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Free, fearless and very unfair

Once again, the Indian media is abuzz with the reports of a sexual assault. Only this time around, is not a “migrant” worker who can be pinned down as a rapist because he didn’t know any better in a city full of “loose” women. This time it is someone from our own fraternity: Tarun Tejpal. He is the editor-in-chief and founder of Tehelka (literally meaning storm), an independent website known for its sting operations that have uncovered several scams and shaken governments in the past. “Free, fair, fearless” is the motto of the publication.

A woman journalist from Tehelka made an email public last week alleging sexual assault against Tarun Tejpal. Earlier this month, she was assaulted by the iconic journalist twice in an elevator of a hotel they were staying in, in Goa. She was working with Tejpal at “Thinkfest,” an event organized by Tehelka and marketed as “India’s premier intellectual event.”

Tejpal, previously touted as one of Asiaweek’s 50 most powerful communicators called it a “shameful lapse of judgment” and as a self-imposed punishment, decided to step down as the Editor-in-Chief for six months. In an email later, Tejpal wrote, “The truth is it was an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute.” He now pledges full cooperation towards the investigation and has even asked for tapes from the surveillance cameras in the hotel to be investigated. He now also has a group of best lawyers in town fighting his case.

The supposedly free, fair and fearless crusader is currently booked under Sections 376 (rape), 376 (2) (rape by a person of a woman in his custody, taking advantage of his official position) and 354 (outraging modesty) of the Indian Penal Code.

In the light of the scandal, facts reveal that mining corporations which were earlier accused of misdeeds towards tribal people have sponsored Tehelka’s festival. There are also speculations that Tejpal is being framed by the opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), whose leaders have had to step down in the past after sting operations by Tehelka uncovered corrupt practices. Tejpal is allegedly drawing support from the ruling Congress Party and he has some support from India’s elite as well.

These are the same people who insisted that “sensitizing” Indian society and “changing the mindset” would put a stop to such crimes. A few days after the rape incident last year in December, Shoma Chaudhary, the second-in-command at Tehelka who has currently stepped into the editor-in-chief’s position did a story called, “Rape and how men see it.”

“Following the spine-chilling and horrific gangrape and brutalisation of a 23-year-old in the national capital on Sunday, when Tehelka asked how the rapes could be stopped, there was only one refrain: attitude to women must change; the legal process of dealing with the crime must speed up; and men must be educated and ‘sensitised’ about women’s issues.”

Tarun Tejpal, an educated and “sensitized” man is now under scrutiny. A “less than a minute encounter,” according to him, can’t be termed as sexual harassment because it was consensual. One of India’s 50 most powerful men believes that his colleague had the choice of not consenting. He now claims that he is innocent!

The elite claim they are innocent because they believe that as long as a woman does not say no, it is consensual. The uneducated migrants claim they are innocent because for no fault of theirs, “loose” women provoke them. The storm shook away any misconceptions about the fact that women’s situation in India even has a chance of improvement.

Author: Roma Rajpal-Weiß

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

Roma Rajpal-Weiß is an Indian Journalist and Blogger based in Bonn. She can be followed on Twitter @romarajpal.


27.11.2013 | 14:58