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A man who imposes sexual activity on a woman without any indication that she is attracted to him, in the face of blunt refusals or knowing that she definitely does not like him, is a rapist. But without this explicit clarity, there are a lot of grey areas where men and women can communicate very differently and a lack of consent is not very clear. It isn't as simple as saying a no is a no.

While we are willing to accept a victim coming in with an accusation of rape much after an incident she reluctantly consented to in has happened, we are less tolerant about the ability of the man who must judge in the heat of the moment to determine whether the refusal is something that will resolve with persuasion or violate. And the sensitivity of men differs wildly, much of it determined by individual life experiences - we do little to help men learn.

It is an age old debate - how much no is no when it comes to sex. There is a side that thinks all "No" is a dead end. There is another that pretty much refuses to recognize any form of "No" as being an actual refusal. Neither are practical. As always, the more adamant force is applied to a process, the less there is sensitivity to nuance. It isn't enough to simply dump responsibility for changing a status quo on one side of a difference. Particularly when that side is less vulnerable to the problem to begin with.

There are many shades of "No". To me, for someone to be called a "rapist" an important condition is that the alleged rapist must know that the other person does not want them - particularly in cases where consent has been implied till that point.

Consent is a grey area traditionally

Asking for anything is culturally stigmatized. Someone asks you if you want tea, you are conditioned to refuse. This is a relatively minor thing. But you are taught that politeness means you don't outright accept something you desire. The more intimate and high stakes your desire, the closer you play your cards to your chest.

For many "traditional" people, by the time a relationship is ready for sex, the moment for consent has long passed, because any physical touch already is consent in a society not given to casual physical touch between genders.

When a woman says No, she doesn't always mean it

Now consider the conditioning women go through all their lives, where a woman who is eager for sex is seen as someone less respectable. There are few women or even men who would outright agree to sex, even while they are giving all kinds of green signals otherwise. Remaining available, participating in increasing contact, "accidental" contact, remaining accessible for sexual contact - and even pretending to be surprised if it happens, till the elephant of increasingly intimate contact cannot be looked around - are all normal happenings in courtship.

People pretend accidental contact that they can back off from if the other person doesn't seem receptive rather than outright ask for sex. Rather than come across as forward or risk a refusal, they simply initiate and see where it goes. Because here is the thing, we also see asking for sex as inappropriate if it gets refused. Men become creeps, women become sluts.

And this is culturally accepted and immortalized. "Jaane do na. Paas aao na" is a sexy song that gave many men sleepless nights when the film Sagar released.

The whole duet is spent with Rishi Kapoor asking Dimple Kapadia to come closer and her refusing all the way. She refuses. Says don't touch me. I can't do these things, etc. It is actually a romantic song where both of them are attracted and in fact gave men an education on what an aroused woman looks like before the age of the internet! The film Sagar would be vastly different if Dimple Kapadia later realized Rishi Kapoor was a lousy lover and remembered that she'd been second thoughts all through and in fact, refusing. It would take an exceptionally sex-illiterate person to conclude a lack of consent from that song. And if Rishi Kapoor took those refusals at face value and didn't proceed, that would be one hot, frustrated woman there and Kamal Haasan would be one happy man. Never really understood what she saw in Rishi Kapoor with super sexy Kamal Haasan there for her.

This song is actually quite realistic among the masses, where there is a lot of intimacy that goes on under the cover of normalcy or even expressed disinterest without actual prevention till the relationship reaches a point of inevitability. It is vulnerability in a judgmental world. It is hard to talk about budding feelings in the bright light of day. Not many can do it. I doubt if even among the feminists there would be very many who can claim to have explicitly spoken of attraction and a desire to initiate a sexual relationship before intimacy.

Is it wrong? Only if you think communication is strictly verbal. But there are fifty kinds of non-verbal signals that are freely given. Spending more time exclusively with someone, standing closer to them than others, casual affectionate physical touch not shared with others... it all communicates consent in a language beyond words and paves the way for more.

But there are far more mundane reasons for blurred consent. Refusals that have nothing to do with sexual willingness, but are related to other factors - for example, tired - which often change with seduction. Or a risk of discovery - which can change a refusal into flat out excitement for some, depending on how aroused they are. They can also be deeply distressing, even with a regular and beloved partner if a woman does not find the risk of discovery exciting.

Whether to persuade and get a phenomenally hot sexual experience or to respect an area of discomfort? This needs education on sensitivity and communication that cannot be plastered over with "no is no".

Traditional and biological sexual factors add confusion

Then there is a further complication. Sexually, men often enjoy the "chase" and women often enjoy being overruled on consent - when they feel safe. That men enjoy the chase shouldn't be that hard to infer from the very troublesome manifestation of sexual harassment. It is predatory behavior. The harassment is where women are clearly not on the same page - because women do require to establish trust and a catcall or grope isn't exactly it. There are a few women who feel flattered by catcalls even if they would not admit it openly. The feeling of being publicly desirable. They often are also those who place high value on male approval overall. While they may not openly enjoy it, you can get that insight in indirect ways - for example when they speak of disparage women as someone who wouldn't turn heads or wouldn't be harassed or molested or raped because they aren't attractive, etc. Where they clearly see unsolicited approaches as a mark of desirability, even though respectability demands that they cannot be known to enjoy it.

I once knew a girl nicknamed Sexy in our friends circle and while she acted all protesting about a nickname that sounded like a sleazy catcall, she would be the one to tell people who didn't know what her nickname was!

