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.