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It was alarming to hear the calls for hanging the rapists in the Delhi Gang Rape, even as it was heartening to hear violence against women take center stage for once. A year later, the alarm remains, while the hope is increasingly jaded.

There is a strange kind of feminism in the air. One that picks specific victims to hurtle into a media spotlight and hunts down those they accuse recklessly and with scant respect for women's rights as a whole. Glaring inconsistencies in our response, in my view do more harm than good. The practice of isolating women for justice is anti-feminist in my view, even if the leading culprits in India happen to be feminists.

The need is for rights to improve for all women, not just one or few we find grabbing our attention. Nor is the problem with women's rights merely sexual. I dare say that in India, domestic violence and economic exploitation are among the key areas of enslavement of women. This narrow vision and hyperbole laden public discourse is doing more harm than good by cherry picking cases with already easy access to media or enough dramatic value, while ignoring the more dreary and difficult to defeat realities.

It hardy takes a brain to say that a gang rape is evil. It does not take too much intelligence to whip up a "campaign" by forcing people to answer a question of which there really is only one answer other than claiming complete inhumanity. And the anger takes on a life of its own.

My vocal objections to media's role in the Tehelka Rape Case was born of alarm that elite feminism (and I'm using the term really loosely) seems to bypass courts of law altogether. While many criticized me for their imagined belief that I was defending Tarun Tejpal, my posts can be refered to even now. My problem was with media abandoning even a pretense of neutrality. Before the Tejpal case got heard by courts, we had Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhary - among those targeted - resigned. We had the victim, her witnesses and several other journalists resigning in protest. We had about 34 staff members fired. And the case had not even been heard in a court of law, let alone judged.

The question no longer remains one of "do you think taking advantage of a girl is right?", it becomes one of "What is a suitable punishment for what degree of crime, and who determines this after determining if the crime happened?".

The case of Khursheed Anwar highlights this question even more. Accused of drugging and brutally raping and sodomizing a woman activist he invited to stay overnight, he became another overnight social media villain. Unable to bear the humiliation (presumably) he committed suicide before his reputation could even grow into full blown villain potential.

As though his suicide somehow was proof of his innocence (or perhaps the scale of social media justice meter showed "overcompensation" forcing the return of some humiliation or something), several people immediately proceeded to accuse Madhu Kishwar of provoking his suicide (she had videotaped the testimony of the rape victim - with disclosure and consent - but not released it). Some outraged people went as far to accuse her of trying to provoke the suicides of two other women whose names had been withheld by revealing their identities, while a few articles went ahead to make allegations forcing her to issue a clarification that while she was approached for help and she recorded the victim's narrative, she did nothing with it, including taking further action or discussing with colleagues, and she named more people who circulated the footage (a copy was provided to victim).

In other news, Nitish Rane has been desperately trying to utilize this high potential formula by taunting Nikhil Wagle with allegations of his misconduct with another woman, an ex-employee at IBN Lokmat. Nikhil Wagle (and the rest of the world) have ignored these allegations - for now. I suspect the lack of media interest may also be related with the main ingredient of these TRP festivals missing - a helpless woman supported by more women talking about the helplessness of this woman or women at large and so on. Perhaps he will get it right. Perhaps we will find someone else to lynch.

The main thing here is that in all these three incidents, the victim herself has not filed a police complaint, and the method of seeking justice appears to be disclosure of ordeal in social media, making it viral, counting on insecure authorities to blink first in the face of all the noise and take notice, while the publicity machine delivers its own brutal "tabadtob insaaf". At best, it is forcing the government to take sides in a case that will be tried in a court of law through sheer media manipulation, thus rendering the person to lose the media war completely delegitimized with the government itself opposing them.

This is worrisome. Not just because of the possibility that guilt or innocence cannot be decided by who can raise the loudest mob, but also because of its impact on the rights of women outside the spotlight.

More importantly it is worrisome because the courts seem to have been bypassed almost entirely as a method of justice and have been converted into a kind of additional, official punishment, that could result in another bonus punishment in jail. The primary punishment happens in destroyed careers the minute you convince media that justice must be in your favor.

And this, as we see is a game of perceptions. For example, our diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who spoke up for women's rights, but went through considerable effort to pay her babysitter a fraction of the legal minimum wage that she undertook in writing to pay. Media currently sees her as the victim, and the maid who got paid at best a third of a due, and possibly even less than that, if her working hours were more is actually seen as the person harming this innocent diplomat who has won the perception war.

If social media manipulations to influence opinions for political reasons are big business now, I guarantee that within a year or two, high profile lawyers will be engaging social media teams to get their cases tried outside courts.

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.

Tehelka stands on the wrong end of an outrage this time. Tarun Tejpal stands accused of sexual harassment of a young journalist during their iTHINK festival. While I don't downplay sexual harassment, it is a very common crime. With 90% of women stating that they have been sexually violated at some point, and most sexual harassment not even being recognized as sexual harassment, there really remains no identity that can claim a halo.

Workplace sexual harassment is often hidden and suppressed in the name of the well being of the larger organization. Sexual harassers cross the line of personal boundaries routinely and it is not legal. However it falls on the organization to deal with these instances, punish perpetrators and make their workplaces safe for all. This has been clearly outlined in the Vishakha guidelines which state:

It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.