There is also a fundamental difference in how men and women interpret intimate conversations that create misunderstandings. Men generally do not speak of intimate physical experiences with the ease women do. Just look at the number of open discussions about menstruation or female sexuality on social media and compare them with how many times you have seen men talk about their penises at all. Men reserve personal talk to extremely confidential relationships - if they talk about intimate issues at all. An intimate subject being discussed conveys extreme trust to men, while women happily talk about intimate subjects even on public forums.

Very often a woman's candid talk can imply an intimacy she does not mean to men, particularly men who are not very familiar with casual interaction with women and don't know that this is normal for women. Something I always advise inexperienced young women is to not share one on one conversations involving features of your/his body with men you aren't interested in. It doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to you. Of course, there will be individual exceptions, but the norm is broad enough to be useful insight.

A verbal refusal or protest can come from anywhere from an actual refusal to hesitation to commit to stating desire. And there can often be contradictory messages in behavior, with the non-verbal message often being the more accurate of the two.

Some women fantasize about being overpowered

One of the strongest endorsements of consent comes from BDSM, which allows for a safe word to call a halt to the sexual activity - ironically, often criticized for "cruelty". And the safe word actually can allow for erotic sexual play that involves refusing sex and the refusal being overruled if the safe word is not used. How could enslavement, pain being inflicted be desired? Obviously, the consent being explicitly moved to the safe word ensures that this isn't rape, but it definitely is rape fantasy if the play explores areas of consent being overruled.

Increase of women viewers of porn and a lot of outspokenness about porn and terms like feminist porn coming up have not led to any discernable change in standard porn content. So the increased number of women appear to be fine watching erotic content that is criticized from a feminist perspective for being disrespectful about women? For objectifying them, for not holding consent in higher esteem? Women too watch that and get off on it?

Actual research done in this area (led by a woman) shows startling results: 52% of the women had fantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man: 28% - forced oral sex by a man: 16% - forced anal sex: 24% - incapacitated: 17% - forced sex by a woman: 9% - raped by a woman: 9% - forced oral sex by a woman. Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.

Does a woman's response to a dominating man convey mixed messages? Is it possible that men either instinctively or from experience experiment with overruling consent as a part of sexual play? It certainly seems possible if one were to look at such data. There is plenty more research on rape fantasies, for the interested. No point derailing into all that. Particularly since fantasies are not consent for reality.

The man must be made aware of an unambiguous refusal

In my view, because of all these reasons, it is not enough to say "no" and pretend sexual interest did not happen, there is a need to ensure that the "No" is communicated. A man must be made aware of an unambiguous "no" and women must be educated about conveying it. Being willing to a point and then refusing, only to capitulate with some persuasion makes it very difficult to differentiate between a refusal that is momentary and overcome with persuasion and an actual refusal with further sex happening against the consent of the woman.

A common reason to capitulate is because the woman values the presence of the man in her life even though she doesn't want sex. She doesn't want him to turn to someone else. Sad though it may be, it is a hard choice, but a choice must be made with responsibility. Agreeing to sex but holding it against him is not ethical. It is also important to understand that once the genie of sex is out of the bottle, your relationship is not going to return to the comfort zone easily - if at all ever.

Not so hard to understand if men and women are BOTH people

Let us reverse the roles for a bit to make it easier to understand. If men seem more eager than women to seek sex, women can want sex for far longer than men, because biology. Women do pressurize no-longer-interested men into sex. Is a man who grumbles about it after being seduced into participating again a rape victim? Technically, yes. If we are talking of consent as a moment by moment thing where changing your mind on sexual interest is a right, a man who rolls over and falls asleep should be protected from the still horny woman.

In reality? It will be quite a few nights like this before a responsible lover learns to get his partner off first before racing for the finish line or the woman learns to insist on it. Without that pressure, he will never learn. In any case, a man can't be raped as per Indian law. He is this mythical creature who always wants sex, so there is no question of lack of consent - and countless relatively inexperienced partners of sexually active women will attest to the fact that they do get pushed beyond their comfort zone. If a woman is under social pressure of the male gender, the man's entire masculinity and existence as a man can be at stake in such moments. A man who can't "perform" on demand is a most embarrassing thing in terms of social conditioning.

A rather headstrong teenager slapped her lover awake when he fell asleep after climaxing while she was still horny and frustrated. Embarrassed at having fallen asleep and intimidated by her fury, he fumbled his way through that night and broke off with her the next morning, by which time she was horrified and embarrassed by her own behavior. "You can't force me" were his exact words, repeated over and over through the conversation.

She kept apologizing and begging him to forgive her. She had thought he had lost interest in her - as in he dumped her after sex. It was rape all the same - technically. A more humane term would be a learning experience for both of them. Neither of them were aware of crucial factors beyond their own experience. The girl didn't have an idea that men can need temporary time out after a climax. The man was not aware that women climax at all.

If a horny and clueless teenager can do this, an adult experienced woman can definitely pressure a man into "performing" beyond his endurance with a lot more expertise and knowing exactly how to do it. Not all men have the sexual resilience or skill to ensure that a woman also finds each sexual encounter satisfying. Till they learn, it can be extremely high pressure to deliver sex long after they have maxed out or more often than they are sexually able. One day it will make them better lovers. Or it may simply lead to a horrible sexual relationship they hopefully escape some day.

If we insist on reluctant agreements under pressure being up for evaluation as rape in hindsight, then we have to begin with the ethical stand that men too can be raped in this manner - are we willing to do that? Is it ethical to consider consent under pressure as rape only for women? Also, is it correct to blame a man for rape if there is consent under pressure even, unless there is an explicit threat or unfair pressure knowingly applied by the man? Can a man know all the factors that will run through a woman's mind before she agrees in order to know that the consent is not freely given?

There has to be some point where we have to take consent/participation at face value and it is the responsibility of each person in an adult interaction to make their peace with their choices. And to give consent with awareness of its implication and refuse it if not okay with it.

