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It is clear that among the things done wrongly in the Tehelka scandal, some are obvious (like DO NOT RAPE), others have been discussed (Like DO NOT COVER UP A RAPE) and still more resulted from media failure in maintaining an objective view. These are largely unique to this case. Well, the rape is not such a unique thing in India, but the rest are unique to this case. I think wrong was done on several levels and I am trying to look at the larger picture in terms of what can be done to prevent these fails in our response to incidences like this.

Regardless of the media fury, custodial rape is not such an unprecedented thing and there is a need to realize that the cause of women does not get helped by insisting on treating someone as guilty on the basis of a word. Just like all crimes need proof, rape too should need proof. The norm for accepting a victim's word is important because rape being an intimate and often private crime, there is a need that suffering not be dismissed out of hand and that the victim receives a fair trial and support on the assumption that she will not lie about such a thing because of prevailing social conditions.

However, if what is a protective measure for the victim becomes a presumption of guilt for the man, we are creating dangerous precedents. In my view, believing the victim and extending all support to her is important. It is equally important that the right of any citizen, men included, to be innocent till proved guilty is respected - particularly by state and media, because their responses have the power to punish with broken reputations and destroyed lives well before the case reaches court.

For those who are looking at this incident as a new awareness of women's rights, I don't agree with you. The awareness may be where the light of media is shining, but I don't even think it is awareness about the victim's rights. People watching media are under the perception that this man is guilty. I will not fool myself that very many have bought into the principle of believing a woman on claims of rape, so I'm not going to imagine that anything has changed. And if it has changed and the masses at large realize that a woman accusing a man of rape will be believed by default to the point his reputation can be in shreds and he is arrested on a non-bailable warrant and sent to police custody for interrogation without the victim even filing a complaint, I don't imagine the resulting conclusions will do any favors to women, particularly in a misogynist society.

There is a difference between a presumption of truth for the victim's claims and the presumption of guilt for the one accused. Not only has the line been crossed repeatedly in the Tarun Tejpal case, there doesn't even seem to be a passing interest in finding out where it could be. In my view, several things were wrong with the response to the victim's accusations by Tehelka/Shoma, the government, the courts. The media court I have talked about so much, I am tired of talking about it.

Firstly, Shoma was not just wrong in refusing a sexual harassment committee in media - however briefly or however much she changed later. She was wrong from the word go, in unilaterally and privately managing the accusations. The sexual harassment committee should have been formed on receiving the letter and the committee should have been the one to decide whether an apology needs to be issued or Tejpal needs to step down or a police case needs to be filed.

In acting unilaterally to address the issue, Shoma not only created a perception of denial of justice, cover up and persecution in the victim, she harmed the interests of Tarun Tejpal by assigning guilt - without which the apology holds no meaning. Tejpal's interests were further harmed by him stepping down suo motto. Without his stepping down being required by either the victim or a committee, it appeared as an admission of guilt on a crime of massive proportions. All this could be avoided if proper procedures were followed or even if there was no sexual harassment committee, a group of seniors acting in a collective decision rather than something Shoma and Tejpal came up with on their own.

This may be something for organizations to take note of, because any kind of apology or punishment may not be a proof of anything, but it definitely creates a perception of guilt. Take for example the cases of sexual harassment in the Supreme Court, Dainik Bhaskar and other ones cropping up in media. While it cannot be denied that the BJP with its considerable power to command media and social media had a special grudge with Tehelka, the outrage has Brinda Karat and Arundhati Roy criticizing as well, who most certainly cannot be considered BJP stooges. So how is it that one case of molestation get so much attention without a case being filed, while other cases are filed and still there hardly seems to be a word of condemnation. Bhatia has not apologized or resigned or any such thing and the complaing against him is one of ongoing sexual abuse and threats to career. Sort of serial Tejpal. So why is there no anger? Because in public perception, it is an accusation that will go to court and so on. In public perception, Tejpal, in stepping down made an admission of guilt.