When an action constitutes a crime as per Indian laws, the EMPLOYER is required to file a complaint. The employer is required to take disciplinary action against misconduct and provide proper mechanisms of redressal of complaints. The employer is required to constitute a complaints committee or counselling as appropriate.

[Tweet "What happens when the employer is the abuser?"]

As clearly seen in the shit storm after the incident became public, nothing much.

It is a fortnight since the said violation happened. No action. When the victim finally found her voice to make a louder noise, Tejpal wrote a letter of atonement offering to step aside for six months leaving tehelka to Shoma Chaudhary's "more than capable hands". How capable Shoma Chaudhary's hands are in leading an organization that endlessly works with human rights related issues is abundantly clear when she immediately forwards that mail as an update on the changes happening in the organization. Tathastu.

Like a Khap Panchayat offering to "clear up" a rape by marrying rapist to victim, Shoma Chaudhary "clears up" this mess by giving her former boss a six month leave.

Many have found Tarun Tejpal's stand "principled" in terms of punishing self for wrong he has done. I don't quite agree with this. If at some point in his harassment, he had realized that he had done a wrong and tried to apologize and atone for it, it would have been an atonement. Instead, a news report based on a letter leaked by the girl shows that there were two incidents of molestation with one possibly being rape. There were repeated refusals, avoidance, confrontation of Tejpal by his daughter whom the victim confided in. All through which, he kept normalizing the incident, describing it as something she participated in ("banter") and even blaming the victim for telling his daughter about it. This isn't all that different from rape victims being told to "tell no one".

What has the victim asked for? For proper process to be followed and for a written apology to her. The victim has not filed an FIR so far. She wants a sexual harassment committee to be formed and a proper public apology by Tarun Tejpal. I think she is right. It will be faster justice than over burdened courts (which undermines its power to deter). Though of course no one is stopping police from taking action anyway. Manohar Parrikar and National Commission for Women have indeed done so, as they should. Justice Katju should, as well, as Chairman, Press Council of India as this relates with a news publication being safe for women journalists.

[Tweet "Manohar Parrikar and National Commission for Women have taken notice. So should Justice Katju, Chairman of PCI"]

Action in a media organization against a sexual predator will go a longer way to detering sexual harassment at the workplace than a long drawn court case will. It will also be an important landmark in the much necessary and long overdue responsibility of people themselves in not tolerating sexual harassment instead of abandoning the victim to a delayed gamble at courts where they don't have to oppose exploitation of women themselves.

It is a matter where the organization should be held responsible rather than the individual alone, particularly considering the blatant attempts to deny a crime by euphemizing it as misjudgment and so on. It isn't just a matter of one person being tried in a court (which should be resorted to anyway, if Tehelka fails to act), but a matter of a work culture where sexual harassment at the workplace is not hidden but openly called to account and punished as appropriate including forcing an apology.

In essence, Tejpal is trying to avoid having to admit to sexual abuse by taking a six month vacation.

[Tweet "Tejpal is trying to avoid having to admit to sexual abuse by taking a six month vacation."]

Tejpal's letter is so inconsiderate of the significance of his actions, that his letter apologizes for harm to the values of the organization he built but not journalists for his treatment of one among them and for his appalling actions that will now shadow the fruit of *their* blood sweat and tears in exposing injustices by making them seem selective.

In this, Shoma Chaudhary and Tarun Tejpal have also wronged their staff by making their professional credibility subject to allegations of selective interest in human rights when it suits them. This, to any person interested in human rights is an insult that is hard to bear and an organization has no right to impose this on its employees. Revati Laul has quit Tehelka over this. The letters have been leaked within minutes of being sent. This clearly shows the unease among at least a few journalists with how this is going down.

[Tweet "Shoma Chaudhary and Tarun Tejpal have made Tehelka journalists vulnerable to allegations of selective conscience"]

I don't see that Tehelka has any alternative but to institute the sexual harassment committee and hold Tarun Tejpal to account along with setting a punishment that isn't just his chosen method of escaping the shame of his own actions, but something that is appropriate to the wrong he has committed in the eyes of people evaluating the situation.

Additionally, Shoma Chaudhary must step down from her newly inherited position for covering up sexual harassment in the workplace as well as refusing to constitute a committee as requested by the victim by terming it an internal matter.  Tarun Tejpal's actions against another woman cannot be an internal matter between him and Shoma Chaudhary with the letter of explanation excluding the nature of the actions, refusal to constitute a committee to transparently investigate them, AND ignoring the wishes of the victim.

[Tweet "Shoma Chaudhary must step down as well for covering up sexual harassment and refusing SH committee"]

Does this mean that Tarun Tejpal can never be falsely accused? No. But it isn't for Shoma and Tarun to call it an internal matter and refuse any oversight. Neutral investigation is important to find the truth and take appropriate action. If Tejpal is innocent (and it is looking highly unlikely at this point), then there will be evidence that the victim's claims are fabricated, specially since the accusations involve actions like messages or misconduct in areas covered by CCTV.

Journalists at Tehelka who believe in the work the magazine does must put their foot down and insist on procedure being followed for the sake of the credibility of the organization as well as themselves.