Saying NO and making it stick

Both men and women would be served better by widespread awareness of tools like safe words and emphatic "NOs" without mixed messages - where a refusal is a flat out refusal and no persuasion is welcome that leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation. This is important for both responsible adult communication as well as practical safety for women.

To say no, but continue other intimate touching, or remain accessible for further touch or escalate "I really like you, but..." type emotionally laden conversations, sends a mixed message that is very commonly interpreted as yes. If that is your intention, fantastic. I encourage you to attempt an eager "yes", because any responsible lover will wait for you to get there. If you are undecided, it is better to voice that and explicitly state a temporarily refusal or "find out as we go along" type consent so that the man knows to check for your comfort, than give mixed messages that can take the situation outside your comfort zone rapidly or to blindside with a refusal. This is the honest communication - stating your status clearly. Of course, if you've been yes till something turns you off, blindsiding cannot be helped.

The most important thing to educate people on is that they are not responsible for disappointing those interested in them gently at the cost of their own well being. If they are not interested in being intimate with someone, it is best to do a flat out NO. Alternative intimacy will neither satisfy an interested wo/man, nor will it convey a refusal. It will convey that you are interested in them, not yet enough for sex, but you're open to possibilities. Such possibilities will almost inevitably be explored, because such is the nature of horniness - it seeks a climax. Ironically, the chances of getting consensually laid in the future improve vastly in borderline situations if you can disengage and take care of your horny solo without imposing it on anyone before they are ready.

A person coerced into sex against his/her will has been wronged. But it does not follow that the wrong was deliberate unless that is also established. Sometimes bad judgment is just that. Sucks and wrong, but not a crime.

Nothing short of a climax satisfies a horny person. If that is not what you want, the best and kindest thing you can do for all concerned is to flat out refuse and stop all interaction. If you are not able to do this, you need to ask yourself what you are achieving by prolonging the risk.... and address it appropriately rather than slide into compliance. It is appropriate to be hostile instead of placatory when you want to push someone away. The fewer grey areas in such refusals, the fewer the mixed messages.

If there is structural or social power being exploited to take coerce someone, then the process of "NO" must also involve informing the structure of the exploitation of the power granted by it. Whether it is informing an organization about the inappropriate advance or a friend's circle about the camaraderie of a trusted group being misused to prey on someone. This vastly reduces the pressure on the target. It also allows for protective actions by others, like ensuring that the two are not left alone.

This needs to be a part of sex education.

apologies for the long read - it is a rough chapter from a book I'm writing. Was not able to shorten it gracefully.

3

Season for questions on how to deradicalize Muslims. Later there will be a season on how to deradicalize Hindus (like much later, five years later). Answer is the same. Treat them the same. Respect them as people. Disagree with ideas, not hate identities. Golden rule of debate is there for a reason. It allows for dialogue without violence. Isn't that what society needs? For communities to be able to interact without violence and be able to negotiate differences?

Actions that are inappropriate can be changed. Identities cannot. If your laughing when I am in pain hurts me, you could try not laughing when I cry. But if your existing at all bothers me, then there is no end to this problem.

This is as much a suggestion to Islamophobics as it is to the anti-Hindutva fringe. Hate actions as much as you want. Be willing to accept that there is more to people than simply what you have chosen to notice and detest.

Be inclusive, treat people with equality rather than a default of mistrust or singling out for extra pity just because of surname or looks or religion. It is hardly as though we like everything about people like us either.

Alienation is the biggest reason for groups of people to break off. We can blame them for it and claim ourselves to be better or we can make the alienation less likely and make everyone safer.. Do not hurt or hate anyone you have not witnessed doing you wrong specifically as opposed to belonging to some community.

There I said it. The big elephant in the room which we prefer not to address because it doesn't give us a psychological high of "holier than thou".

When the email about Tejpal's recusing himself from his job for six months leaked, I took it at face value and was angry with Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhary. Shoma's refusal to form a sexual harassment committee whipped it into fury. There was no way that a sexual harassment committee was not required.

Then, the narrative evolved, and the clamour for an FIR, using the emails as proof happened. Goa police filed an FIR on their own and came to Delhi. This seemed to overrule the victim's wishes on the matter, and no way was that a good idea in my eyes.

Yesterday, the narrative has avalanched into something that needs to be questioned. There are too many gaps, too many things going on under the cover of "supporting the victim". It reminds me of that scene from Face Off. That wonderfully surreal fight scene with an audio track with a child's song. I have questions. In no particular order.

Letter by Shoma Chaudhary including forward of Tarun Tejpal's letter

  1. The letter was leaked as soon as it was sent on the 20th November 2013. I had taken this to be an indicator of how much it outraged the staff, but considering the number of leaks littering this case, I am no longer sure. Was this letter made public because it established something evidence of the case up to that point didn't and there no longer was a need to wait for Tejpal to incriminate himself? Possibly that the SMSes were not explicit in establishing what happened between them? This isn't to blame the victim. I'd probably try and trap a guy who wronged me into confessing and nailing himself squarely. And after all, this was an organization that elevated stings to a whole new level of truth telling.
  2. The letter is an astonishing admission of guilt, even if it does not mention the specifics of the case - which couldn't possibly remain hidden after the bombshell of Tejpal "recusing" himself. Neither Shoma Chaudhary nor Tarun Tejpal are idiots or ignorant of processes of justice, and it is rather unbelievable that they did not realize that these emails would be seen as an acceptance of guilt. I don't imagine that either of them would have done this without feeling confident that the victim would not be pursuing a police case (at that point, everything was still within the organization and the victim was refusing to file an FIR). What or who convinced them that an admission of guilt was in their best interest?

