Mahesh Murthy, a prominent angel investor and co-founder of venture capital firm Seedfund, was arrested in Mumbai on Friday in connection with a sexual harassment case. Murthy later tweeted that he had been released as he had been granted an anticipatory bail sometime ago.
Murthy was arrested by the Mumbai Police under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to outraging the modesty of women and sending sexually explicit text messages.
The National Commission for Women said the arrest had been made based on a complaint that a woman had filed with the panel. The identity of the woman remains undisclosed.
The arrest follows a criminal inquiry. Murthy was initially booked in the last week of December after a woman claimed that the investor had stalked her, apart from making objectionable, derogatory and sexual remarks and obscene signs.
A college dropout who went on to become an outspoken and influential figure in India’s startup ecosystem, Murthy has faced a string of sexual harassment allegations in recent months that have threatened to derail his career.
Online publication FactorDaily had last year put out multiple articles in which a number of women came forward to recount Murthy’s sexual misconduct.
Swati Pandey, now a Reuters journalist in Sydney, was one of the women who had earlier accused Murthy of sexual assault.
She chose to go public about Murthy’s misbehaviour when many such complaints surfaced last year. “I am no longer ashamed of what I went through. The shame is Murthy’s,” she tweeted after the news of arrest came out.
Besides FactorDaily, other digital media platforms such as YourStory and women-focussed portal SheThePeople too ran stories where women from various walks of life claimed that Murthy had made inappropriate sexual advances.
In addition, author Rashmi Bansal told tech news website FactorDaily last April that Murthy had made sexual advances towards her 13 years ago.
Murthy had denied all these allegations, calling them “absolute and complete lies”.
The 52-year-old, who also runs digital agency Pinstorm, now faces jail time amid his efforts to set up a new venture capital fund.
Murthy’s career as a startup investor followed an exit from a tech company he co-founded. In 2006, Murthy co-founded early-stage investment firm Seedfund along with Bharati Jacob and Pravin Gandhi.
Seedfund raised two funds and invested in more than 30 startups. Seedfund is now defunct, but was at one stage the most active startup investor in the country. It made its mark as an early stage investor with big exits from RedBus and CarWale, with Afaqs and Chumbak among its other investments.
Murthy was arguably Seedfund’s most recognisable face as he often frequented public platforms offering perspective on India’s growing internet economy.
But his comments have also attracted controversy on a regular basis. Murthy doesn’t mince words on social media, where he describes himself as “unapologetically opinionated”.
There have been similar allegations of sexual misconduct against other prominent startup figures in recent times. The year gone by saw allegations of sexual harassment against Arunabh Kumar, the founder of media production firm The Viral Fever Media Labs, and Suparn Pandey, co-founder of news website ScoopWhoop.
In the US, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick had to step down as the CEO last year due partly to allegations of sexual harassment against the ride-hailing firm.
In July, well-known Silicon Valley investor Dave McClure was demoted within the firm he co-founded, 500 Startups, after revelations he mistreated women. Outside the startup world, the #MeToo social media campaign took the centre stage last year as hundreds of women came forward to tell their stories of sexual abuse.
Note: This story was updated to include Mahesh Murthy’s comments on the incident.
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