The #Tehelka Consensus

Percentage of time devoted to rural news on TV

Extraordinary events ought to be documented somewhere, and when it comes to a media consensus, the secondary chroniclers of our era are bloggers. So I am looking at this moment in amazement where all of India seems to be in complete consensus on several things. This is pretty much the narrow band of reporting on the Tehelka Rape Case, which has my bull shit alarms blaring.

There is no doubt that if the incident happened as the victim says, and considering that Tejpal did not deny the details, it is rape. However, it is increasingly looking that the larger agenda is to destroy Tejpal rather than justice for a rape and this worries me, not because I have any love lost for the man, but because it threatens the livelihoods and work of many working at Tehelka who had nothing to do with the rape.

  1. A fleeting penetration by fingers is rape. That is what the law says. I agree completely with that. But the staunch insistence on it being an unforgivable sin, to the point of complete agreement across perspectives is something I am witnessing for the first time in all these years of speaking about women’s rights. I would appreciate this agreement better, if the ones usually objecting to such definitions and pulling exceptions to argue rules weren’t the ones with a grudge against tehelka. To understand what I mean, go back to the debates around the new law after the Delhi Rape case and see what many convinced of rape now had to say about a stricter definition of rape then. The most amazing part is not even the MRAs – who are practically guaranteed to argue the innocence of men are touching this one. If it is real, we can consider many problems on women’s rights solved. Alas, I am not that gullible. This is a special case. Please note that I am saying it is rape – not defending Tejpal at all, but I am questioning the lack of the usual diversity of views seen.
  2. Who are the evil targets? Tejpal, Shoma and anyone famous who agrees with them in the least. This is a media war. Actual actions being similar to Shoma’s is not a problem, as we see from the complete absence of questioning of the silence of the 3 colleagues the victim confided in – as long as they say and do the right things – which is accuse Tejpal of rape and anyone the least sympathetic to him of a cover up – which they did. So actual hiding of the crime for 10 days is not a problem for us. Some suggested it was probably out of respect for the victim’s wishes. Strangely these are the same someones who demanded ignoring the victim’s wishes when she didn’t want an FIR.
  3. There is a calling out and shaming of people who invested in Tehelka. This, I don’t see as relevant unless the target to bring down is Tehelka. I assume Tejpal did not require anyone to support his body parts while he raped if they had invested in his company. So when many news organizations go after that information anyway, I cannot help but assume that the news agenda is to find anything holes can be found in, rather than the rape alone. Which makes me wonder what else is going on.
  4. The same goes for the THINK festival company (I forget its name – in which Tejpal owns 80%, Shoma 10% and Tejpal’s sister 10% – That one) I fail to see how it is relevant to the rape either.
  5. Deny *any* good done by Tejpal and anyone associated with him.
    1. Tejpal stepped down unconditionally. It wasn’t like “I’ll step down if you agree not to pursue this further” So while it is not the “atonement”, it most certainly wasn’t a limit imposed on the victim seeking justice. On the contrary, if the woman wanted to continue at Tehelka as she was urged, she would be able to not be threatened in her work environment at least initially till the situation evolved or resolved.
    2. Shoma at one point took a considerable risk under pressure to uphold the victim’s wishes on the FIR by stating that she would refuse to cooperate unless the victim wanted it. For someone facing tremendous fire from all directions in addition to worries about survival of the organization, this was a very brave call courting further difficulty. She couldn’t sustain it, and it didn’t matter anyway since victim herself cooperated with the police.
    3. Tejpal’s daughter is the only person apart from Shoma to confront Tejpal on the basis of the victim’s reports. Both are demonized, while supporters of the victim are seen as those who hid the crime for 10 days and did nothing between the three of them to confront Tejpal privately either – if making a scene at the festival was a concern.
  6. Interpret facts to taste. Of the people who have resigned, one was known to have resigned at or before the festival, who is shown as resigning in outrage over this incidence – and she has spoken to media claiming this. Two others are among those who concealed the crimes for 10 days but have quit over how the victim was treated by Shoma. This is being presented as Tehelka employees leaving in outrage over how the victim was treated.
  7. This one won’t come as a surprise. It is a staple of crimes against women and justice for crimes against women. Other than Tejpal, everyone else bearing the brunt of criticism is a woman. Shoma, women journalists at Tehelka being stalked by obscene trolls on Twitter, Tejpal’s wife and daughters (including the one who spoke up for the victim). Ironically, the victim of the rape is among the women journalists of Tehelka who are getting trolled with rape taunts about her own rape by the right wing “saviors” of the same victim – probably since the victim’s name being kept anonymous didn’t tell them which woman to leave out of the abuse. Three men who let the victim remain in continued danger got a free pass.
  8. Complete belief in the victim. I do think this is a good thing. It beats victim shaming any day, but again, this is not normal for India. In a country where the Delhi Gang Rape had a politician going “jab maryada ka ullanghan ho jaata hain to sita haran ho jata hain”, there isn’t anyone – no politicians, no policemen, no woman in some university – no one commenting on a rape that had a man single handedly overpowering a woman, partially undressing her, performing/attempting oral sex and penetration with fingers in the time it took for a lift to travel two floors. Not that a victim’s account should be questioned publicly, but it is a departure from normal that not a single person has commented on it. We have even questioned accounts of victims who got physically overpowered and abducted and called them consensual, but not this. I don’t watch TV, but yesterday, Alyque Padamsee got criticized for asking why the victim went into a lift. I will not presume to know what he said and I’m not going to defend it, but I can say for dead certain – call me a paranoid bitch if you want – but if I got raped in a lift the first time, I would damn well not enter it with the same person and no one else a second time. The victim may have had her reasons to do it, and she doesn’t deserve to be violated in any case, but I did wonder in terms of how a woman can have so little self-preservation to enter the same situation as her rape with the same rapist within a day of the rape. While lack of self-preservation is also no excuse for a woman being violated, I am finding this unanimity of views rather unbelievable.
  9. Unprecedented crime. This rape seems to have become something of a unique thing, with regular leaks, “perfect” support for victim, vigilance against intimidation before it happens, you name it. Such care is most certainly not normal for our media either. Remember this is the media that goes informing neighbours of victim’s rape to get good sound bytes. And yeah, the victim was a journalist in that example too, so not like this is how they are when they protect their own. Nor is this how media treats powerful men misusing their posts, because in what could have been a parallel scandal about the supreme court judge molesting an intern if it hadn’t died in media consciousness, we know the name of the victim, but not judge. Just saying.
  10. And the killer anomaly. This is the only incident in my memory where both Arundhati Roy and Brinda Karat agree with the right wing. And don’t underestimate Arundhati Roy’s ability to be contrary. After the Delhi Gang rape, she was talking about class / caste bias in rape arrests.

So yeah. This case is unique in inexplicable ways and urgent and important to do vengeance on the perpetrator in ways not found usually.

I will add any other points that occur to me later, but suffice it to say, the extremely narrow track of reporting with telling diversions does lend credence to Tarun Tejpal’s claim of a conspiracy. What it is is anyone’s guess, but this cannot be ethical.

What Tejpal did is most certainly wrong. This does not mean that what is being done to him is right.

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