Please note. I don't believe Tejpal is innocent at all. My question is, how did someone this entrenched in crime journalism write an admission of guilt? This does not look like a cover up, regardless of media hysteria. More importantly, to me it points to some input from somewhere (clearly not the victim, who was not satisfied) that accepting guilt was the right way to go for someone accused of rape.

I also don't believe Tejpal gave enough of a damn about Shoma's feminist beliefs that he would incriminate himself for them. So there is something else here that has not been leaked. Whether it has an impact on the "facts" of the situation as we know it is anyone's guess.

I also don't believe the "hindsight" theory some seem to be inventing - that he apologized first and then decided to call it consensual. Any criminal's first instinct is to deny the crime - particularly one with guaranteed difficult consequences. That the founder and editor of a magazine routinely delving into and exposing strategies of crime was so innocent that he didn't consider it is too much for me to believe.

Letter by Tehelka rape victim to Shoma Chaudhary

Now this one is even more interesting. This is the magic letter that has allowed suo motu cognizance by the Goa police, National Commission for Women and every third handle on Twitter.

  1. The letter was written by the victim informing Shoma Chaudhary of the actions of Tarun Tejpal. It was copied to three of the victim's friends who she had confided in along with a comment that Shoma could contact them for any clarifications she saw necessary. A strange way of putting it, since the three knew what she told them anyway. Regardless of the odd way of including them, they were included in what was basically the victim's letter of complaint to an office senior that made accusations Tejpal & Co are extremely unlikely to want public. The other three were supposedly the victim's friends standing by her staunchly. Yet the email was leaked. Who leaked it?
  2. The email was leaked without redacting the victim's name. Was this intentional? What was achieved?
  3. While not impossible, I am having trouble visualizing a situation where a person engages in sexual aggression while steadily multitasking enough to be pressing lift buttons continuously, or that a reluctant and/or struggling woman would be divested of her undergarment, attempted oral sex with AND penetrated with fingers in the time a lift took to come down two floors, since it seems even more improbable to achieve with one hand busy with lift buttons. I am not saying the victim is lying and Tejpal may very well have done something else to delay the lift, but it sounds quite rapid for the short time span as well as reluctance claimed as described. Besides, a rapid violation is no less a violation.

Leaky letters

This scandal is littered with leaked letters.

  1. Tejpal's "recusing" letter forwarded in Shoma's letter.
  2. Victim's email to Shoma
  3. Tarun Tejpal's email to victim
  4. Tarun Tejpal's email to his friends
  5. Victim's email to Shoma

How are these leaks happening?

Shoma and Tejpal have nothing to gain and everything to lose, including their organization (if we go by predictions of the end of Tehelka with this) by contents of at least some of these letters going public. The victim or her wellwishers would not want her name leaked. It would be very easy to edit out or use a pseudonym *before* it went out of hand and appeals to public were needed. So who else has access to these emails, who may be fine throwing both Tejpal and the victim to the wolves?

But more interesting than the emails leaked are the emails not leaked. We have no sense of Shoma's response to the victim - for example. Which makes me wonder whether that is because she didn't use email to respond or she isn't relevant to the goal of the leaks, or she didn't say something that would incriminate Tejpal leaked or she said something that couldn't be presented as "Tehelka trying to silence the victim"?

About the last, there seems to be a general consensus that Tejpal/Tehelka are trying to silence the victim without any specifics on why that is so. There is no evidence that the victim is getting silenced or prevented from seeking justice in any manner. In fact, there is an abundance of support for the victim seeking a more severe method of justice. A visit by a member of Tejpal's family to her results in a press statement about it that talks of apprehensions of what could be - let alone being unable to act freely on what is. She has achieved one of the most impossible things on the internet. Remaining anonymous even after identity has been leaked by a political+celebrity proile with 40,000 followers, with hundreds of people chasing down any mentions on her behalf and getting them removed. Leaks are manifesting to strengthen her case even as she pleads that her emails not be leaked. What part of this is sounding like anyone is silencing her? So where is this being manufactured?

Threat perceptions

There have been unusual mentions of inexplicable threats in this scandal. There are those that make sense - for example the victim's email to Shoma speaking of expecting to lose her job, feeling scared and so on. Completely natural for a victim to feel.

And then there are these: Victim spoke with media yesterday claiming to be pressured and intimidated by a member of Tejpal's family visiting her mother asking her to protect Tejpal and asking for information about the legal help the victim was receiving and what she wanted from the investigation. Sounds like intimidation aimed to silence the victim, particularly if you read "reports" of it instead of the statement only. Except an update on Facebook by Kavita Krishnan well after the supposed visit of this intimidating person states emphatically:

The complainant in the ‪#‎Tejpal‬ case is neither isolated nor pressurised, on the contrary she is in close consultation with several lawyers and activists whom SHE chose to reach out to. She's the one who resisted any pressure and came forward and complained. If you ask me, I'd love an FIR to be filed and Tejpal jailed. But we respect this woman very much, and she knows we'll stand by her no matter what her decision. I'm not in the business of coercing her or rushing her. The real and sole evidence is her word, not CCTV footage - and no one is going to wipe that out. If she decides to file an FIR or to cooperate with the Goa police FIR that's great. But if she decides that a properly constituted Vishakha enquiry is what she wants, keeping the FIR option open for later, we should respect that decision. I and other activists are waiting patiently for her to arrive at a decision and issue a statement, and I would urge others to do the same, instead of assuming she's a helpless 'victim' or that we are evil feminists misleading her. In fact it's Tejpal's pals who are spreading that we the activists are 'misguiding' her - precisely because we are there with her as the strongest and most solid support there is.

