Is a 6-month recusal enough for Tarun Tejpal’s act of sexual assault?

21 Nov,2013


By A Correspondent


At the recently held Think festival organized by Tehelka magazine, there was a session where rape survivors recounted their stories. The title of the session: The Beast in Our Midst.


As it has now emerged, even when the various delegates and ‘thinkers’ were deliberating on the ways of the world at the Goa event, there was a beastly act on elsewhere. Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka founder, celebrity journalist, author, mentor to budding writers and a beacon for those against all things wrong in the country, had indulged in what has until the time of writing been described as an act of molestation.


Mr Tejpal has confessed to his crime. Ah, well, remember he’s a writer. So the words he has used in a letter that appears at various places on the internet (including our favourite blog Sans Serif at to describe his acts is that it was a “bad lapse of judgment” and “an awful misreading of the situation”.
We weren’t present in the 2011 edition of the Thinkfest, but Mr Tejpal is reported to have made this controversial statement: “You’re in Goa, so eat, drink, make merry and sleep with whoever you want.” The writer-journalist has ostensibly taken his own words seriously.


The victim has said she’s a friend of his daughter. That her father and he were once colleagues. She tried to stop him from what he was doing. Not once, but twice over, over two days.


Mr Tejpal’s books (coincidentally titled ‘The Alchemy of Desire’ and ‘The Story of My Assassins’) have received rave reviews. “I have always held that Tehelka the institution, and its work, have always been infinitely more important than any of us individuals. It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles,” he wrote to managing editor Shoma Chaudhury who will now be incharge of the magazine. The letter described “pompous in tenor” by the Mumbai Mirror diarist does appear to be pretentious. “I feel atonement cannot be just words. I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months.”


In a letter to the Tehelka staff, Ms Chaudhury has forwarded Mr Tejpal’s letter and said: “This is a hard time for all of us, and I hope all of you will stand by the institution” She is quoted to have to have told an Indian Express journalist that the journalist has not filed a criminal complaint and that she (the victim) and other staffers were satisfied with the action taken. “It is an internal problem and we are not setting up any enquiry into the matter,” Ms Chaudhary told Business Standard. “The matter was taken up internally, and has been addressed and redressed,” she told the Express. However, a confidante of the victim told NDTV that the victim was not satisfied with the action taken.


Is a six-month ‘penance’ of being away from the top job at Tehelka enough? Is staying at home, in the hills for half a year enough?


In many ways what Tarun Tejpal is being subjected to on Twitter and Facebook is worse than a dozen lashings in the Middle East? He’s being ridiculed, humiliated and mocked at so much that even some of the most universally lampooned Indians on Twitter – N D Tiwari would appear to have done nothing wrong.


But the law is clear on the subject. Sexual harassment cases need to be handled in a certain way, and this one could be called an assault. According to a set of Twitter messages, the victim is said to have written the following to Ms Chaudhury: “As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued “a drunken banter”. That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop.” Note: this is an unverified version. MxMIndia has in its possession a copy of the letter the victim is said to have written.


The victim we are told has retained copies of Mr Tejpal’s text messages and it is said that the video footage from the elevators is also available as proof of Mr Tejpal’s acts.


Journalists and activists believe the apology offered by Tarun Tejpal is half-baked and the case should be handled in a legally tenable way.


In many ways, Tarun Tejpal’s act is a blow to the world of news media. Especially when we have an assortment of law-makers and influencers wanting tighter controls on the craft. The question now is: will the law-enforcers from Delhi or Goa act against the editor?


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