Some questions regarding the victim’s side of the story




Here are some of the things that don’t add up with regard to some of what the victim says and what is known/observed/claimed in my view.

Who leaked the emails?

Increasingly it is appearing that the emails were leaked with the girl’s knowledge and as a warped kind of press release series. There is a reason I am calling it a press release. They seem to have been circulated mostly to journalists and media professionals very rapidly and they do not seem to have any kind of selective audience in terms of a private email updating a trusted friend of what is going on. They were very clearly for release as a campaign, because they hit the media almost simultaneously from multiple sources – something that would be more uncertain if journalists were not sure that they could use the emails for reporting.

Is it rape, sexual harassment, molestation or sexual misconduct?

This question is really important, because the victim describes a rape in her letter of complaint to Shoma. She calls it molestation. And she demands an apology for sexual misconduct. And this is one letter so far. I am not a lawyer, but to the best of my knowledge, sexual misconduct is sexually offensive behavior that is not exactly illegal. I imagine many don’t know the distinction, but would a journalist reporting on women’s rights know the difference? I cannot imagine how she wouldn’t know unless she was really bad at her job – which all indications are she was good. I also don’t believe this discrepancy was accidental from someone used to reporting using precise terms writing an official letter stating the wrongs against her.

Why is there no complaint against her senior who took no action against her rape?

Unless the victim is deliberately targeting Shoma, I cannot understand why her senior, whom she confided in is not accused, but apparently actually on her side. For all intents and purposes, this senior heard her complaint and did not find it serious enough to take action. Unless of course any action he took was beyond the requirements of his role and can’t be disclosed in media for fear of weakening her case in the media court – for example helping the victim get confessions she could take to court.

Were Shoma and Tejpal’s daughter special targets?

Senior not taking action immediately, when the alleged crime was raw did not bother her and in fact, he continues to be “on her side” including resigning with a letter accusing Shoma of doing what he did, but the criticism on Shoma is for exactly that – avoiding doing anything.

When in fact, Shoma had, at the very least done far more than any actions this senior took, as is evidenced by the flurry of emails being leaked. Regardless of accusations about motives – which in my view are not substantiated in any conclusive way – it cannot be disputed that immediately after getting the victim’s email, Shoma did indeed make Tejpal write that letter of apology – which would at least involve confronting him and forcing him to toe the line – as I can’t imagine a rapist or honest man with any sense of self preservation blithely giving it in writing that he violated a girl. This is not exactly ignoring the complaint.

What apology was requested?

What the victim puts in writing describes rape, calls it molestation/sexual harassment, asks for unconditional apology for misconduct – which is what she got. Tejpal’s email acknowledges and apologizes for misconduct and neither rape nor molestation. The victim herself states in writing that she agreed to the euphemism:

In a phone conversation with me, you asked that he be recused from doing so because he had already admitted to sexual molestation in his emails, and because we needed to “protect the institution”. In this conversation, I said, “I trust you to do the right thing”.

But the problem apparently was that the “right thing” was not doing as she had asked and agreed to. What she wanted was an admission of guilt – which too she has stated in some letter, I forget where.

Did she want the apology or not?

That the victim had asked for an apology is clear from the leaked emails. Tarun Tejpal made an informal apology to her as well as a formal one following it. To which she replied

The only people you owe an apology to are your employees at Tehelka, for desecrating their and my faith in you. Please do not attempt any further personal correspondence with me – you lost that privilege when you violated my trust and body.

So if Tejpal did not owe her an apology, or should not attempt “further personal correspondence” with her, then what exactly was she asking for?

What was hushed?

The only hushing here seems to be on the victim’s side. Her supporters concealed the sexual assault, did not independently take adequate measures to protect her and continued to do nothing even on hearing that she had been harassed again. She did not seem to have a problem with this. She confided to Tejpal’s daughter who did not have a problem confronting her father whether festival or not – same daughter is now accused of intimidating the victim. Shoma got Tejpal to make her an apology that was copied to the journalists she had confided in. Tejpal’s stepping down could not be kept secret anyway, but the action was chosen and circulated with a limited explanation that raised more questions than it answered and couldn’t possibly be “controlled” anyway – as also seen from the immediate leak of the letter.

