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It is over two months that Tarun Tejpal has been in jail for raping a woman who did not want to file a police complaint. His chargesheet keeps getting delayed, and so does bail. Since I have taken a lot of interest in how this is unfolding, I decided to follow up and I still think that this case is very, very .... strange.

For one, the victim did not file a complaint. What the victim did, was released a series of emails to the media, who published them without question. Then hopped in BJP's Social Media team, a parade of panelists where the "Tejpal" side was mostly token and largely booed out of the arena by well organized media. Extremely reasonable skepticism "Why did the victim get into the lift ith someone who raped her on the day before, the second time?" was met by well organized bullying. Apparently, one cannot expect aversion for the rapist or at least some wariness and if the rape victim is fine being with her rapist alone, who are we to comment on that? The image of Aditya Raj Kaul yelling at Shoma Chaudhary and openly insulting her on National media was something you don't see sane journalists do with the worst criminals. It wasn't reporting. It was a pure hate attack. Nice suggestion for the country to understand how to understand this case. Point out the outrage. Done.

The full horror of the case was discovered by us as a nation, at which point the Chief Minister of Goa had to take notice and the police machinery swung into action and the case dropped into oblivion as long as Tejpal made no move to get free.

Not having been in the lift with Tejpal and his victim, I am not going to comment on what "really" happened or not.

My issue continues to be with the completely unbalanced response to this case, which now has started looking a design - NOT by the victim, who may indeed turn out to be wronged at the end of the day.

Check out this second series of very low key developments. Tejpal's bail application was accompanied by a copy of an email the victim had sent his daughter after his daughter visited the victim's mother. This is the same visit that got a complaint of intimidation. However, the email thanks Tiya Tejpal for visiting the victim's mother and in fact, even acknowledges Tiya's concern that the victim may be getting bad advice and says that she needs time to process what has happened (apart from accusing Tejpal of sending emails to her father's friend claiming that what happened was mutual). The victim actually appreciates Tiya Tejpal for being there for her all through in that email.

The next morning, she calls this same visit intimidation and does a press release asking Tejpal's family to not contact her further.  Something clearly changed between Tiya Tejpal visiting a woman who was a close family friend and who had stayed at Tiya's place in Bombay and the next morning, when someone who had staunchly supported her even asking after her was labeled intimidation in front of the media.

This email pretty much put paid to the intimidation accusations and went completely unreported by media. Out of the blue, came a new intimidation accusation. From his Investigating Officer, Sunita Sawant this time. The strange part of this is that her reply to Tarun Tejpal's bail application makes no mention of intimidation. It was apparently simply claimed in court.... and to the real court - the media. Got widely reported - as did Tejpal's letter of denial. There is no other mention of Tarun Tejpal not cooperating all through. Not even with the media hunting for things to publish about him and finding all kinds of things.

Within a day of Tarun Tejpal's letter denying intimidation of Investigating Officer Sunita Sawant being released, there was a new accusation. Again intimidation. This time, the victim claimed that Tarun Tejpal's family was harassing her by sending an email with a photograph of hers. Tejpal has denied. Asked cyber cell to investigate. And so on. The Think Festival website must have got lakhs of hits in the wake of the festival, and the photo was right there on the front page. Probably because no one had realized a rape accusation would happen. It got taken off much later.

Anyone who knows the basics of "stealing" pictures to add to blog or tweets knows that anyone can copy images off the internet. There is no way a recipient of an anonymous email can know who sent it. So anyone could have sent it. Considering that this whole case was built with carefully crafted "press releases" that did not redact victim's name, so I am a bit skeptical of emails becoming public in this case. Right in time for a new accusation of intimidation.

So basically, a crazy accusation got a crazy response and we are sending the cyber cell investigating how a picture published publicly got circulated to people. Good luck finding that out. More importantly, there were several websites that published her photo. Many of them identifiable people, who can be proven guilty just sitting right here. Madhu Kishwar tweeted out her name. Scroll.in a site created by the founder of Kafila (also some history of hate with Tehelka)  published her photo, including the "intimidating" photo that got circulated way after everyone and his cousin into publishing knew that this was a rape victim and thus not ok to reveal. It has been taken down now. BreakfastNewsTV continues to have two of her photos in their coverage of the case. Nice profile shots, no blurring, no blacking out, nothing, which they haven't even taken down a week after photos got called as intimidation tactics. Identifiable people, organizations. No problem. Anonymous email becomes a new intimidation case against pet villain.

