High-Profile Editor Tarun Tejpal Accused of Sexually Assaulting Young Reporter

The celebrated editor-in-chief of Indian magazine Tehelka, known for its groundbreaking investigative journalism and coverage of issues such as corruption and sexual violence, has been arrested on charges that he sexually assaulted a female colleague.  

The allegations against Tarun Tejpal, an iconic figure of Indian journalism who led his media organization Tehelka to popularity, first came to light when an email from the victim, a Tehelka reporter and friend of Tejpal's daughter, written to the magazine's managing editor describing the alleged assault was leaked. The victim later resigned from her post, saying that she was “deeply traumatized” by the magazine's lack of support.

Initially, Tehelka Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury, who has since quit in the wake of the scandal, seemed to defend him and said the organization would undertake internal inquiries. As penance, Tejpal sent an “apology” letter on 20 November 2013 to Tehelka management announcing that he would be stepping down for six months in light of allegations. In the letter, he defended himself, saying that “a bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident.”

The accusations have created uproar in mainstream media as well as social media, especially among the Twitterati. His fall from grace has been termed “The Fall Of India's Conscience“, and the constant conversation in social media has acted as a catalyst in escalating the debate.

Editor-In-Chief of Tehelka Magazine Tarun J Tejpal during a session of the Literary Festival in Lalitpur. Image by Sunil Sharma. Copyright Demotix (17/9/2011)

Editor-In-Chief of Tehelka Magazine Tarun J. Tejpal during a session of the Literary Festival in Lalitpur. Image by Sunil Sharma. Copyright Demotix (17/9/2011) 

Nayanathara, an India Today Reporter, wrote on Google Plus [malayalam]:

“എത്ര നാള്‍ ഒരു ബിംബം പോലെ മനസ്സിലിട്ടു നടന്നിരുന്നതാണ് ഒരു കൗമാരക്കാരി ഈ മനുഷ്യനെ എന്നോര്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ ലജ്ജ തോന്നുന്നു. മദ്യപിച്ച ശേഷമുള്ള ഒരു നേരമ്പോക്ക് ആയിരുന്നത്രേ അയാള്‍ക്കത്- മകളുടെ പ്രായമുള്ള ഒരു പെണ്‍കുട്ടിക്കു മേല്‍ നടത്തിയ ലൈംഗികാക്രമണം. അതിനു നല്‍കിയ ഓക്കാനം വരുത്തുന്നത്ര വിചിത്രമായ ന്യായീകരണങ്ങള്‍. ദല്‍ഹി ബലാത്സംഗ കേസിനു ശേഷം ആര്‍ജ്ജവമുള്ള കുറേയേറെ കവര്‍ സ്റ്റോറികള്‍ ആ വിഷയത്തില്‍ പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ച തെഹല്‍ക്കയുടെ എഡിറ്ററുടെ ഓറിയന്റേഷന്‍ എന്തായിരുന്നു… എവിടെയായിരുന്നു എന്നത് ഞെട്ടിക്കുന്നതാണ്. ഒപ്പം ഈ ഭൂമുഖത്ത് വിശ്വാസമര്‍പ്പിക്കാവുന്ന വ്യക്തിത്വങ്ങള്‍ ഇല്ലാതാകുന്നു എന്ന നിസ്സഹായതയും.”

Feel ashamed how that young girl would have idealized Tarun Tejpal. For him, it seems like fun after a couple of drinks. After assaulting a woman half his age and then coming up with excuses is nauseating to say the least. After the Delhi rape case, Tehelka had published excellent stories, now I wonder what exactly was Tehelka's editorial orientation regarding women's rights. Also shocking is the fact that there are less people on this earth whom one can trust.