If the “hushing” is about prefering to deal with it within the organization, it is hardly a new thing in organizations to not want to court justice. As for hushing, this case has got more publicity than any other case of workplace sexual harassment I have heard recently. And the publicity was engineered by the victim or her supporters and not prevented in any way.

This actually was the part that angered me, because Shoma and Tejpal – whether guilty or not – were clearly acting on an assumption of confidentiality that the victim had explicitly stated a preference for and confirms even in her resignation letter, while publicity was deliberately seeked once the “apology” was in writing. This is deception and I am fine with it (so sue me) if it helps victims get justice, and kicks up a shitstorm. I am uneasy when the deception serves to completely wipe out what one side has to say. Or rather, I’m fine with deception helping give voice to someone who would find it difficult otherwise. I am not fine deception being the basis of establishing a “truth” version to the point that others are not allowed.

If we are to believe media, no sexual harassment happens in other media houses, and if it happens, it is immediately made public and sexual harassment committees deal with it with due process and eploitative seniors go to jail. So someone point out some news reports for the organizations talking loudest at the moment about an organization that was able to issue an apology and get the person to step down to allow for better investigation within days of receiving complaint.

Is Tejpal guilty or innocent? I have no idea. Is Tehelka trying to hide something? It doesn’t look so at the moment, though the first interviews pointed in that direction. They make perfect sense if you consider that the victim had stated a preference for an internal process as well as not wanting an FIR – something her supporters independently confirmed and defended as well at that time.

Did she want a sexual harassment committee?

As Shoma points out in her letter, the victim may have wanted a sexual harassment committee, but did not submit her nominations for who she trusted. This is a fact not “leaked” to media. Not just that she did not suggest anyone she trusted, but that she was actually asked to provide names she trusted, because it breaks the bubble of yet another accusation – that a sexual harassemnt committee would have been controlled by Tejpal to discredit her. Check Niti Central for a script of what such a committee would to.

And so on.

I didn’t really want to bring this up, because it goes against my grain to question claims of a victim of sexual abuse. At the same time, it is abundantly clear in this whole saga that “feminist defaults” have been used excellently to influence public opinion and that kind of exploits feminism as well. Here are some:

  1. Do not question the victim when she claims rape. But this was not a court of law, victim actually did not claim rape – you’d have to question her to establish it was rape if she claimed sexual molestation – and the process of dispensing justice had started well before the emails were done leaking.
  2. Use of language to convey guilt. “You are now attempting to establish that Mr Tejpal has “another version” of events (as surely, any sexual predator does)…” in the victim’s resignation letter, for example. The thing here is every person on the planet involved in anything has their own version. Having another version is not something exclusive to sexual predators or those somehow guilty. On the other hand, establishing one version as right and discrediting any other from even being stated is an indication of suppressing one side – not its invalidity.

Anyway, this is now turning into a mud slinging thing, which was not my objective. At the same time, I think unpleasant and counterproductive to the victim’s credibility as these questions are, the need to ask them has been born out of the magnitude of “truth” that is being assigned to them.

I also accept that a victim sees things from a unique perspective and cannot be expected to be neutral. This does not mean that everything she perceives is fact. Nor does it mean that every wrong she believes is done to her was intentional or even about her at all. A classic example being the stormy night crap from Tejpal’s letter that she replies to with cutting feminist outrage that sounds more like Tejpal fixated on her boobs instead of a thunderstorm he was already listening to. And it probably feels really unfair to her that her purpose of visiting him didn’t register on him, but the fact of life is that we do a lot of work without it having any impact on us in terms of being a long term memory. Would I remember the reason for someone who routinely meets me for work visiting on a day I remember sharing something beautiful with them? I wouldn’t. I would probably remember it in detail when something relevant to the work came up – which wouldn’t be the weather.

This isn’t rocket science and I bet all the people outraging don’t remember why their subbordinates visited them in some moment they remember either – something that a media that was actually making an effort to understand the situation would realize and form their own responses instead of parroting accusations.

