Homegrown Co-Founder Varun Patra Accused of Sexual Harassment

The accusations against the co-founder and head of marketing at the Indian media platform, were brought to light via an open letter online

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Jan 03, 2019
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Youth media company Homegrown’s co-founder and head of marketing Varun Patra has been accused of sexual harassment. The survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, made her statements public earlier today via an open letter on artist and poet Priyanka Paul’s social media platforms. The accusations against Patra also spread on Twitter after a post by writer Shruti Sunderraman was shared multiple times and spurred several reactions from other media personalities on the platform.

In her open letter, the source states that she had been talking to Patra for a few months and had gone out to dinner with him once before the incident. On November 11th 2018, Patra came over to her home after which they proceeded to have sexual intercourse, during which he allegedly performed a non-consensual sex act and recorded the survivor on audio without her knowledge or consent:

“Towards the end of the night, we went to my room and had sex, in the middle of which he felt the need to stick his fingers in my ass. I told him not to do it, and he did it anyway, 3 times. I brushed it off as miscommunication but I shouldn’t have. Right after we finished, I saw him stop a recording on his phone… and he admitted to the fact that he had recorded us having sex, without my consent.”

The survivor also stated Patra had admitted to her that she was not the only woman he had secretly recorded while having sex; he told her his alleged reasons for recording sexual encounters were to prevent him from being wrongly accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement’s rise in India. The source shared screenshots of Whatsapp conversations between herself and Patra to support her claims. In the letter she also voiced her disappointment in Homegrown (labelled one of the most progressive feminist online platforms in the country) and in the company’s co-founder, current CEO and Patra’s sister, Varsha Patra:

“What’s even more ironic is what Homegrown stands for and what it meant to me personally. Homegrown was a safe space, a space to read about sex positivity and feminism, a place where victims are not slut shamed, victim blamed or gaslighted, but our voices are amplified. And to see Varun being celebrated as a progressive feminist is laughable, to watch his sister, who was well aware of his abusive behavior, champion him on like he is some beacon of hope for women in India is hilarious.”

According to the letter, Varsha Patra contacted the survivor in an attempt to discuss the matter and prevent the situation from going public. The source states:

“Trying to justify his actions was very un-feminist of you and using your past life experiences/hurdles is no way an excuse for his actions… I don’t believe either of you realize how deeply this has affected me, and possibly other victims who were too scared to come forward.”

The survivor further added that she was hesitant of reporting the incident earlier since she was afraid of losing her job and/or being slut-shamed.

Varun Patra has released the following statement to Rolling Stone India:

“In light of the recent allegations about me that have come out, I want to be as transparent as I can about the incidents that have been detailed. I had already done this with the woman who has made them but believe I owe an explanation about my genuine intentions.

There are two incidents that I need to speak about. 

INCIDENT 1

Woman number 1 said we met on a tinder date post which we had consensual sex. She alleged that during the act I was asked numerous times to use a condom and I didn’t agree post which she confronted me some months later about the same. We did engage in consensual sex post a night out during which we both consumed alcohol. She says she asked me to get a condom multiple times and I refused. This is not an accurate depiction of the events. We never met on Tinder and in fact, met on a night out through common friends. She told me to get protection three times, and I immediately took a cab to the nearest chemist, bought protection and came back. It was only after this that we had sex and all of the same is corroborated in the personal chat we had on fb messenger when she brought it up a few months later. I apologised because I do understand that this is a complex issue. I only want to clarify that at no point did we engage in sexual activity without protection and without consent. 

INCIDENT 2 

I have been accused of audio recording somebody with whom I had consensual sex with. The person interacted with my social network a few times and then a mutual friend asked me if I would be ok with being set up with her. I agreed and we spoke on platforms for a couple of weeks before we decided to meet for dinner. We had a good time based on which we decided to meet again a few days later. She invited me to her house, where we met, ate dinner and spoke for a while before getting intimate. I put my phone on audio recording and here, I want to be clear that I completely understand that this is not ok. It came from a place of fear and uncertainty of how to navigate sex with somebody who I had not known for very long in the atmosphere of MeToo which I had already been introspecting on a lot. I was extremely anxious and fearful that any sexual activity, irrespective of consent, could be used against me. I never doubted the person’s integrity but casual sex does not entail history and an absolute sense of comfort and I let that get the better of me. I could not and would never do such a thing with the intention of harming somebody physically or mentally. It was only when she caught me that I understood the magnitude of my actions in violating somebody’s privacy. This is why I have done everything I could to apologise for any behaviour which caused harm unwittingly even though my intentions were not to hurt. In all of my conversations with her over several weeks, I have tried to explain clearly and consistently why I did what I did. I know that this does not excuse my behaviour but all I can do at this moment is be as honest as I can about my intentions. 

With respect to this second incident, I absolutely understand this was never the right decision to make. Unfortunately, I learned and understood this the hard way, only in retrospect. Sex is a complex interaction when it’s with new individuals and I should have exercised better judgment. The alternative should have just been me voicing my fear openly and asking for her consent to do the same or avoiding it altogether if I did not have the confidence to navigate such a situation. I have spent the months since reflecting on not only my own actions, but also this movement and its deep necessity. 

At this point, I can only take responsibility for my hasty decision. And I have apologised immediately and without pre-meditated thinking because I genuinely believe that I need to do better, and be better. 

I hope that people can understand my intentions and while the fear I felt is not comparable to what women have been subjected to for years, I can only be honest about where I was coming from or I would only be doing a disservice to the larger conversation that surrounds this movement.”

Update: Earlier today, Homegrown said that Varun Patra has stepped down from the company. Their statement via Instagram is below.

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