This could possibly be related only to denying that activists are pressuring her, and may not apply to Tejpal's relative who visited her mother, but an "unnamed source" (God. This case is full of concealed sources of relevant information) clarified that the person to visit the victim's mother was the person who had unconditionally supported the victim and confronted Tejpal out of anger on the victim's behalf (something the three friends she confided in did not seem do). In that context, how threatening does her asking about legal help the victim is seeking or what she wants from the investigation sound?

Perhaps it still is threatening. Or perhaps the victim is spooked and naturally feels apprehensive of a family member of Tejpal approaching her mother. But there are others feeling the threats too.

For example, Shoma Chaudhary asking a reporter (Aditya Raj Kaul) who asked her a question his name had him wondering on Twitter whether she was threatening him.

There is the "threat" of Shoma Chaudhary stating that there is another side to the story. I mean whoever would have thought that a story has any side except the one in media? Of course it has to be a threat if she says Tejpal has his version. I really don't buy this paranoia, but it is in dozens of articles.

Niti Central goes ahead and states that the sexual harassment committee would be an act of vengeance against the victim (who is the one who wanted it - Tehelka didn't actually have one till outrage on the victim's behalf forced them) complete with a script of the kind of things that would be said so that the victim would be intimidated into silence.

The CCTV question

Goa police said they would examine the CCTV footage of the hotel. On the 22nd, they said that the hotel had not yet given them the footage.

Also on the 22nd, Tarun Tejpal's press release urged that the CCTV footage of the hotel be examined and released to establish what had happened.

A day later, Goa police say that they have no CCTV footage from inside the elevator where the alleged assault took place.

Now, the million dollar question is whether Tarun Tejpal knew that there was no footage before demanding that the footage be examined, or whether the Goa police "failed to get footage of the inside of the elevator because there was no camera in elevator" after Tarun Tejpal asked for it to be examined.

Stray tweets on Twitter seemed to think Times of India has footage from the CCTV showing Tejpal pulling victim into elevator. If that is so, it will be yet another leak of evidence to media.

The Political angle

This case sees the right wing once again a champion of human rights, which means they are accusing the left wing of sabotaging the interests of the victim. The usual. Most likely dictated by the routine hyperbole, particularly with elections coming up. For example, BJP affiliated accounts have consistently given the most paranoid explanations of what is happening and insisted on FIRs to the point of their National Spokesperson pointing out in front of media that as per the new law, sexual assault was a crime against the state. Which probably means that victims of sexual assault have an obligation to suffer additional trauma in order for the state to get justice against the crime committed against it, if a suitable political party decided it should be so.

BJP is all over this case to the point of wondering how and where it fits after wanting nothing to do with Tehelka all these years. It is Madhu Kishwar who openly tweeted the victim's name (other than a few handles with negligible followers). She brazened it out by claiming that she had seen the name being openly used in many places, which wasn't true.

ABVP supporters held protests outside the Tehelka office, there were whispers of stones thrown at Tarun Tejpal's house. The Chief Minister of Goa who has spectacularly failed to arrest the accused in the assault of a Nigerian that gave him serious head injuries, sent police from Goa to Delhi after filing an FIR, though it was hardly any time since he had said he couldn't do anything unless the girl complained. This is in addition to countless statements by party leaders. The loudest noises that an FIR should be filed regardless of the victim's wishes comes from the BJP as well.

And while it isn't uncommon for BJP to pick a trending cause, particularly if it involves targeting someone they already hate, it is hardly any specific interest in law and order or even the victim's rights, which are basically props.

Overall trend is that the BJP (who hasn't forgotten the stings that stung) is the most critical of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury. Congress leaders are cautious but certain that more information and investigations are necessary. AAP seems to have commented cautiously, praising Tejpal's stepping down while Other leaders have given statements to media on the subject that are more cautious, endorsing the victim's rights and offering solidarity.

So what is really happening here?

I have no idea, but whatever it is has Tejpal neatly caught where he can't escape (which is probably a good thing) and is riding roughshod over the victim (which is probably a bad thing).

My current conclusions on the Tejpal scandal

I have no doubt that Tejpal is in the wrong. ALL options point there including Tejpal's own confessions.

I am not sure Shoma Chaudhary is guilty. She seems upfront when speaking, if a little defensive - which is likely the stress more than guilt. Her explanation for the email that broke the scandal makes sense. She was beginning to deal with this, and taking charge seemed the first step. There is no reason to disbelieve her, particularly since she has been doing the right things one by one. I am a little disappointed that she didn't stick with her stand of not cooperating with an FIR against victim's wishes (which was a stand I respect particularly for the high stress circumstances it had to be taken in), but from what I hear, victim herself is cooperating with it, so no reason for Shoma to not do so either.

No matter which way you look at it, Tejpal looks like a goner. At best - even if his every claim of innocence is true, he engaged in an unprofessional "liason" with a junior colleague, which is usually understood to be exploitative due to unequal power involved. Rohan Joshi nailed it - unequal on gender, power and age. More likely, he engaged in a crime that has the least punishment as 10 years and technically, he seems to qualify. It is another matter if our judges see it as fair to destroy the life of a member of the precious male sex over something like this, though thankfully, the media spotlight may make upholding the law more likely at least.

I am not sure what other forces and agendas are influencing the tip of this iceberg that is visible, but I'm fairly certain that confessions and apologies would not be possible without considerable confidence that the victim was not going to use them in court.

The victim's wish for Sexual Harassment Committee has been successfully bypassed, whether the farce ends now or later. With the Goa police filing an FIR, there remains no reason for Tejpal to cooperate and every reason for him to not cooperate considering any admission, apology or regret before the SHC will get used against him in court. So it is a matter of time before the penny drops.

