Girl thrown to usual pack of wolves

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By ANANYA SENGUPTA
  • Published 23.11.13
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New Delhi, Nov. 22: The Ivory Tower has struck back, deploying the very tactics it has been deploring and underlining the perils of pursuing complaints of sexual offences without institutional support.

The Tehelka managing editor today bluntly refused to go to police, lobbing the ball into her subordinate’s court and suggesting that no sexual offence was committed on the young journalist.

Hours later, a text message attributed to Tarun Tejpal, the Tehelka chief editor who has “recused” himself for six months after being accused of what amounts to rape, began doing the rounds.

The text, the style of which was not too different from the now infamous “atonement” email, described the girl’s version as a “total lie” and the incident as “a totally consensual encounter”.

Soon after emerged another email attributed to “Tarun” and sent to the young journalist a day after she filed the complaint with the managing editor. The email, if authentic, does not just demolish the consensual claim but it suggests misuse of official power by pulling rank on the subordinate.

“…I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me,” according to the mail attributed to “Tarun”.

It adds: “I know you feel I used my position as Editor, Tehelka to force my attention on you, and I acknowledge that I did at one point say to your contention that I was your boss, ‘That makes it simpler,’ but I do want to put on record that the moment those words escaped my lips, I retracted them saying ‘I withdraw that straight away — no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that’.”

Tejpal was not available to confirm whether he sent the mail. He replied to a text message from this newspaper on the SMS claiming consent but did not respond further when specifically asked if he sent the message to his close friends.

In the evening, veteran journalist Vinod Mehta started reading out the text message from Tejpal on a news channel but could not complete the task. The SMS appears to have been forwarded to many numbers — an inevitable consequence of the connected era.

“Out of an attempt to preserve the girl’s dignity and on Shoma’s adamantine feminist-principle insistence that I keep correct form by apologising, I did so. The truth is it was an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!) Now that a committee has been announced the truth will come out. And the cctv footage will clear everything. My life and work have been trashed on a total lie,” the text message said.

A senior lawyer said a term such as consensual had no relevance unless the girl backed it up. “If his defence is that the act was consensual, it has no value under the law. The girl is the affected party here and if she doesn’t corroborate his statement, it will not hold in a court of law,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Pandit Parmanand Katara.

Sources close to the girl said that she had heard of the text message and was “disgusted”.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer K.V. Dhananjay said: “You have the girl saying there was a violent encounter and the accused is calling it consensual. If the accused did send out such a message from his cellphone, he will have none but himself to blame for having incriminated himself.”

One source said that the journalist was apprehensive about the challenges of taking Tejpal on legally. Friends are still trying to convince her to take the legal recourse.

But the innuendoes and claims suggested that even some of those moulding public opinion are not beyond falling back on the character-assassination tactic.

Tejpal is entitled to his defence. But the best platform for that would have been a law-enforcement agency that will ensure confidentiality of the information he wanted to share.

Instead, the forwarded text message has ensured that his claims have spilled over to the public domain — just as the girl’s account got leaked in the absence of an institutionalised avenue.

The tone of the text message was markedly different from an official statement from Tejpal during the day, in which he offered “the fullest cooperation” to the police that have registered an FIR charging him with rape.

“There have been serious allegations cast on me in this last week, and unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict. In this case this anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.

“I have tried to do what was honorably demanded of me. On Tuesday I issued an apology for the alleged misconduct, as desired by the journalist through Shoma Chaudhury. On Wednesday I stepped down from the editorship of Tehelka and removed myself from the office premises,” he added.

A journalist who quit yesterday from Tehelka as consulting editor said this was not enough. “What could have been a transparent and legal issue between an editor and a reporter has caused the institution grave damage,” said Jay Mazoomdar.

Sources said the absence of a sexual harassment committee in the magazine had long been a matter of discussion.

A reporter who is now a freelance journalist said she had filed a case in 2008 against a senior editor of the magazine. The reporter said that she did not pursue a criminal complaint because she felt she lacked the resources or the family support to do so.

The response from managing editor Chaudhury to the Goa episode suggested that employees were being made to fend for themselves. “I am not going to the police on my own,” PTI quoted Chaudhury as saying. “You are jumping to conclusions that it is sexual assault and rape,” she was quoted as saying.

The Goa police have filed the FIR on their own.

Senior lawyers Dhananjay and Katara agreed that there could be an investigation without the girl’s formal complaint but added that prosecution was not possible without it.

“Even if they arrest him, they will not be able to retain him longer in custody if the girl would not herself complain to the Goa police,” Dhananjay said.

Katara doubted if Tejpal could be arrested without a complaint from the girl.

Another senior lawyer, Ranbir Sharma, said: “In my opinion, filing an FIR on the basis of someone else’s complaint in this kind of a case is as good as hearsay. The police can get into trouble for taking such a case on board.”

THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC VOICES

PRIVATE APOLOGY

I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from meEmail from “Tarun” to the girl a day after she filed complaint to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury

sms TO FRIENDS

The truth is it was an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!)…. Now that a committee has been announced the truth will come out. And the cctv footage will clear everything. My life and work have been trashed on a total lie

PUBLIC STATEMENT

…Unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict…. I offer my fullest cooperation to the police and all other authorities…. I have tried to do what was honorably demanded of me