What Tehelka supremo Tarun Tejpal did was not just a sexual assault, but a rape as described under the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 related to sexual harassment. He and his so-called ‘Fair and Fearless’ media house has not only blatantly violated Vishakha guidelines issued by Supreme Court but now his Managing Editor Shoma Choudhary, who championed for woman’s rights and recently demanded expulsion of CBI Director from the service over his shameless statement on rape in her tweet, brazenly trying to cover up criminality of her Editor. There is a strong criminal case against Tejpal if we carefully follow the sequence of events.
The victim’s e-mail
Without going into the details of ‘high moral ground’ claimed by the media houses like Tehelka, if we just go through the excerpts of the letter, we find many wrong doings of the self-proclaimed protectors of democracy and rights. According to the victim’s account which is now circulating widely, in which she is open about her identity as well, the incident began on the night of November 7, 2013, which was the opening night of Tehelka’s Think Festival’ in Goa. The girl writes, “The editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal sexually assaulted me at the ‘Think Festival’ on two occasions last week.” This clearly suggests that it was not just any other ‘drunken banter’ claimed by Tejpal but a systematic attempt of sexual assault, which is considered as a rape in the new provisions of law. Incidentally, Tarun and Shoma have raised their voice in support of this law while exposing many cases. The victim further writes, “I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you —and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti-sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter.”This expose the fact that while espousing the cause of rights of downtrodden, which Tehelka claims, they themselves do not follow the guidelines they speak for, so Tehelka did not have any formal mechanism for redresssal of cases pertaining to sexual harassment. With reference to the affirmation made by Tarun’s daughter about his habitual behaviour of assaults against women, the same letter becomes a basis for strong action against Tarun Tejpal.
The apology letter written by Tarun Tejpal is more shameful for him and his ‘hard investigative’ media house. The letter written after 12 days of the incident, that is also after the victim had already approached the editor, indicates the cover-up motive of this mail. His self recusal from Tehelka is another step in conspiracy. The words he has used in his apology letter, “always on the side of the oppressed and the wronged, always on the side of equity and justice “and “because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words” reveal his arrogance and absolute absence of regret. As Vishakha guidelines clearly direct to take necessary actions by the employer whether the victim registers an official complaint with the police or not, now the onus is on the Managing Editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury.
Shoma Chaudhury, who herself is champion of women’s cause did her best to save her long time associate, first by taking the apology letter before investigation and latter claiming that the matter is over. Her claims that it is an individual act and it does not make any difference to Tehelka, raise many questions about her integrity and professional ethics. Comrade Shoma who herself is a women and conducted a special session on ‘Sexual Harassment at Work Places’ in the infamous “Think Festival” her media group had organised, initially refused to constitute a committee, then brazenly declared that “Tejpal sexual assault does not concern Tehelka” and “Won’t cooperate with Goa Police unless victim files complaint”. This stand is good enough to make her a co-accuse in the case.
Media on trial, social media played the trick
There is a larger question that is at stake in this case is the credibility of media is at stake in Indian democracy. It is really concerning that some of the media houses, occupying the ‘left-liberal’ space keep mum against their journo brethren of Tehelka. It was only social media, especially twitter and facebook, compelled them to take some stand on the issue. Barring some leaders like Arun Jaitley, the conspicuous silence of the political class which is afraid of investigative journalist is another cause of worry. A strong and welcome stand taken by Press Club of India and Editor’s Guild is a breather. But media which generally put other constituents of democratic polity on trial is on trial now. If it has to come out clear, it should take an uncompromising stand of making case against the culprits. They have to understand that it is not about Tehelka and Tarun Tejpal but ensuring justice to the victim in many such duped cases. —Bureau Report
Excerpts of alleged letter written by female journalist to Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary
It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me -but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not…
Both times, I returned to my room in a completely distraught condition, trembling and crying…
…As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued “a drunken banter”. That is not what happened…
…I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you —and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.
(Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace)
Guidelines and norms laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vishaka and Others Vs. State of Rajasthan and Others (JT 1997 (7) SC 384))
It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.
Definition: For this purpose, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as: a) Physical contact and advances; b) A demand or request for sexual favours; c) Sexually coloured remarks; d) Showing pornography; e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature;
All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment;
Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. Complaint Mechanism: Whether or not such conduct constitutes an offence under law or a breach of the service rules, an appropriate complaint mechanism should be created in the employer’s organisation for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints.
The Complaints Committee should be headed by a woman and not less than half of its member should be women. Further, to prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior levels, such Complaints Committee should involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.