The sheer number of posts on this blog about the alleged rape of a Tehelka journalist by Tarun Tejpal have raised eyebrows. For me, the posts have actually been several different kinds of posts, though around the same incident. My own stand has changed considerably during the process as well. I began blogging because it was an outrageous expose about Tehelka - an organization that has a strong reputation for human rights and investigative journalism. I believed that the victim was very smart and doing the right thing in demanding a sexual harassment committee (something I still believe, though I now think it is a relief that got derailed). From that point to now, is a long fall and a disturbing one for someone who usually consistently gives women the benefit of doubt. Currently, I am blogging perspectives on the Tehelka Rape scandal that media is ignoring, because I believe a unilateral and unquestioning media helps no one. And if media fails, bloggers MUST NOT, or we become vulnerable to exploitation by whoever can set the agenda.
Has media failed in covering the Tarun Tejpal rape scandal?
I think yes. I think media has become so used to the culture of press releases published lazily combined with a knee jerk tendency to create campaigns for women's rights when the victim is from the middle class, that they have gone completely derailed from anything remotely like a neutral perspective. The evidence is there all over the media, so I won't go into detail here except pointing out that this is a case, where something as mundane as a story having two sides got unilaterally passed as an outrageous claim as well as an attempt to intimidate the victim, by some of the more zealous reporting. There are other questions I have raised, glaring anomalies I have pointed out.
Regardless of whether Tarun Tejpal is innocent or guilty, when journalists and media houses start reporting interviews as "being defensive in spite of being exposed" and "continues to protect" and such, while the person being interviewed is desperately repeating the exact opposite, I think it is fair to say things have derailed from journalism to a media lynch mob beyond recognition. Even if Tejpal is guilty, the idea of reporting is to convey what happened, not your opinion on it. "Shoma Chaudhary said blah blah" would suffice and people could decide for themsleves (and likely not reach the promoted conclusion). That is for media to reflect. It is hardly the first time it has happened - the "tamasha" method of human rights reporting - and pointing out is no use. My best bet was to blog things being missed.
What will one piddly little blog like yours achieve?
I think it is the voice and idea that matters. This piddly little blog was able to come through for Keenan and Reuben's friends and families when the regular media just reported their murders and moved on. This piddly little blog came through for many causes over the years, small and big, ranging from free speech to dowry murders, and I have found that if what the voice says resonates, it magnifies on its own. Becomes small again when the resonance passes. So I am not worried about the size of the blog.
Why are you defending Tarun Tejpal or Shoma Chaudhary or Tehelka?
I am not. I don't do defending unless it is kids, who lack the voice to speak for themselves. To the best of my knowledge, Tejpal, Shoma and Tehelka are adults and perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. Nor do I have access to the thought processes of any of them. Might as well state at this point that I am not in contact with either Shoma or Tejpal and I have, in fact never corresponded with them to the best of my knowledge. My issue is with unfairness, as with most things challenged on this blog. If me challenging what I see as unfair helps them or anyone, I have no problem with it. Would I write a word to make their life easier? Perhaps, if I ran out of things of my own and they still looked like they were facing organized odds. Chances are low. I don't do favors easily and I guard the integrity of this blog with all the dedication of a rottweiler on protection duty. The only agenda here is mine. And I'm willing to own it and defend it.
Isn't this a conflict of interest? Aren't you a journalist with Tehelka?
No, I am not. I have contributed blogs to them on a per blog basis. I have not sent any in the recent months, for reasons of my own. I was never told what to write, and I would never obey, if I were to be told. And that was me submitting to their blog. Let alone my own.
I stopped sending in blogs for reasons of my own which have absolutely nothing to do with this case. If I wanted to send blogs to them again, this case would not prevent it.
Why do you hate the victim?
I don't. In fact I can relate with her anger. In her place, I would too go after my rapist and bring him down by weaponizing every skill and ability I have and I'd dance on their metaphorical grave. I'm no Gandhian like that. I actually have a list of public personalities to write gleeful obituaries for when they die - and they haven't done me any harm directly. What would I do to someone who did? I would shred them any way I could. I don't have any hesitation saying that.
