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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.

What Tarun Tejpal did at Tehelka's iThink Festival seems to have more witnesses than it appears. In spite of the victim repeatedly saying she does not want to file an FIR, there is a clamour for exactly that.

This bothers me. This bothers me because yet again, activism silences the victim. In supposedly caring for the victim, we end up overruling her voice. I don't see this as helpful to the victim or empowering to women at large.

This is hardly a case of the victim being silenced. She has managed to speak with colleagues, speak to media at large through a representative. She has made her demands clear and the demands are aligned with guidelines intended to make working spaces safer for women. The guidelines also include the possibility of an FIR, if the committee finds Indian law broken. She has not abdicated her rights. So where is this tide of insistence on an FIR coming from? Also, why? If the victim believes that an FIR is not required, how is it that so many people know what she went through better than her?

Is an FIR really the better choice?

I don't think so. An FIR would probably be the best option if Tehelka had continued to refuse to form a sexual harassment committee as per Supreme Court guidelines as an escalation of her action if one failed. But this one didn't fail. The pressure on Tehelka has led to a committee being formed under women's rights activist Urvashi Butalia. Is the victim's interest still best served by filing an FIR? I don't think so.

Sexual harassment is illegal under law. However, it would take a complete idiot to imagine that it being illegal does a single thing to prevent it. It happens in workplaces, families, public places. It is everywhere. Workplaces in particular make it difficult for women. However, the law is too distant. It lets people abdicate their responsibility of safety and inclusion for women. A woman gets harassed, then go to a court of law, while the world outside continues to victimize her for being the victim.

The Vishakha guidelines, in my view are a superior alternative. They force workplaces to address problems faced by the women in the environment they happen in. They have a direct impact in the power balance of the organization in the place where the imbalance is. To put it in a primitive way, the perpetrator is defeated by his victim in the same power structure that he violated her. This will have an impact on the overall culture of the organization as well. If there is a crime found, the Vishaka guidelines direct the EMPLOYER to file proceedings against the perpetrator. In other words, Tehelka will have to file a case against Tarun Tejpal - who created it. Whoever believes that a sexual harassment committee isn't a far more powerful choice for proceeding for this victim clearly hasn't thought it through.

And the option of an FIR is ALWAYS there, if the sexual harassment committee fails to see the matter fairly.

Here is also an opportunity to do greater good for working women of India at large by creating awareness of the Vishakha guidelines and their implementation. By following the process in a way that more people understand what is going on and how it protects women and what is needed from organizations in order to follow the guidelines. I dare say Tehelka with its human rights aware staff will be an ideal example for the country as well. Both, in not having followed the guidelines, like so many organizations, and then pretty much doing the whole thing from scratch in public eye - the process, if not the case.

Finally, I sense that the victim does care deeply for Tehelka. Her continuing work during the festival, the method of intervention she has chosen, all lead to nurturing Tehelka while confronting what is wrong. Considering the number of organizations in the country with rotten bosses, it is a lesson that will be useful for many - how an organization can be strengthened by making it safe for women. How harassment can be confronted even if it is at the top of the ladder. The fact that it is the abuser who has resigned (upgraded from recused for six months) and not the victim is a massive plus already.

There is a need to be less hyperbolic and more sensitive to what the victim is trying to achieve as justice and respect that it has a larger vision than simply filing a case, and throwing a chap behind bars, which may still happen if the sexual harassment committee finds a crime.

It might be useful to remember that a victim of a sexual crime was defeated in that moment. This does not make her stupid. The victim in question is a journalist in a publication that deals extensively with women's rights and between herself and colleagues helping her they have seen more wisdom on what works to get justice after rape than people patronizing her and dismissing her wishes.

Lastly, there seems to be a horde of people who are in it just because it is Tehelka. Fair enough. Tehelka exposed corruption in their party a decade ago and made them lose their halo. Now they are happy to dance on its grave. Fair enough too. But it will be more effective to stop pretending that it is an effort to support the victim. It isn't support to overrule someone to protect them. It is just another Khap Panchayat.

 

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.