The Vishakha guidelines are for creating a process around addressing allegations, not only protecting victims. A proper procedure would have protected Tejpal's interest as well if he was innocent as he claims. Yet the guidelines are hardly followed by most organizations including Tehelka, Dainik Bhaskar and the Supreme Court. The Vishakha guidelines are only available in English. A glaring lapse that came to attention that took 15 years to be noticed. Genderlog India has now started a citizen volunteer project to translate the Vishakha guidelines into different languages. Do volunteer your efforts.

It is even more scary when the government is swayed by media hype into an action engineered by it. How many instances of crimes against women when the woman deliberately hasn't filed an FIR get picked up by the government? Why was a special case made out of this? It is not a matter of "high profile". The number of politicians alone who "outrage the modesty" of rape victims with character assassinations in media runs by the dozen every year. The number of blogs detailing sexual abuse vast and there is no action taken by the state. Police themselves convince victims to not file cases. And now apparently the state needs to file a case even when victim didn't want. The lack of uniformity of the response shows how the state is run by media. The Chief Minister of Goa had promised two arrests recently. The first was a rapist of a seven year old child, whom the child had identified. The second recent case where he promised action against proven crime was the group of political workers who thrashed a Nigerian badly enough to send him to hospital, serious with head injuries. Video footage should make it really easy for the assaulters to be identified. 53 Nigerians got booked for "hooliganism" none of the political workers got booked for an assault that put a man's life in danger. So yes, I totally believe that this case is not political and that Parrikar takes actions against any wrongs he spots. Right.

In a country where laws presume a woman to be speaking the truth on accusations of rape, it becomes important to not harm the chances of the accused in being innocent till proved guilty, or the laws will get resented, genuine distress will be dismissed as framing of innocent men and so on. We may be able to deliver to standards where an accusation of rape without proof can send a man to jail for ten years, getting the masses to see that as justice will not be so easy. Worse, high profile cases will create a spillover of perception about all accusations of rape that cannot be proved and get believed on the victim's word alone. It is already difficult for victims to get justice, what kind of very serious cover ups will happen to protect men from women with "unfair advantages"? When I went to file a police complaint for domestic abuse two years ago, the "man talk" in the station with my husband who had accompanied me was all about how nothing can be done if a woman "chooses to frame her husband". There was no complaint filed.

How long before accusations of rape go under that banner of "chooses to frame"?

A controversial provision to protect women being weaponized against an accused to destroy him without a trial is guaranteed to do more harm than good. The price will be a setback for the credibility of women when they claim to be abused. Without trivializing the trauma of any kind of abuse, the fact is that today, an elite woman was able to use a safeguard to bring her assaulter down without a trial, while for the common woman, the fact continues that she has trouble being believed unless she lands up in the hospital or morgue. In spite of filing a case, the Dainik Bhaskar victim has had no such belief invested in her accusations, even as two other women report the same exploitation of them by the same man. Harish Bhatia remains comfortably "unavailable for comment" with media not particularly bothered about the gravity of his actions. The NCW that is so concerned about the Tejpal case let Harish Bhatia's victim down without so much as a splash.

So let us not pretend that this is any moment of awareness of women's rights. Media choosing to magnify this case and present the accused as already guilty has led to *this* woman being believed when she claims an assault. Nothing has changed for women at large and if it has, it certainly has not changed for the better with an exhibition of what "a woman can do to a man" without trial - when it was in reality the media who did it. A media that has already dialed down the interest in this case and will move on, till it picks another woman out of the crowd to fight her case, as usual leaving the status quo for women at large undisturbed. This woman has a lot of well connected friends who may support her after the limelight moves on, but for all intents and purposes, the story is over. The media court has judged and moved on. The victim can fight her own war in a court of law indefinitely. A war she didn't want defending an accusation she hadn't put into words (rape). A war she cannot back off from now without appearing to be accusing falsely. A war that will require her to travel to a different state to fight - something her accused can do far more easily than her.

There is nothing more damaging to the cause of women's rights than hit and run feminists who grab a cause, rampage for vengeance and get distracted by the next glittery thing, dumping the war they magnified onto the victim's head, who will now have to deal with it on her own.

Sex sells. Media still treats rape as sex for this purpose. Sex sells even when it is simply saying rape is not sex. Get it?