Will Tejpal go to jail? My gut feel is no. Should he? Hell yes, but my guess is that once the elections are done, this story will die out, and the victim will be left floundering to find her way with far less power at her fingertips.

Also looking at the news this case came and wiped out of people's attention. And other factors.

In my view, this case has been compromised by political agendas to the point of it being a second exploitation of the victim. Brand new impeccable moral stands still smelling of paint have been whipped up on display for this case, while anything before and since seems to not exist. Check out the contrast with the story of sexual harassment in the Supreme Court, which actually had serial PIL filer and creep extraordinaire, advocate M L Sharma (of the Delhi Gang Rape comments outrage) filing a public interest litigation against newspapers for giving voice to the victim - and it does not appear to have struck very many people as a silencing of the victim by powerful people. Instead, media has meekly ignored the story for the most part.

The message is crystal. Tejpal is a unique person doing an unbelievably heinous crime that has no precedent or comparison and what he has done is so unbelievably dangerous that unless we overrule the victim's insipid ideas of justice that don't put him in jail for a decade right now, no telling what he will do next.

Just like every media tamasha.

Yawn.

I support whatever the victim wants. Everyone else can fuck off.

And a part of me worries about the journalists at Tehelka who have done nothing to deserve this.

This post is based on a long series of tweets and conversation on Twitter based on yesterday's article about how there is disproportionate paranoia about safety of women at the hands of Govindas participating in the dahi handi.

India has lost touch with what celebrating Indians sound like till it is all a rowdy threat. Sad that men being loud is seen as a threat.

There are no news reports with dahi handi and molestation/harassment. Over years too. While not reporting routine harassment is common in India, there appear to be no incidents serious enough to be reported at least. Which is more than what can be said about routine days. So if women give dahi handi some special exemption that they don't give world cups and ganesh visarjans (which have abundant reports of molestation) they have to stop and complain. Your safety cannot be considered under threat if no threat to it is reported. Or you have to face that there is relative safety for women that we refuse to recognize in favor of a paralyzing paranoia of claiming public space (while also lampooning anyone who tells them to be careful).

Ganesh visarjan, yes. Drunk and disorderlys in processions are commmon. Holi too. In contrast, dahi handi is a fairly safe crowd by virtue of highly disciplined activity, standing audience (as opposed to anonymous passings). Highly recommend that all the women who get harassed please file complaints with name of group (conveniently printed on clothes and truck). Staying home because Govindas harass is no answer, even if there were countless reports (which is NOT the case).

One person on Twitter reported an attempt by some drunk Govindas to harass a woman in an auto with him, and he and the crowd at large intervened. Hardly the picture of rowdy crowds groping at women unchecked. Does not appear to have succeeded or a police case filed.

BTW, what about women in audience cheering and whistling at Govindas? I know several who do it. Done it myself. Also danced to band baja. For that matter, I also enjoy Ganesh visarjans, though girls do get targeted by drunks then. Still, the dancing is good fun. Wait. worse. I have unashamedly looked at virile male bodies demonstrating their physical ability. Shouted comments. Dang. Imma hooligan 😀 Wondering how I can curb these immoral tendencies. Wait. I'm a woman. Flaunting my boldness is hep. Thank God. I would hate to be a man and guilty by default if my acting freely offended someone.

I just want to state that men being hooligans is their freedom of speech as long as they don't assault / vandalize. Loud is free speech too. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Govindas behave any differently among themselves or with male only crowds. Are we saying that they cannot be themselves among women? Then why do we fight for the right of women to be themselves?

At this rate, "public opinion" will have all lower class men evicted from public space unless they can keep their head down and not offend, because what we consider civilized are traits of another identity, not moral character. Going by my mentions on Twitter, the world should be a sterile place with no high passion seen in public for fear of offending. Bah. Noise is life.

It is based on the assumption that the non-lower-class men are angels. 😛 ~ @wabbster

No evil happens in AC places. It seems to be a modern belief. Our subtle class prejudices and paranoias.

When 1 is loud it encourages the performer and it also helps the cheerer to De-stress. 1 should not keep their emotions bottled up ~ Satish Nair

Women get harassed? Sure. Fight it (Thrash the harasser, ideally, but that's just my opinion). How does it help women to keep pointing out shadows to jump at? How does it help to create such an overwhelming perception of persecution that women avoid exerting their rights for fear of being harmed?

Is it even possible to regiment an entire population into standard behavior so that women can live without fear? You can't coddle someone into power. Support. Women have to exert rights and expect support with problems not stand back because threatened. Go, exert your rights. If there is a problem, fight it, fix it using your rights. Your right. Not your right that people design a world to your needs. That is just a sense of entitlement. Complain of hooligans on street. Complain if anyone tells says stay home. Moral of story? Regiment all men so you can walk comfortably? What was our response to criticism of women wearing certain clothes that some found offensive?

Nor is it empowering for women to see something that is normal for men as a threat if they hope to function well among them.

@my2bit: @Vidyut so you are saying ‘men will be men’ what can v do?

No. I'm saying women must be people first. Not waiting for a perfect world to then enter safely that ignores the freedoms of others in it. Attack and fight and fix anything that gets in the way. But you can't de-legitimize normal behavior of people because you fear a threat.

@sirensongs: @vidyut the sheer testosterone level is anti-woman.

I don't understand why this has to be so. I find the male shows of physical skill very attractive. Heck even frogs croak to attract potential mates. It is an instinct! No one is forcing the woman to like it! I think people accept this better when discovery channel explains it. We are not used to experiencing and knowing for ourselves anymore.