The problem is when an entire news media industry adopts the same bias – by accident or design – and magnifies a cry for justice to the point that it becomes a holy cow that can’t be questioned and goes on a rampage of accusations and slander and not just against the person accused of the crime, but (ironically) women associated with him, organizations associated with him and questions start coming up whether an organization employing hundreds will survive the scandal, then this is very dangerous. It is also an alarming lack of critical thinking in media.

The victim can change her mind, want one thing at one moment and another at another as long as they all lead to her perpetrator being nailed. And it is normal for a troubled mind to be thus. The media cannot abdicate their own neutrality or claim a collective trauma to accept all she says as the complete truth and proceed to accuse people on the basis of not doing what she would want done later as a criticism of their doing what she asked for. Among other irrational things.

I am frankly scared at the implications on women’s rights with this, because women at large do not have the power to deal with men if they choose to be paranoid about what women can do to them and it cannot be long before people realize that they have not heard Tejpal being listened to fairly at all. Hell, *I* would worry about professionally asking any man to have unchaperoned interactions with women if I couldn’t even guarantee all parties a fair hearing if an issue arose.

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Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

1 Comment on "Some questions regarding the victim’s side of the story"

  1. wonderfully opined and much needed. one of the more holistic / fair articles i have read on the tehelka issue. i am a woman too, and as most other women, feel strongly (from my own varied experiences) against men pompously crossing lines they should not, and believe misogynists and older men who think sexual bullying over younger women is a sign of power and proof of their manhood deserve nothing less than humiliation and legal punishment. in this case though, with all due sympathies for a lady who claims she has been a victim of it; nothing is proven yet; while ridiculously enough the accused is being ‘convicted’ by not just the biased and seemingly jobless media but politically driven parties who have no rationality to even lose.
    i do think that naturally, a lot of media uproar was encouraged, if not created by the lady herself, but her reasons could range from a. not her intention to b. a farsighted afterthought that the only humiliation for a gross act is one that is completely public, OR again, c. in a wise manner of generating all the support she could ask for which this media-frenzy more than ensured, or lastly, d. just attention – for turning into a ‘spunky’ feminist hero who can seduce and bring the same man down, drawing attention towards her feminist beliefs and ‘irrepresible’ (as she seems to believe) sex appeal which, she might like to consider, that most women with a brain and a vagina,let alone a journalist writing on feminist issues generally possesses. this is sure to be a quick route to celebrity-dom, considering the man involved was a power figure of the country, and stood at the helm of everything political akin to a high ranked politican, himself. it might make her feel so much sexier making a man who she indulged in, who has been a father figure, become this highly vulnerable at such a national level to her – making her not just the object of desire, but more ‘powerful’ than her father figure himself. phew!
    also let me clarify, such an opinion is not coming from a woman-hating or jealous-of-another-woman perspective, i myself am a woman with enough hotness and intelligence (as well as strong feminist beliefs) to turn heads and be at the center of a similar episode if i so wished. i would also like to add that i have personally experienced being the victim of sexual objectification and sexual assault by self proclaimed powerful men myself, unfortunately.
    i in all my fairness, cannot doubt that the encounter may have been consentual (with no intentions of demeaning her plight or not supporting her claim for what it is), and that perhaps she was not happy with the manner of his interraction, which does not make him un-guilty of a sexual crime. if a sexual liason is out of the bag, he is guilty of a sexual crime in ANY case, considering this was an employer-employee relationship, but yes, proving it was concentual or atleast encouraged, could help save him the tag of being a rapist and also bring to light the woman’s character as being capable of victim-pretense to garner attention and acquire power.
    the questions, in this case, that personally make me consider that possibility are why the woman even let this go on this long, her not saying NO at the first instance itself (considering how strongly feminist she implies she is), why a woman would ambiguously invoke the names of people who they both know as if showing guilt instead of alarm. any woman who thought it wrong and was ‘not interested in that attention’ would clearly ask a man to ‘mind his own business’ and not cross lines with her when in that situation, and also, not let herself be in the lift with him a second time. she had the whole day to scream at him, to calrify her thoughts on what he did to him, rather than whisper it to his daughter
    her boyfriend and other friends as if to imply she is the chosen one for this particular molestation trophy. he did not FORCE her into the lift with him to ‘rape’ her because he finds her uncontrollably desirable, he clearly states even in his apology that he believed she was indulging in his signals, even if they should not have been there at all, and that is why he’d apologise.
    reluctance is a sign of guilt and demure encouragement far far from ‘refusal’. i can understand a woman in that spot either being completely scared and confused in her naivety to not be able to stop a man (as i have experienced for my own naive self years back), or refusing him outright (which is what a ‘feminist’ would do).
    but this lady’s ‘reluctance’ is extremely questionable if one is to believe the account she herself presents. The other thing which is almost ridiculous to me is how and why ‘personal’ mails are being shared in a public manner (and so, the lady while writing all of these is now clearly aware that every word she writes personally to anyone in that organisation including the accused is meant for public eyes) which makes the whole intention of brewing this storm questionable – if the intention is justice, then just because your own life is an open book and you want to draw attention to being the woman a powerful man ‘desires’ (which i repeat could be any woman with a vagina who talks of sex openly), you need not have personal conversations regarding the details of the matter publically, and can strictly superwise these mails as remaining personal.
    even personal apologies, the monet they are mailed, seem to be thrown onto the internet, and only one of the two involved could do that, in this case, clearly the allegor, not the accused. her boyfriend, sitting somewhere is sending out messages on twitter on her behalf, making the whole idea of the woman’s idenity chosen to be protected a farce, singnifying that they are both enjoying the attention.