What does it matter if the sheer magnitude of "outrage" has put 9 people out of jobs at the last count, counting resignations in protest (including victim) and Shoma and Tejpal stepping down. An organization is near collapse putting hundreds of jobs at further risk. And the case has not even reached courts.

This, to me is not feminism, but an exploitation of feminism for agendas against specific accused. An exploitation of feminism for media profits.

Extraordinary events ought to be documented somewhere, and when it comes to a media consensus, the secondary chroniclers of our era are bloggers. So I am looking at this moment in amazement where all of India seems to be in complete consensus on several things. This is pretty much the narrow band of reporting on the Tehelka Rape Case, which has my bull shit alarms blaring.

[Tweet "The narrow band of reporting on the Tehelka Rape Case has my bull shit alarms blaring."]

There is no doubt that if the incident happened as the victim says, and considering that Tejpal did not deny the details, it is rape. However, it is increasingly looking that the larger agenda is to destroy Tejpal rather than justice for a rape and this worries me, not because I have any love lost for the man, but because it threatens the livelihoods and work of many working at Tehelka who had nothing to do with the rape.

[Tweet "The #TehelkaRapeCase is full of anomalies and contradictions with our normal behavior."]

  1. A fleeting penetration by fingers is rape. That is what the law says. I agree completely with that. But the staunch insistence on it being an unforgivable sin, to the point of complete agreement across perspectives is something I am witnessing for the first time in all these years of speaking about women's rights. I would appreciate this agreement better, if the ones usually objecting to such definitions and pulling exceptions to argue rules weren't the ones with a grudge against tehelka. To understand what I mean, go back to the debates around the new law after the Delhi Rape case and see what many convinced of rape now had to say about a stricter definition of rape then. The most amazing part is not even the MRAs - who are practically guaranteed to argue the innocence of men are touching this one. If it is real, we can consider many problems on women's rights solved. Alas, I am not that gullible. This is a special case. Please note that I am saying it is rape - not defending Tejpal at all, but I am questioning the lack of the usual diversity of views seen.
  2. Who are the evil targets? Tejpal, Shoma and anyone famous who agrees with them in the least. This is a media war. Actual actions being similar to Shoma's is not a problem, as we see from the complete absence of questioning of the silence of the 3 colleagues the victim confided in - as long as they say and do the right things - which is accuse Tejpal of rape and anyone the least sympathetic to him of a cover up - which they did. So actual hiding of the crime for 10 days is not a problem for us. Some suggested it was probably out of respect for the victim's wishes. Strangely these are the same someones who demanded ignoring the victim's wishes when she didn't want an FIR.
    [Tweet "It is a media war. What you do is less important than who you criticize."]
  3. There is a calling out and shaming of people who invested in Tehelka. This, I don't see as relevant unless the target to bring down is Tehelka. I assume Tejpal did not require anyone to support his body parts while he raped if they had invested in his company. So when many news organizations go after that information anyway, I cannot help but assume that the news agenda is to find anything holes can be found in, rather than the rape alone. Which makes me wonder what else is going on.
    [Tweet "Is the target of media attention Tejpal as a rapist, or bringing down Tehelka?"]
  4. The same goes for the THINK festival company (I forget its name - in which Tejpal owns 80%, Shoma 10% and Tejpal's sister 10% - That one) I fail to see how it is relevant to the rape either.
  5. Deny *any* good done by Tejpal and anyone associated with him.
    1. Tejpal stepped down unconditionally. It wasn't like "I'll step down if you agree not to pursue this further" So while it is not the "atonement", it most certainly wasn't a limit imposed on the victim seeking justice. On the contrary, if the woman wanted to continue at Tehelka as she was urged, she would be able to not be threatened in her work environment at least initially till the situation evolved or resolved.
    2. Shoma at one point took a considerable risk under pressure to uphold the victim's wishes on the FIR by stating that she would refuse to cooperate unless the victim wanted it. For someone facing tremendous fire from all directions in addition to worries about survival of the organization, this was a very brave call courting further difficulty. She couldn't sustain it, and it didn't matter anyway since victim herself cooperated with the police.
