Alleged victim’s testimony in the Tarun Tejpal case at variance with CCTV footage
Four months in jail without bail, and with testimony that has visible loopholes, certainly requires a case to be examined thoroughly, not just by the courts but also democracy’s watchdog, the media.
Tehelka’s editor Tarun Tejpal, facing a rape charge levelled by a young colleague, is languishing in a Goa jail with bail being repeatedly denied, even as his friends and family rush around for judicial intervention and justice that remains elusive.
The Citizen had a close look at the alleged victims testimony and compared it to the CCTV footage available of those fateful moments in a five star hotel lift in Goa. While there is no footage of what happened in the few seconds/minutes that the lift took to go up and come down from the second floor of the hotel, what happened around the lift does not bear any similarity to what the alleged victim claims had happened.
In other words while the CCTV footage does not establish one way or the other whether the finger penetration constituting rape had taken place inside the lift, it does seem that the associated trauma and agitation that the alleged victim referred to in her complaints was strangely enough not recorded by the cameras.
The verbal ‘testimony’ of the alleged victim is not fully supported by the CCTV images. Narrating the events of 7 November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka magazine’s Think Festival in Goa, the alleged victim said in her written testimony, “as we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift.” It must be pointed out here that earlier they were in the Lift to drop actor and guest Robert de Niro, and his daughter to their suite as the alleged victim was on what she says “chaperone” duty with the Hollywood star.
So according to her Tejpal caught her arm and pulled her back into the lift saying “Let’s go wake up Bob.” The CCTV footage does not record this at all. Instead it show that after dropping the star to his suite on the second floor, they exited the building chatting rather amicably. Of course there is no CCTV record of this but apparently a hotel staffer passing by saw the two chatting and has given a statement to this effect. Tejpal later spelt out the details of the conversation and these were reportedly highly erotic stories told by the alleged victim to him. The Citizen is not repeating these, as while she has not denied the conversation, it is outside the realm of this report.
The CCTV then records the two re-entering the foyer after about five plus minutes and they go back into the lift together. The alleged victim seemed to be walking in quite easily, with Tejpal neither holding her wrist, nor dragging her into the lift. Incidentally the Hyatt Hotel Block 7 has only two floors, so there is not much that a would be rapist could do inside without the doors opening. It is not a very busy foyer, but waiters on duty can be seen opening the lift doors for de Niro’s entourage, walking up and down, as well as guests in the few minutes that are basically under scrutiny.
Again The Citizen is not in a position to gauge what went on inside the few seconds/minute in the lift as this was not recorded and both the alleged victim and the alleged accused have their own versions of this. This is the part when the alleged rape is reported to have taken place. The lift then opens on the second floor as per the CCTV recording and both come out, Tejpal in fact a little ahead, she following without fleeing, and they move out of the range of the cameras, supposedly having taken the stairs to go down again.They are seen then exiting the building.
The alleged victim, however claims, that the lift finally stopped at the ground floor and not the second floor where they were heading in the first place. And that Tejpal manipulated the buttons. And that after the alleged rape she, “picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly, he was still following me asking me what the matter was.” There is no way to independently check out the conversation, but the images do not show visible signs of agitation on her part.
The alleged victim then records how she informed her colleagues in Goa, and called her boyfriend long distance to tell him what had happened. But that she did not want to lose her job so the next morning she continued as if nothing had happened. There was even a fairly normal work related exchange of messages between her and Tejpal. Then at night when she was going up to fetch de Niro she met Tejpal, according to her version and he said, “come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room.” She claimed that she was scared as she did not want a repeat of the night before, and said she would go up and get what was required.
“I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of Block 7 where he had asked me to wait),” she has said. The CCTV images are at variance with this. Tejpal was not holding her or pulling her. In fact as they were getting into the lift a guest passed by and stopped to chat with Tejpal, who then followed her into the lift.
Then of course there is her testimony of what happened inside the lift, how he lifted up her dress, and the crude remarks that allegedly followed. And that she was so upset that when the lift doors opened on the second floor she said, “I’m taking the stairs and started to walk out”. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria–by this point he was totally comfortably physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.”
The CCTV footage shows them getting into the lift as outlined earlier, and in 20 seconds they are on the second floor. The door opens, she walks out first, Tejpal follows her out. He then stops and without touching her turns and goes back into the lift. And she runs back behind him and enters the lift. She could have taken the stairs if all that she said had happened, it was just two floors down. There was no dragging back, no pulling her in. And 20 seconds later they re-emerged from the lift on the ground floor, and walk out quite casually together.
The jury is clearly out on this one.
This article by Seema Mustafa was originally published in The Citizen – republished here, because their site doesn’t seem to be working.