    i also find accusations against shoma choudhary in this case completely baseless- and ofcourse that again is a media issue, indian media being less concerned with result and more with accusations and conclusive statements to appear busy and ‘thinking’ while really just being unneccessary and biased. the lady was a middle agent, between the boss and the employee, and she can only act based on what is asked of her by the victim herself.
    in this case, the victim herself asked for an internal apology, so shoma got her that, and infact more than that, the victim never claimed she wanted this to become a public discussion open to all of india, while she slyly called upon ndtv for her first press conference, and also allowed the leaks to take place dabbling in a personal as well as police matter at the same time. all in all, shoma did what she could.

    in this whole speil, indian media, and every other intellectual mouth that is expected to feature in national issues (the likes of arundhati roy and shobha de), as usual has shown its lack of sense of justice and holistic understanding by making conclusive angry irrational statements based on nothing but allegations. the media kitty party which the lady seems to be encouraging and enjoying for the sake of her own probable celebrity-dom is the most ridiculous part of this issue. and then ofcourse, for a big hotel to not actually have survillance cameras in something as important for all controvertial exchanges as a lift, shows the sad state of this country.
    on the positive side, this issue if for nothing else, by becoming a media circus has thrown light on the need to better that state of infrastructure as more valuable than self motivational accusations by corrupt politicians (the one chance they get to pounce) and has certainly brought some awareness to the issue of workspace sexualization which was largely buried till this one case for whatever the motives of the employee, went batshit public on the country and media.

    i hope justice will prevail in this case, and the state of gender relationships will better too as more men realize the dangers of taking what they might think are ‘drunken jovial power-liberties’ with women which they delusionally think makes them extremely desirable.

    more than anything else i wish the media could find something more substantial and non-biased to report and do, rather than have kitty parties of women on issues that require undisturbed attention from the law and little else before a verdict is reached.

    i’m curious to see how this shapes the ‘social’ fate of the woman journalist, the celbritydom and ‘personification’ it brings upon her, deservingly or undeservingly.
    i’m curious to see how this shapes the ‘social’ life of the woman journalist from here forth, the celbrity-dom and ‘personification’, or well, objectifications/doubt or scorn it brings upon her, deservingly or undeservingly.
    on a lighter note, i do wonder if speaking up against a powerful man molesting her (while it may have been consentual) makes a woman perceived as any sexier.

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