Seven months after AIB (All India Bakchod) first faced allegations against founding members Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, the company released a statement on Thursday confirming the former’s suspension and the latter’s exit from the group.
In October last year, the group had admitted that Bhat knew about comedian Utsav Chakraborty’s sexual harassment of women and continued to work with him. Fellow comedian Mahima Kukreja put together a Twitter thread that compiled accounts from several women who received unsolicited dick pics and sexually explicit text messages from Chakraborty —including Kukreja herself. The accounts were backed up by some very incriminating screenshots.
Around the same time, as part of a string of #MeToo allegations against men in entertainment, journalism and advertising, a woman tweeted that Khamba had tried to force himself on her on two separate occasions, and that the comedian had been emotionally abusive after his romantic overtures were rejected months later. Khamba confirmed that while they had “hooked up consensually” on multiple occasions, “I was not forceful”, categorically denying any violation of consent. He did admit that he his romantic proposal was rejected, following which he “did not behave appropriately at all” and that “she rightly stopped talking to me”.
Thursday’s statement is the first response from AIB since removing Bhat as CEO and placing Khamba on leave in October.
DeadAnt reached out to Khamba, as well as AIB’s Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya, asking them to specify the “issues with procedure” that caused Khamba to walk away from the investigation process. So far, none of them have responded to the query.
Are apologies meant to apportion suffering? If so, the efficacy of any apology depends upon a kind of stock-taking — who has suffered, and how, and how much. That last bit about ‘how much’ is virtually impossible to agree upon, which is why apologies remain a tricky business. AIB’s statement, while being at least a couple of months too late, does manage to decentre the suffering in this context (because let’s face it, it’s difficult to sell the idea that young men of vast resources and not a little fame could or would ‘suffer’ any meaningful consequences). It clarifies that because of cashflow issues, AIB had to let its entire team go and that the AIB YouTube channel was “for all intents and purposes, dead for the foreseeable future”.
Are apologies meant to apportion suffering? If so, the efficacy of any apology depends upon a kind of stock-taking — who has suffered, and how, and how much.
There’s a twofold effect at play here—AIB wants to make it painfully clear that the two most important things in its ecosystem are gone. First, the YouTube channel that acted as its primary interface with fans, its bread and butter if you will. Second, the young men and women who worked behind the scenes to make that engagement possible.
Since then Khamba has made a statement of his own on Instagram, where among other things, he announced a new venture called Light@27, “a comedy consultancy offering content and strategy solutions across live and digital India”. On the question of the investigation, however, Khamba was vague.
“The committee constituted was neither a court/tribunal nor an internal complaints committee set up under the POSH act. Nevertheless, because I had nothing to hide, I voluntarily chose to participate and began by extending all possible cooperation to this committee. However, this process which lasted 4 months was replete with procedural lapses and didn’t follow principles of natural justice. Despite my repeated requests to follow due process, these lapses continued. At this stage, I requested the committee to recuse itself. My request was denied and hence I was left with no choice but to withdraw from the enquiry. Till date, I maintain that I am happy to cooperate with any committee that is fairly constituted and follows principles of natural justice.”
Something that immediately stands out in this response is Khamba’s insistence on both “due process” and the “principles of natural justice”, a phrase he doubles down on with his last line. This is tough to understand, because if the “principles of natural justice” were sufficient to settle disputes, especially delicate ones pertaining to bodily violation, there would be no need for a codified, agreed-upon “due process”.
Also, Khamba tries to sneak in the idea that there were vested interests at play against him — the phrase “fairly constituted” in the last sentence is a soft insinuation that the committee was made up of people who were out to get him. This is, as we mentioned previously, not the best look for an apology-seeker. Although technically, Khamba’s isn’t an apology post; he had admitted to bad behavior back in October, but maintained that he had never violated consent.
AIB had a chance here, a chance to show that an ICC (internal complaints committee) at the workplace can and does bring results. But ultimately, the investigation ended before it could reach any sort of conclusion or resolution, and thanks to both AIB and Khamba being vague on the details, we may never know whose fault that is. Journalists and activists have maintained that a lot of big companies in India either do not have an ICC or the committee they do have is often dormant and quite toothless. This point of view has now been strengthened by how l’affaire AIB has played out.