I have no idea of her agenda, but in her place, vengeance would work for me better than a third party granting me justice eventually, with my target having the pull to keep the process in a limbo infinitely. I have shamelessly advocated thrashing confirmed rapists. I wouldn't blink an eye at something as well deserved as exposing. I would bring him down if I could and walk away dusting my hands as the castle blew up in the background. Yeah, the court case of a powerful and connected man can go on, but my job done, I'd have moved on well before that point, leaving the rapist to manage a further circus to stay free. If I was a journalist with widespread contacts in media, reputation for women's rights activism, in the know on how media reacts to violations of women's rights for people like us? Oh, the result would look very similar to what we're seeing. Possibly worse - at least in my fantasies. And I wouldn't even bother to remain anonymous.
So no, I don't hate the victim. I actually admire her cunning in planning this so meticulously and then pulling it off. And when I say cunning, it is with complete respect. I would LIKE to be cunning like that if my own interest were wronged.
Then what is your problem? Why are you questioning the victim's account?
It is complex. I believe what is going on is not fair. It is not retaliation against Tejpal alone - I'd be willing to accept the victim's claim of rape if Tejpal alone were the target. This is currently harming the interests and reputations of people beyond Tarun Tejpal who have not done the victim harm and are a wrong she has done on them with her actions. I won't support that for the same reason I won't support anything I see as unfair.
I have also been following this story with interest and I believe the victim is not being entirely honest with the public as well as she was not entirely honest in her own words in seeking justice from Tehelka. Dishonesty bugs me. Particularly when it is all conveniently stacked in the same direction. Then it starts looking deliberate.
A third reason is my longterm grudge against a compromised media. The victim being on a rampage for vengeance makes sense. The victim using her personal contacts in media makes sense. When our entire media starts canvassing one view in the name of reporting, this is a problem. It violates my Free Speech, which includes the right to information. An opinion is only as "free" as the input available in forming it and if media goes on a comprehensive slant on a case, then it amounts to sacrificing the intellect of the nation for your agenda. This is my biggest grudge to be frank.
And there is a second biggest grudge. I see this case as a terrifying instance of how feminist activism can be weaponized to the point of completely denying the space for any other view. Whether coincidence or tactical brilliance, when a monolith of journalists go on the rampage against sme entities, no one, but no one gets in their way - which is the only explanation of not just the lack of any contradicting voices, but the absence of the usual dimwits who make a point of being asinine in the aftermath of an incidence of violence against women. This is, of course very damaging for free speech, where a holy cow subject can simply deny space to any dissent, but worse are the possibilities for women.
If media succeeds in destroying a man completely - which is where they seem headed at the moment - on the mere word of a victim, before the courts can even get at the case, imagine the implications of hiring a woman in your office? Imagine the implications of apologizing to a woman for sexual misconduct? Imagine the sheer nightmare of protecting a star or controversial figure from accusations? Also, what is the responsibility of a place of work to the man? Is it fair to ask men to not discriminate against women and to hire them if you cannot guarantee that their side will at least be heard if there are any allegations of improper behavior?
What the victim did on its own can be understood as her response to her trauma. What the media is doing in support by abdicating all independence in favor of following the line dictated in the emails is unforgiveable. I believe it will be very harmful if a contradictory voice cannot exist at all, so I am committing to voice it as long as media seems to be on a mental vacation.
Do you think it is fair to question the victim's account? Why?
Short answer: Yes I do, or I wouldn't question it.
Long answer: The emails are clearly being released with all the efficiency of press releases, regardless of the victim also releasing pleas about her privacy. Essentially, the victim has chosen to fight her case in media courts instead of filing an FIR. In my view, if media is the court, then the media must question robustly as well. Not only is it fair, fairness demands it.
But what about Feminism?
What about it? I have no idea. Feminism to me never meant blindly supporting anyone over another over gender identity. The idea is justice, not a media riot where whoever wins the influence war writes reality. I was never a slave to feminism, just like a thousand other concepts. My feminism is perfectly untroubled with me claiming my power to wade through all sorts of conclusions and try to find an answer for why a women supporting media is suddenly lynching Tejpal through attacks on character and credibility of women close to him.
Why do you say the victim's side of the story doesn't add up?
I will write a separate post on that. Too long to add here. Will add link here when ready. Update: Here is why the victim's side doesn't add up for me.
If you have more questions, feel free to add in comments, but I'm mostly done explaining myself. I'm doing this because it is needed and right.