Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of Tehelka magazine, was granted regular bail on Tuesday, almost eight months after he was arrested on charges of raping and sexually harassing a woman colleague. The senior journalist, who had spent six months in jail, has been on interim bail since May, when he was allowed to attend his mother’s funeral and perform the last rites. Tejpal was arrested on November 30, 2013. He was lodged at the Sada sub-jail in Goa’s Vasco town. Once a powerful media guy tries to smear politicians of all parties, switches loyalty, is accused of rape and is in news. Fundamental questions relating to law, ethics and journalistic propriety have been raised in various publications. The rape case involving Tarun Tejpal, has been resented by several women journalists, lawyers and human rights activists, with some writing to media watchdogs in the country seeking redress for what they believe is an orchestrated campaign in defence of Tejpal. The rape case, in which a young woman colleague at Tehelka alleged that Mr. Tejpal sexually assaulted her on two occasions inside a lift in Goa in November 2013, is one of the most discussed matters of its kind in recent memory.
Tarun Tejpal, accused of raping a younger colleague in Goa was seen troubled for the first time. He the doer of this heinous crime, was earlier known as ‘King of Sting Operation’ and shocked many with his reports and stings. He has always acted as a ‘Media Guard’ for Congress. He behaved like a sharp-shooter for Congress and attacked those who went against it. Now, his time has come, he is running from pillar to post to save his own skin. Tehelka was never fair or free. It is the easiest thing to be on the side of entrenched powers and against those who seek to challenge them. I think, the other party got readymade target to settle their scores against this Congress stooge. Tejpal got shocked when he was summoned by Goa police for interrogations.
Tejpal’s lawyers told the court that he is innocent, and that the encounter that’s being described as rape was “light hearted bantering.” Person who has backing of Congress party and with the backing of party president, you can think how safe he is. Goa police won’t decide but Tejpal will decide when to appear before Goa police. Journalist who had accused him of sexual assault had ardently challenged his version of events, and accused Tehelka and her boss, Shoma Chaudhury, of trying to engineer a cover-up. She quit Tehelka after his arrest.
Chaudhury also resigned from Tehelka after days of being pelted with criticism for her handling of the reporter’s complaint, sent to her via an email that was leaked. The power emanates from the fact that the superior can remove the subordinate from work at will. It dampens the employee’s spirit and affects her sense of judgement. It is not easy to fight such a case. It entails going public with something that one may want to forget. Tarun Tejpal is like many corporate honchos and others in high places who flaunt their position and power to explore and exploit. Till that time, women go into hiding to protect their identity and hesitate to openly challenge their perverted colleagues. Men will continue to assume that women are indeed weak and, for them, the shame of being exposed is greater than the shame of being molested. The Tehelka employee deserves praise for showing the way. When a woman who is sexually harassed complains boldly, belying the perpetrator’s belief that she will never do so, he tries the next trick of making society believe that the ‘encounter’ was ‘consensual.’
Surprisingly, there are rumours doing rounds about Sibal and Tejpal’s family relations. Sibal is also one of the financers of Tehelka magazine. However, Sibal has jumped to his own defense, seemingly needlessly. Either, he has persecution complex, or the accusations are true. If the former is true, he is unfit to be a cabinet minister. The post requires a fair bit of equanimity, and persecution complex is a fairly serious personality disorder. If the latter is true then he is been responsible for funding a criminal enterprise. Even assuming that he was not privy to the lurid details, he should resign on moral grounds. Out of office, he may even be able to defend Tehelka and Tejpal and perhaps salvage some of the value of any investment he might have allegedly made. After all, no one disputes that he is a brilliant lawyer. Harassment in the workplace is not just about a man taking advantage of a woman out of sexual desire. It is about power being drilled by a superior over his woman subordinate.
If it’s true that Tarun Tejpal, Neena Tejpal and Shoma Choudhury made 17 crores out of just the 2013 edition of Thinkfest (not to mention their other lucrative ventures), then this resignation has no meaning. Her comments about the victim were not commendable. It was said that the content of the meeting should not be discussed outside. It almost seems that Tehelka was more like an intellectual fashion accessory for Tarun Tejpal, Neena Tejpal and Shoma Choudhury. She was under fire from various quarters, including the media fraternity, for the way she handled a junior colleague’s sexual harassment charge against Tejpal. According to Chaudhury, since the “devastating allegation’’ was first brought to her notice on November 18, she had taken serious actions in response to this complaint. Tejpal seems to be trapped in the same web which he used to weave for others.
Ironically, unknowingly Shoma has pushed him in this trap. The victim forced Chaudhury to extract an unconditional apology from Tejpal, which in court of law is admission of guilt. Without this letter and in absence of CCTV footage, the victim’s and Tejpal’s word are equally admissible in court. Now, the prosecution has a watertight case against him. It’s not the “allegations in media” Shoma, it’s in the letter written by the victim to you and also obvious to most people who noticed your cover-up attempts. There is no ‘malicious’ campaign – it’s what the victim felt and wrote to you, understandably so. Unless, women shrug off their affiliations and begin to think as only women, crimes like sexual harassment will continue to take place.