A close friend of the newlywed who fell to her death from the 11th floor of the Ernst & Young building in Sydney’s CBD has revealed she recently complained about ‘racism’ in Australia and ‘mean colleagues’.
It comes as loved ones shared photos of victim Aishwarya Venkatachalam’s spectacular wedding in January last year – loving images which only deepen the sense of tragedy as family and friends struggle to come to terms with their loss.
Ms Venkatachalam, 27, an Indian national, fell from a terrace on the roof of the building’s 10th floor around 12.20am on Saturday, August 27, after returning to the office following a work function.
Her death has left corporate Australia reeling and sparked debate about relentless work hours within major consulting firms, with three good Samaritans telling Daily Mail Australia how they found her ‘crying her eyes out’ in a nearby car park, around 30 minutes before the fall.
Now close pal Neeti Bisht has told Daily Mail Australia how Ms Venkatachalam, a bridesmaid at Ms Bisht’s wedding, relocated to Australia 11 months ago when she took up a position as an EY senior auditor in real estate assurance.
Aishwarya Venkatachalam, 27, (pictured) died on August 27 after falling from terrace deck on the roof of the 10th storey of the Ernst & Young building in Sydney’s CBD
Newlyweds: Photos posted online show fall victim Ms Venkatachalum posing alongside her husband Najul at a party before their wedding in January 2021
‘She was a happy soul and was finding her feet in Australia,’ Ms Bisht said. The last time the pair saw each other was in April when Ms Bisht, then living in Melbourne, travelled to Sydney.
While catching up, Ms Bisht said Ms Venkatachalam told her she was dealing with bullying and racism at work, but she was otherwise thriving in other aspects of her life.
‘She mentioned how mean some of her colleagues were,’ Ms Bisht said.
‘I think things had just started to brew then…Her colleagues and the racist angle was at play here.’
In response to the criticism, an Ernst & Young spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia the company ‘has a zero tolerance response to bullying, harassment and racism, and we take any allegations that relate to these issues very seriously.’
‘The review we launched last week following this tragedy is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further until it is complete,’ she said.
‘We are continuing to offer all our people counselling and support.’
There is no suggestion Ernst & Young, which is now known as EY, or the dead woman’s co-workers were in any way responsible for her death.
Neeti Bisht (left) is pictured with Ms Venkatachalam during her trip to Sydney in April this year – the last time they saw one another in person
Ms Bisht said Ms Venkatachalam was ‘like a little sister’ who she will remember as a ‘very good friend’
A ‘doting’ husband and friend who was like a ‘sister’
Ms Bisht said Ms Venkatachalam was ‘like a little sister’ to her, describing her as a ‘very good friend’, ‘career driven’, and a ‘breath of fresh air’ who was ‘impossible not to love’.
Of her family life, Ms Bisht said: ‘She was in a loving relationship with her husband and he absolutely doted on her.’
‘She was also career driven and balanced her personal and professional life pretty well.’
Amid criticism of long hours at EY and other professional services firms in the wake of the tragedy, Ms Bisht said her friend did not appear to be concerned about putting in overtime because ‘she used to work longer hours in India’.
She said Ms Venkatachalam seemed to be ‘more settled’ in Australia the last time they spoke on July 30, when Ms Bisht phoned from the airport to say goodbye before leaving for the US.
However, Ms Bisht said their conversation was brief, that she seemed happy and they ‘didn’t get much time to discuss work’.
During her time Down Under, Ms Bisht, who is also originally from India, said she too struggled with racism and bullying in the workforce.
‘As an immigrant, it is incredibly difficult to establish yourself,’ she said.
‘One needs to have a strong personality so this doesn’t get to you. I am really happy that I no longer live there and can already tell a huge difference at work in the US.’
Ms Bisht said she was shocked and saddened to learn about Ms Venkatachalam’s death
Just over a month after their final conversation, she was devastated to learn her friend’s life has been cut short.
‘She was a very good friend,’ Ms Bisht said.
‘I’ve known her for around seven years. I absolutely loved how innocent she was. She was a breath of fresh air and adorable.
‘I am so shocked and so saddened.’