IT professional KrishnaKumar was worried about the way the matter was hushed up inside Tehelka:

സ്ത്രീകളോടുള്ള അതിക്രമങ്ങൾ സംബന്ധിച്ചിട്ടുള്ള വിഷയങ്ങളോട് സമൂഹത്തിൽ പുരോഗമന കംബളം പുതച്ചു നില്ക്കുന്ന വ്യക്തികളും പ്രസ്ഥാനങ്ങളും എടുക്കുന്ന പ്രതിലോമപരമായ നിലപാടുകൾ അങ്ങേയറ്റം നിരാശാജനകമാണ് … ഈ വിഷയങ്ങളിൽ മറ്റുള്ളവർക്ക് മാതൃക ആവേണ്ട നടപടികൾ കൈകൊള്ളുന്നതിന് പകരം… അതിനെ ന്യായീകരിക്കുകയും അതിൽ ഇടപെടുന്നവരെ സംരക്ഷിക്കുകയും അത് ഒതുക്കിത്തീർക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നവർ … അവരിൽ പ്രത്യാശ അർപ്പിക്കുന്നവരെ വഞ്ചിക്കുക മാത്രമല്ല … ഇത്തരത്തിലുള്ള ക്രിമിനലുകൾക്ക് പ്രോത്സാഹനം നല്കുക കൂടിയാണ് ചെയ്യുന്നത് … തരുണ്‍ തെജ്പാലിന്റെ കാര്യത്തിൽ വ്യക്തമായ ലൈംഗീകാക്രമണം ആണ് നടന്നിരിക്കുന്നത് … അത് ഗുരുതരമായി കാണേണ്ട കാര്യമാണ് .. ഒരു പരാതിക്കും കാത്തിരിക്കാതെ നിയമപരമായ നടപടികളിലേക്ക് കടക്കേണ്ട വിഷയം …. തങ്ങളുടെ കൂടെയുള്ളവരെ പലരെയും ലീവ് കൊടുത്തും പേരിനു മാത്രം ഇന്റെർണൽ ആയി “നടപടി” എടുത്തും സംരക്ഷിച്ചു പാരമ്പര്യം ഉള്ളവരുടെ ഈ വിഷയത്തിലുള്ള മൌനം അർത്ഥഗർഭമാണ് ….

It's despicable and disappointing how sexual harassment towards women is treated among the so-called liberal media and elite. Instead of being a modal in such issues, they are trying to shift the blame. It is a big blow to the public's faith in the fourth estate. Tarun Tejpal has clearly assaulted the woman, it should be treated with all the seriousness of a sexual crime. This is not something which should be dealt with internally in Tehelka.

The larger issue to this debate relates to how safe Indian women are in their workplaces. The Tejpal case has prompted some women to come forward. A former female employee of MY FM has filed a sexual harassment case against the company's CEO Harish Bhatia. Former judge of the Supreme Court, A K Ganguly, have been accused by a law intern of sexual harassment. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Nivedita Menon wrote at Kafila blog:

The silence around the normalizing of a range of behaviour from the apparently casual to the outrightly violent. The laughing sexual innuendo; the misogynist jokes; the well-known ‘displaced squeeze’ of the upper arm, the shoulders; the repeated, relentless expression of romantic or sexual interest despite clear NO’s; the grabbing of the breast, the unwanted kiss, the out-of-town work trip ending in physical assault, presented as flattering interest; and through it all, the clear invocation of the power relationship.

A young woman journalist is told to ‘seduce’ someone to come to a high profile event by her female boss. When she protests at this terminology, the boss tells her not to be so sensitive. To have a sense of humour.

And these are just the upper class professionals. The routine sexual violence faced by women on construction sites and inside middle class homes where they work as domestic servants, and in every other kind of working class location is of course, even more normalized.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was promulgated earlier this year by the Indian parliament providing much hope. But the law is not operational as the concerned ministry failed to notify the legislation, a required step before a law is considered to be in effect.

Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor), Minister of State for Human Resource Development, wrote that he is against the public vilification of the accused:

Blogger Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) tweeted:

Sri Lankan blogger Indrajit Samarajeeva noted that such abuses are natural for men in powerful positions. Commenting on the accusations on Tejpal, the blogger wrote:

What’s sad is this is perfectly normal behavior for a lot of powerful people. I don’t necessarily think a man should be destroyed for abuse like this, but it needs to be punished, they need to be rehabilitated and other men have to know that it’s not OK. The urge and ability are there, but until God-AI makes it an immediate smiting, this type of public condemnation is necessary and far too infrequent.

Shivam VJ noted that despite having strict laws at their disposal, women are afraid of these men in power. Maybe one day cases like these will inspire victims to speak up.

With additional input from Inji Pennu

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