    3. Tejpal's daughter is the only person apart from Shoma to confront Tejpal on the basis of the victim's reports. Both are demonized, while supporters of the victim are seen as those who hid the crime for 10 days and did nothing between the three of them to confront Tejpal privately either - if making a scene at the festival was a concern.
  6. Interpret facts to taste. Of the people who have resigned, one was known to have resigned at or before the festival, who is shown as resigning in outrage over this incidence - and she has spoken to media claiming this. Two others are among those who concealed the crimes for 10 days but have quit over how the victim was treated by Shoma. This is being presented as Tehelka employees leaving in outrage over how the victim was treated.
    [Tweet "A perception of abandonment of Tehelka is created. Why?"]
  7. This one won't come as a surprise. It is a staple of crimes against women and justice for crimes against women. Other than Tejpal, everyone else bearing the brunt of criticism is a woman. Shoma, women journalists at Tehelka being stalked by obscene trolls on Twitter, Tejpal's wife and daughters (including the one who spoke up for the victim). Ironically, the victim of the rape is among the women journalists of Tehelka who are getting trolled with rape taunts about her own rape by the right wing "saviors" of the same victim - probably since the victim's name being kept anonymous didn't tell them which woman to leave out of the abuse. Three men who let the victim remain in continued danger got a free pass.
    [Tweet "We are back to women being attacked in order to fight men."]
  8. Complete belief in the victim. I do think this is a good thing. It beats victim shaming any day, but again, this is not normal for India. In a country where the Delhi Gang Rape had a politician going "jab maryada ka ullanghan ho jaata hain to sita haran ho jata hain", there isn't anyone - no politicians, no policemen, no woman in some university - no one commenting on a rape that had a man single handedly overpowering a woman, partially undressing her, performing/attempting oral sex and penetration with fingers in the time it took for a lift to travel two floors. Not that a victim's account should be questioned publicly, but it is a departure from normal that not a single person has commented on it. We have even questioned accounts of victims who got physically overpowered and abducted and called them consensual, but not this. I don't watch TV, but yesterday, Alyque Padamsee got criticized for asking why the victim went into a lift. I will not presume to know what he said and I'm not going to defend it, but I can say for dead certain - call me a paranoid bitch if you want - but if I got raped in a lift the first time, I would damn well not enter it with the same person and no one else a second time. The victim may have had her reasons to do it, and she doesn't deserve to be violated in any case, but I did wonder in terms of how a woman can have so little self-preservation to enter the same situation as her rape with the same rapist within a day of the rape. While lack of self-preservation is also no excuse for a woman being violated, I am finding this unanimity of views rather unbelievable.
    [Tweet "Would you enter a lift with a person who had raped you in it on the previous day?"]
  9. Unprecedented crime. This rape seems to have become something of a unique thing, with regular leaks, "perfect" support for victim, vigilance against intimidation before it happens, you name it. Such care is most certainly not normal for our media either. Remember this is the media that goes informing neighbours of victim's rape to get good sound bytes. And yeah, the victim was a journalist in that example too, so not like this is how they are when they protect their own. Nor is this how media treats powerful men misusing their posts, because in what could have been a parallel scandal about the supreme court judge molesting an intern if it hadn't died in media consciousness, we know the name of the victim, but not judge. Just saying.
  10. And the killer anomaly. This is the only incident in my memory where both Arundhati Roy and Brinda Karat agree with the right wing. And don't underestimate Arundhati Roy's ability to be contrary. After the Delhi Gang rape, she was talking about class / caste bias in rape arrests.

[Tweet "The Tehelka Rape Case is an unprecedented unique event in crime against women in India"]

So yeah. This case is unique in inexplicable ways and urgent and important to do vengeance on the perpetrator in ways not found usually.

I will add any other points that occur to me later, but suffice it to say, the extremely narrow track of reporting with telling diversions does lend credence to Tarun Tejpal's claim of a conspiracy. What it is is anyone's guess, but this cannot be ethical.

What Tejpal did is most certainly wrong. This does not mean that what is being done to him is right.