Women seek permanence, men get itchy. Men act rowdy, women get offended. We must accommodate and accept the other as long as no harm. We can't really expect both genders to be identical. Much of our thinking may use modern styles, but is rooted in really primitive instincts and has worked for a long time, if you look at the world population. It makes sense to seek greater freedoms for all, but it does not make sense to restrict freedoms of some just because others don't have many freedoms. And who knows if women wouldn't "naturally" be "rowdy" on the streets? When have we given them the freedom to act without care in public? How do we know whether it is really women hating loud men or women so deeply conditioned against loudness as wrong that they fear it in another?

"I really want to watch dahi handi but the crowd..."

Well it is your right to watch if you want and challenge anyone who prevents it. If you don't avoid a situation where you have to exert it, you can hardly blame the world for "not allowing" you a freedom you didn't even need.

No one can ever promise perfect safety. At best, you will find protectors and supporters and the law of the land punishing those who harm you. If you risk, they could help, or you may have to pull through on your own resources. If you don't risk, you can hardly blame them for your lack of initiative.

Be it caste, class, gender whatever. It is really sad that we patronize and isolate to protect instead of endorsing claim on common space.

Girls Dahi Handi

Why do I need a man to give me my rights? I do what I want as my right. I ask for help if I run into problems, sometimes I get defeated, but I am resilient and I am determined to chase my potential. I exert my rights as far as I can push them. That makes me powerful. Many men don't manage that for themselves. What will they grant me?

Your right to be safe does not exist if you abdicate and hide it rather than demand it when your safety is at risk. Though you may be safe. Right to not be harassed comes into question only if you get harassed, not if you curb your freedoms before the question arises. A right does not exist if you don't use it. If you telling me to shut up makes me shut up, my right to free speech is dead from disuse.

Face it, public space is dominated by men and they have no "responsibility" to play hosts to women. The world ain't a massive hospitality industry. Men have their own struggles and problems to fix too. And even if they did, if they "played fair" and shared nicely and all, women would still end up guests/outsiders, being granted rights by someone else who controls them. Claim. Expecting someone else to do it will never give you ownership of them. Like this, women are already a vote bank waiting for sops. Fastest way to compassionate enslavement. Astonishing no party has picked this up. You can't really expect women's rights to be controlled by someone else hand handed over safely.

Nor can women claim space by looking at things to be offended at and blaming men for them. Won't work beyond speeches and Twitter. At some point, women have to grab and run. At some point, women must be able to wade right in risks and all and claim the world as theirs. Living their rights instead wishing for them.

Fighting for rights is one thing, but for practical living, you need empowered women who will exert those rights. You can't coddle them. Women have to be providers (and inventors :p) of own rights, not consumers of rights provided by someone else & bad service means no rights.

That's right. We won't survive if we play the damsel-in-distress. Best to go out there and take care of yourselves. Gender equality. ~ Esha Shah

And for all the bad rep India has, I can personally attest that it is possible for a young woman to live bold, solo, safe (even if worried).

The World Cup win had reports of molestation, harassment, rape within hours. Dahi Handi has none in years. So dahi handi is more dangerous. You go to the World Cup safely, I'll be really brave and risk the sweaty masses on the street.

8

Dear Mrs Dixit,

I have read your comments on the Delhi gangrape. I applaud your honesty in admitting failure, in admitting the dangerous condition of Delhi for women and your determination that there must be change. In a more cynical mood, I think that it is easy for you to make these admissions considering that you are not in charge of security. However, you are in charge of the city and the mindset thriving in it makes this your responsibility, This also doesn't let you off the hook for other comments in the past.

However, this letter is about the future. You have mentioned in an interview that you have the intention to not sit idle and wait for security to happen, but to initiate a social drive to create a transformation in society. This is one of the wisest things anyone has said on the subject so far. I agree that this is the correct approach, and as a keen people watcher with an interest in women's rights, I have suggestions for transformation, if applied with integrity.

Most of the things on the table will not work. The buses and pubs are topical measures. Unless you plan to install CCTV cameras in fields and school toilets and turn the whole city into a super surveillance prison, this can't really starve rapists of locations or methods. Even as prison it will fail. This will strip the rights of the common man, which are already pretty shredded and encroached; lead to overall unrest.

Rapists don't see themselves as criminals till the need for a cover up. What happens to criminals will not deter them. Plus prosecution is lethargic and cops not interested in filing cases they can avoid. Harsh punishment for rapists won't fix the problem. There is a danger in creating laws in a moment of fury. Our country has a penchant for slapping laws onto things that can't be fixed by laws. And this is without our notoriously flawed witch hunt investigations and propensity to frame people. Irreversible punishments may just lay the brickwork for future disasters.

There is a process to rape. A rapist has a certain kind of thinking that allows the use or abuse of women sexually. Such a person finds an opportunity and a reason to do it. Then there is the victim. There are cops. The investigation. Judicial process. The judgment itself. Each of these can be improved. Lots of potential here if someone is serious about rolling up sleeves and getting to work. Most important is everything coming before the rape, because that can actually prevent it.

The opportunity and reason part of it is near impossible to prevent (and is Shinde's job anyway). Other things like police response and all will definitely help, but like you said, you can't do much about that beyond insisting, which you must.

In a normal society, there is a non-verbal contract of obeying laws, paying taxes and other duties in return for enforcement of rights, facilities that support and enhance living, protection from harm, etc. India is in a precarious position. People are experiencing that while they obey laws and pay taxes, and so on, they are not safer, they are finding living more difficult from inflation, unemployment, insecurity, whatever. There is dissatisfaction and very little awareness of equality.  It is every person for himself, with the sexually repressed environment demonizing sex, lesser chances of marriages, etc. The primitive chauvinistic culture has little in terms of legal oversight (possibly the price of vote bank politics).

