The story so far
Nearly one week ago, a user on Twitter, a brave girl with the username Mehravaar came forward to recount sexual harassment that she faced at the hands of Patari CEO Khalid Bajwa.
Sharing screenshots of her conversation with Bajwa, she recounted how she felt "uncomfortable and overpowered by a man twice my age" and how he, at events, "graced her with private hugs."
Since Mehravaar went public, another girl came forward to recount her ordeal on Twitter. Wrote Zainab, "Although it was a very long time ago. I was only 17, I went through a stupid breakup and this guy, mind you he was 27 years old back then, took so much advantage of me. I was only 17 and didn’t know any better."
When Instep got in touch with Mehravaar, she revealed that there are many others who have been through similar harassment and misconduct with Bajwa being the perpetrator.
"I knew Bajwa for quite a few years. But stopped talking to him last December. I had enough. There are so many others. I have received direct messages of girls telling me that ‘the same happened with me’. I always knew I wasn’t alone."
Speaking to Instep, she went on to add that she found the strength to tell her story because of other equally brave women.
"Last night some women exposed a weirdo on Twitter. That gave me strength to come out with my story. I was expecting serious backlash and people blaming me and what not. I was shocked at the supportive response. I feel very nice that so many people supported me regarding this. I don’t talk or tweet much so this was kind of a big deal for me. I am also happy girls are confiding in me about having faced similar behavior. Some even worse."
In response to this avalanche of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, Patari swiftly responded in the only way they should have; they made Bajwa step down and released a statement that read: "An investigation had already been underway about prior allegations. As a company, we are deeply saddened that it must come to this. This is a difficult decision but Patari stands with the victims of harassment and will do everything in its power to ensure that it stands by them."
The courage of these young girls has not only blown the lid on Bajwa’s vile behavior but it has forced us all, including members of the press, to take a closer look at the entertainment and music scene and investigate and identify others with predatory behavior. It has already begun. A case in point: Meesha Shafi’s coming out on Ali Zafar’s alleged sexually harassing behavior of a physical nature. "I love these brave girls," said Meesha Shafi in conversation with Instep when discussing the reasons that compelled her to speak up about her ordeal.
The ubiquity of this problem is such that once it starts, there is no stopping it. All it takes is one. Pakistan is on the verge of its #MeToo moment and while many will and have blamed these very girls, we must applaud them and hope that their voice inspires us all to follow suit and find ours. It is never easy, especially not in patriarchal, misogynist Pakistan.
The question of Patari
If there is one thing that is also worth recognizing, it is how quickly and swiftly Patari made the call to replace Bajwa and remove him from operations. Not many choose to act so quickly. However, greater questions remain in play.
Is Patari, a start-up that prides on giving platforms to artists who don’t share the same elite background as some of Pakistan’s most mainstream names, heading towards a quagmire? Who knew what? Was Bajwa protected? For these reasons and more, Instep spoke with Patari’s Interim CEO Ahmer Naqvi. Here is an excerpt from that conversation…
Instep: Patari took immediate action and by doing so has set a precedent that other companies should follow. There is a second, independent audit being done. What can you tell us about it?
Ahmer Naqvi (AN): The purpose of this independent, company-wide audit is to determine whether this situation was isolated to an individual or had wider implications within the company. For our independent audit, we have reached out to a lawyer with specific experience in conducting gender-based workplace audits. Rabeel Warraich, who represents Sarmayacar on the Patari board, is developing the scope and terms of the audit, and it will also include a female executive from the industry along with the lawyer. The board will take appropriate action once the audit is complete, and we remain committed to transparency and independence. We are also bringing on board a clinical psychologist who will conduct workshops on gender sensitivity, workplace behaviour and offer one on one counseling to all employees.
Instep: Khalid Bajwa, in addition to CEO, is also co-founder of Patari. Does that mean he will have some involvement, now or at a later date?
AN: Khalid is not involved with Patari in any capacity at the moment. The audit will determine the extent of responsibility he bears for his actions and the board will then be in a position to decide the details of his role as a cofounder. It is a matter with legal ramifications, so I can’t comment further on that.
Instep: What are some other steps that you may be planning to take to ensure this kind of behavior doesn’t happen?
AN: With regards to details available at the moment, they are about a Patari employee’s interactions with non-employees. The audit will be now looking at whether there is any truth to this being a problem within the workplace. Once it is completed, those experts will be setting up processes that aid with how to identify, address and prevent inappropriate behaviors by employees within the workplace.
Instep: Have you spoken to music industry insiders, artists about this matter?
AN: We are in constant communication with artists and industry stakeholders, and have remained available throughout this time. Our relationships are very important to us and we remain accessible to anyone who has any questions.
Instep: Do you think, as CEO, brand Patari is in trouble?
AN: Patari the brand has never been stronger because we have displayed quite clearly that the values and voice that Patari has espoused are bigger than any individual. We have had a very challenging week or so and, as a company, we want to be very introspective and humble about what we are learning from it. But what has been clear, and what will continue to guide us, is that the values and identity of Patari remain consistent to what they have always been.
Instep: There are some who have shared conversations (on social media) between female staffers of Patari and Khalid, implying that his behavior was commonplace or known? Is there any truth to it?
AN: The independent audit will determine the answer to such questions and as such I don’t wish to say anything that can be better responded to by an external set of people having conducted a review.
What is unacceptable is that people have taken this opportunity to attack and malign our female colleagues. That is why the audit is important, because we would rather want that it speak for our culture rather than anything I say personally.