Funny part here is that the article on scroll.in quotes Kavita Krishnan, who had been among the victim's close "supporters". There is absolutely no way she could have missed it, since even if Scroll didn't give her a copy, her followers on Twitter and Facebook would be sure to tell her that an article quoted her and sent her links. That is how social media works, but apparently she too didn't have an issue with the photo till it was time for a new intimidation complaint, when an anonymous email gets attributed to Tarun Tejpal as soon as he denies an accusation of intimidation, which had come as soon as he had dented the previous accusation of intimidation.

On a side note, Kavita Krishnan also "helped" another victim who claimed to be brutally raped. In that case too, the rape victim's accusations were leaked to the media instead of filing a police case. Khurshid Anwar committed suicide. Tarun Tejpal is in jail for the last two and half months. Neither of their victims filed the FIRs and both the victim's accusations on email for one and tape for another got leaked to media. The accused in both cases were left wing intellectuals, both victims were actively engaged in women's rights - one as a journalist, the other as an activist  and right wing social media took up and ran with the accusations with no room for any questions, till suicide for one case, and jail for another.

Khurshid Anwar and Tarun Tejpal may both be guilty - suicide or stepping down to allow fair process is proof of nothing, but the case gets rigged up through public opinion well before it hits the court, and to me this stinks of manipulating the justice system. It may simply be a case of Kavita having more faith in media to get instant results after appearing in panels and seeing the effectiveness. Or it may be someone else dishing out such rubbish advice - to misuse the anonymity granted to rape victims to launch a media war - turning the protection into a weapon.

I am not saying that rape accused must not be socially condemned, but a pattern here of trying a case in media courts alone and no FIR - till TRPs (or crisis) escalate enough for police to take it up - by which point it is judged and all that remains is for the police to present it as reported in the media in a court of law. These two cases so close to each other are rather extreme for a coincidence and yet I can neither imagine what the explanation could be nor can I remember the last time so many commonalities happened in two cases completely unrelated other than happening close together in terms of time. All other cases around this time were very subdued. Whether it was the Supreme Court intern or Dainik Bhaskar employee, or the marathon fight of the ex-STAR TV employee. No interest. So what was so special about these? Can't imagine any common factor other than the "leftist intellectuals".

A few other strange things came to my notice. I spoke with someone who is unwilling to be named for reasons I found convincing, but another clear bias is the police wanting a "water tight case". Notice I am not saying police having a water tight case. I came to know that at least one person interviewed by the police in relation with the case shared what they saw, and her statement was not recorded, because what she described would dilute the case. She had not defended Tarun Tejpal, but her observations would make the accuations ... not as they sounded in the email. I don't want to get into those, simply because this isn't about the victim or slandering her, but the Goa police cherry picking statements in their "investigation". So in this I am inclined to believe Tejpal when he says he is unlikely to get a fair hearing in Goa.

Another anomaly I was informed of was another witness being requested to say she saw something she did not see. Both of these are second person accounts, and thus I do not want to get into their details, though I believe that the sources did not have any motive to deliberately give me wrong information. But that again is my belief. The point is that if a housewife can find out so much sitting at home, how is it that our media is not able to go beyond press releases issued by one party in a serious crime and chasing in the direction they point?

And I did one more thing. One I believed is standard journalistic procedure conveniently set aside for this case. I contacted Tiya Tejpal. NOT about Tarun Tejpal, but about actions attributed to her and published in print. I figured if we can print quotes of family members of Delhi Gang Rape and murder accused, then it isn't unreasonable to give a family member of an accused who has been reported doing and saying things the chance to at least confirm that the reporting is accurate. Basic verification before printing stories, I have heard. Not if the target is Tarun Tejpal, it seems. I only wish someone had shown such dedication on the Radia Tapes.

My communication with Tiya Tejpal I will post separately.

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.