Recent wedding, then tragedy
The allegations about what Ms Venkatachalam experienced at work come as pictures emerged of her traditional Tamil Brahman wedding in Chennai, India, in January 2021 when she married her husband, Nakul.
He was on a flight from Singapore to Sydney at the time she died and had the terrible news broken to him after he stepped off the plane.
Pictures shared online show Ms Venkatachalam wearing a sari and Nakul a cowl kurta as they beam for the camera at a Mehendi party – a pre-wedding ceremony in which the bride’s hand and feet are painted with henna to bless her before the big day.
Another post shows the couple standing side-by-side, smiling at loved ones at Avigna Hall on the second day of their three-day wedding celebrations for a Vratham function.
‘Vratham ceremony is where the Groom takes blessings from his father and forefathers and a sacred thread with turmeric is tied on the groom’s hand,’ the post reads.
A second post a week later shows the couple on their second day of wedding celebrations during a Vratham function
The couple are pictured partaking in the ceremony around 18 months ago with their loved ones. A Vratham ceremony is where the Groom takes blessings from his father and forefathers and a sacred thread with turmeric is tied on the groom’s hand
AISHWARYA’S TRAGIC TIMELINE OF EVENTS
2015: Graduates from Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce in Pune, India
2019: Joins Grant Thornton LLP in Bengaluru, India, as an Audit Senior
January 2021: Marries husband Nakul in Chennai, India
November 2021: Joins EY in Sydney as a Senior Auditor
August 26, 2022: Is found drinking and distraught in a city centre car park just before midnight. She claims to have been kicked out of a work function and is unable to access her office to get her house key. Bystanders help back to her EY office building.
August 27, 2022: Around 12.20am she falls to her death from the terrace on the roof of the 10th floor. Later the same day, her husband returns to Sydney from a trip to Singapore to be told of the tragedy.
‘9 yards is worn by the Brahmin women for all wedding functions, Pooja and seemandam functions.’
Ms Venkatachalum’s uncle Nachur Balasubramanian, who is based in Canada, told Daily Mail Australia the family have been struggling to come to terms with her shocking death.
Mr Balasubramanian said his niece gained an accounting degree in India before marrying, settling down, then relocating to Australia last November.
‘She was very educated, beautiful and brilliant,’ Mr Balasubramanian said.
‘She was a very good lady, she was brought up very well.
‘I do not know how this could happen.’
The uncle said she came from a very close and supportive family and was her parents’ only daughter.
‘Her mother and father are very caring and kind. They were supporting her, and she was supporting of them,’ he said.
‘Her body has not been released. The police are still conducting an investigation.
‘We have no idea what happened. We are trying to seek answers.’
A NSW Police spokesman said a report continues to be prepared for the coroner, and was unable to comment on when her body will be repatriated to India.
Ms Venkatachalam completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance in 2015 at Symbiosis College of Arts & Commerce, in Pune, western India.
The heartbreaking final moments of the despairing young woman who plunged to her death from the golden EY skyscraper in Sydney’s CBD have been revealed by some of the last people to see her alive
According to her LinkedIn profile, she then took on the role of audit senior at American accounting firm Grant Thorton in their Bengaluru office in 2019.
She spent almost three years with the company before moving to EY.
Ms Venkatachalam described herself as a ‘great’ peer in the workplace and boasted of her prowess in crunching numbers.
‘Audit senior with an expertise in areas of auditing related to Real Estate, Employee Benefit Plans, NFP, CIP and Retail,’ she wrote on the page.
‘Been in the field of Audit for 4+ years and there hasn’t been a day where I really had a tough time dealing with numbers, because that’s not what we do.
‘Apart from being the Auditor this profile speaks about, also a great colleague to be around with during the peak busy seasons and also during normal days.’
‘Crying her eyes out’
The tribute comes after three women told Daily Mail Australia they found Ms Venkatachalam ‘crying her eyes out’ in a nearby car park just before midnight last Friday.
The Good Samaritans said Ms Venkatachalam was sobbing uncontrollably, apparently having a panic attack.
Around 12.20am Ms Venkatachalam fell from the terrace deck on the roof of the building’s 10th floor
She said she had been kicked out of a work function and needed her house key from her office to go home – but told the women that building security would not let her in to get it.