Too much permissibility of subjugation of women has made their condition precarious. To add to this is a reinforcement of impunity for further humiliation of women with public figures making rabidly anti-women statements. Witness Nirupam's questioning of Smriti Irani's character. This is pretty much what every street thug does as he sizes up your breasts to grope on a bus. Big breasts is loose character, dancing is loose character, revealing clothes is loose character, late night on bus is loose character. The predator needs to find a way to turn his victim into a "bad person" in order to punish her with his actions, or he has to face that he is a demon (which no one does - everyone thinks of themselves as good people). Which is how Smriti Irani dancing is a reflection of her character, but hey Sunil Dutt or Govinda danced way more than her for far more money. But there is no utility in questioning their character.

This is further compounded by the Savitri and Sexy syndrome, where some women are objects of evil, while others are objects of innocence. So it is highly unpredictable who is a potential attacker till too late. Who knows who has what kind of hang up? So you had students protesting the rape of a student showing bangles to the police - as if it is an insult to be a woman. They used foul language about you or Sonia Gandhi - both women. Needless to say going among them without security is highly inadvisable for either of you, while the other "innocent" girls may do so without fear (unless they break another stereotype). It is not possible to go around analyzing every man. Nor is it appropriate to treat all men as potential sexual predators - the traditional line taught to unmarried girls in the hopes of keeping them away from men. Usually fails and leads to heartbreak or marriage or great/lousy sex. Hormones are a compelling influence no amount of moral policing can trump.

The need of the hour is a carrot - stick approach that keeps enough people in line that the rest can be fixed in other ways.

The carrots are the goodies. Increased acceptance of sex, propagation of ideas of sex as a natural and healthy thing, education on contraceptives, de-shaming sex, education on the paramount importance of consent as a part of sex (this also needs more solidly plugged into the laws and constitution), acceptance of sexuality, acceptance of sex professionals, industry (not exploitation), films and toys, and more. The more you can end repression of sexuality and make it easy and acceptable (as natural), the less likely it is to burst out in unpredictable, uncontrollable and devastating ways. Please note that this doesn't mean lowering the age of marriage. Sex and marriage need to be differentiated.

The sticks are the taboos. Enforcing laws is the biggest one. Creating public opinion on the unacceptability of sex without consent. Punishing every instance of demeaning women without discrimination (more below) by public figures or in media. Preventing exploitation in marriage, trade, whatever. The idea is to make these taboos so strong, that you have to be a really filthy creature to even think these things. Think of how well the church has done making homosexuality unthinkable. The pope is still fighting tooth and nail for his right to devastate lives. For a good cause, it could work brilliantly. Really heavy duty bombardment and relentless public opinion mongering. Religious leaders could be roped in to whatever extent they feel able to follow the laws of India.

The idea is the creation of a social environment where the laws matter. Here, your leaders and public figures are important. Visible role models upholding law will create a virtue out of that, visible role models insulting women will encourage the public to do similar. What is good/bad, acceptable or not, even which laws to take seriously and which ones to bend is often understood by watching what others are doing, and the references lie in the public space.

About the punishing of demeaning of women, it is actually written that it should be so. Another law enforced to manipulate people, but not protect them. It must be enforced. The women's commissions should be hauled over coals for not protecting women to begin with and then, if they repent, should be tasked with filing legal cases for offending the modesty of a woman for every single instance of victim blaming, character judgments, insulting comments about women, etc. Such people should be punished in courts or if they settle out of courts, one of the conditions must be a public apology that should be well covered in media. If the people receive it well, they are off the hook, or the case should go on.

Every single instance. be it a politician, a police officer, a judge, a school principal, khap panchayat - whoever, whatever. Regardless of political loyalties. The women's commission must not have any members who belong to political organizations or are related to politicians. Any of them not fulfilling these conditions must be replaced. Women's commissions should also alert appropriate authorities in the case of anyone in a tax funded job, so that appropriate action may be taken. Good idea for this could be fining half the salary for 6 months to fund women's rights initiatives. On an aside, a good person to have on a woman's commission is a blogger called Indian Homemaker. A superb and sensible warrior of human rights with an impeccable sense of what is fair. With no affiliations (that I know of) to make her judgment suspect.

The censor board must be hauled over coals for allowing content that promotes women as inferior and encourages subjugation. All the soap operas showing bold women as evil must be forced to rewrite scripts to be compatible with the message of equality in our constitution. Films with super hit songs (and stories) promoting sexual harassment must be forced to run captions that the action demonstrated in the film is actually illegal as per Indian law. "Good" women characters must be forced to comply with health weight charts. An underweight model must not be promoted as a role model, particularly in stories showing women of normal or heavier weights as stupid. "Good" characters must not exhibit a virtue of suffering abuse silently. On the contrary, they must fight abuse - against themselves at least, compulsorily. Challenging status quo must not be the sign of a bad character. Any "item numbers" projecting women as enjoying being touched by a crowd of men must have the actresses giving independent interviews disclosing if they really enjoyed being touched or would like to experience such a thing in real life. These interviews must be appended to the film in all future releases. Shows to focus on various aspects of women's rights to raise awareness must be designed. Tax exemptions must be given to films/books/content that promote healthy attitudes toward women.

I think this is a good laundry list to start with. Particularly important is the point about punishing public role models of humiliating women. I congratulate you on your healthy attitude to the problem, and I think you need not find yourself helpless. It will not be so difficult to change society if the people planning the change know what they are doing. Particularly for someone with the tremendous resources and reach of the state on their side. We stand by you, and hope that you come up with a model that can be replicated countrywide.

I would be happy to hatch more ideas with any team you have, if you find these useful.

Wishing you the best,

Vidyut