She was then said to have been helped her back to the office tower block by other passers-by.
She fell to her death just minutes later.
‘I’m so shattered for her,’ one of the women who spoke to her in the nearby car park told Daily Mail Australia. ‘I wish I could have done more.’
The chilling encounter is another crucial piece in the confusing jigsaw of the dead woman’s final movements after several conflicting reports.
It was initially claimed the woman went for ‘EY Social Club’ drinks at the nearby Ivy nightclub between 5.30pm and 7.30pm before returning to the office.
Police have CCTV footage of Ms Venkatachalam returning to the building between 7pm and 7.30pm, and was seen moving between floors in the building (pictured, CCTV cameras in front of her office)
Ms Venkatachalam’s uncle said his niece was ‘beautiful and brilliant’
It was later claimed that she did not actually leave the office until 7.30pm and returned to the office around midnight.
However, The Australian reported police have CCTV footage of the woman returning to the building between 7pm and 7.30pm, and that she was seen moving between floors in the building before taking a phone call from her husband at 8pm.
He was in Singapore, about to fly to Sydney, and is believed to have been in the air when his wife died.
He is understood to have been told the tragic news after his flight touched down.
Ms Venkatachalam was alleged to have been escorted out of the EY work gathering at the Ivy by security at some point but specific details of her movements for several hours remain a mystery until she was seen just before midnight.
‘I found her in a car park, close to my car, crying her eyes out so my girlfriends and I offered to help her out,’ said one of the women who spoke to the EY worker.
‘She was trying to communicate with a cleaner who worked there – I think she may have thought they were from the same country.
‘He was trying to help but he had no English. He ended up walking away and we asked if she was okay.’
There are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances but police are still piecing together her final movements
The Good Samaritan, whose account of the incident was corroborated by one of the two women with her, said Ms Venkatachalam initially flinched from the group of women, saying ‘all white people are racist’ and cowering in a corner.
But the group told her: ‘We are three women here to support you and be here for you and get you home safely. Tell us what’s going on…
‘She just kept repeating herself…. and how she got kicked out of her work function.
‘She said that over 10 times whilst crying her eyes out. She was having a panic attack and had been drinking but wasn’t completely drunk.
‘Once we calmed her down, she said she needed to get into her work office at EY as she forgot her house key and they wouldn’t let her up [but] she had her swipe tag.’
The Good Samaritan added: ‘She didn’t have anybody. I saw that she was wearing a wedding ring so I asked about her partner and she said he’s in Singapore and getting a flight back.
‘I asked if anyone else had a spare key to her home or if we can drop her somewhere safe or call her a cab – I even offered to pay for a cab if she didn’t have money.’
She said at that point another woman and two men appeared who offered to drop her off at the EY building to get her key.
‘I think they made a welfare call out to the police but it was too late,’ said the woman.
The woman told bystanders she needed to get her house key but claimed building security would not her up to her office
The woman was found sobbing in the the corner of the Angel Place Wilson car park on Pitt Steet just before midnight
The group heard days later about the woman’s death, which had happened just minutes after leaving her around midnight.
‘I was seriously so heartbroken when I found out,’ said the woman who asked to remain anonymous.
‘She had been drinking and was having multiple panic attacks as she was trying to communicate. It’s just heartbreaking.’
Wilson Parking security are now looking for CCTV footage of the entry and entrance of the Angel Place car park, behind the Ivy, to confirm the woman’s final movements.
Merivale, owners of the Ivy, have not yet responded to an enquiry from Daily Mail Australia.
For confidential 24-hour support in Australia call Lifeline on 13 11 14
Family of Ernst & Young death plunge victim, 27, break their silence with heartfelt 12-line message everyone must read: ‘Life turned upside down’
- Woman, 27, died when she plunged from 11th floor deck of her office building
- Person claiming to be woman’s relative has penned a poem expressing grief
- ‘Life turned upside down. Shocked beyond words,’ the 12-line poem begins
- Death of senior associate at accountancy firm EY comes at auditing season peak
- Former workers have lifted the lid on the ‘toxic workplace’ culture at the Big4
- There is no suggestion EY was in any way responsible for the tragic incident
- For confidential 24-hour support in Australia call Lifeline on 13 11 14
By OLIVIA DAY, KEVIN AIRS and TITA SMITH for DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA
A grief-stricken relative of the woman who died after plunging from a balcony at her Sydney office has paid tribute to their loved one with a heartfelt poem.
The Ernst & Young employee, 27, fell from an open-air terrace on the 10th floor of the building onto a glass awning at its entrance at about 12:30am on Saturday.
A person who claims to be a relative of the senior associate has penned an emotional 12-line poem titled ‘Gone Too Soon’ dedicated to their ‘sister’.
The heartbreaking words obtained by Daily Mail Australia describes the woman as having ‘energy and passion of a different kind’ and goes on to say the loss will leave an ‘irreplaceable void in our lives’.
‘Life turned upside down. Shocked beyond words. Not an age to go, lot of life was ahead of you, controlling our tears, as you will be missed for years,’ it begins.
The 27-year-old Ernst & Young employee died after falling from the terrace of the roof of the company’s Sydney headquarters (pictured) around midnight on Saturday
A person who claims to be a close relative of the senior associate has penned an emotional tribute (pictured) titled ‘Gone Too Soon’
‘Energy and passion was of a different kind, flashback of your birth running in our minds, aim to relive the bond and of love and respect for every year.
‘Left an irreplaceable void in our lives, will remember and cherish the wonderful memories, may your soul rest in peace.’
Daily Mail Australia understands the woman’s family members are still trying to piece together the series of events that led to her tragic death.
The woman had been at work until about 7.30pm on Friday when she left her office in Sydney’s CBD before returning again at around midnight.
The senior associate, now known to be 27 and not 33 as previously reported, fell from the terrace on the roof of the 10th floor of the EY tower in the CBD onto the glass awning
It was also originally thought that she attended work drinks at Sydney’s Ivy nightclub (pictured) between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, but Daily Mail Australia now understands she was at the office until this time
It was originally thought that she attended work drinks between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, but Daily Mail Australia now understands she was actually in the office during this time.
This leaves a near-five hour gap in the woman’s movements.
About 20 minutes after arriving back at her office, the woman apparently used her security swipe card to access the restricted open-air terrace area – and then tragically fell to her death.
Daily Mail Australia understands EY are drawing up plans to redesign the rooftop guardrail on the terrace to build a new barrier to prevent any repeat of the tragedy.
The woman’s husband was on a flight from Singapore to Sydney at the time she died and had the terrible news broken to him after he stepped off the plane.
It is understood the woman was a foreign national who had been spent approximately six months working for EY.
Daily Mail Australia understands EY have plans to redesign the rooftop guardrail on the terrace to create a new barrier to prevent any repeat of the tragedy (pictured, the 11th floor)
Read the email by EY sent to shocked staff
It is with great sadness that I’m sharing the news that one of our team members died at the EY building in Sydney over the weekend.
While the police investigation is ongoing, we have been informed that there were no suspicious circumstances.
We have been in touch with the family of the person involved to offer our condolences and ongoing support.
This loss of a colleague is deeply saddening, I want to assure all of you that we will continue to provide support in as many ways that we can. This includes our EAP service which is available to all EY employees and their families.
As a result of this tragedy, we are conducting a comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review that will include health and safety, security and social events. Jono Nicholas, our Chief Mental Health Advisor will play an important role in helping guide and advise us as we move forward.
The police investigation is continuing and there is no suggestion EY – the trading name of Ernst & Young – or the senior associate’s superiors were in any way responsible for the death of the worker.
Staff were emailed by a member of management on Monday to tell them that ‘it is with great sadness I am sharing the news that one of our team members died at the EY building in Sydney over the weekend’.
‘While the police investigation is ongoing we have been informed that there were no suspicious circumstances,’ the email added.
‘We have been in touch with the family of the person to offer our condolences and ongoing support.’
The email said the company would launch a ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging internal review ‘ of its health and safety, security and social policies in the wake of the tragedy.
A group of EY workers told Daily Mail Australia that employees had been offered counselling.
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