Some questions regarding the victim’s side of the story

Here are some of the things that don’t add up with regard to some of what the victim says and what is known/observed/claimed in my view.

Who leaked the emails?

Increasingly it is appearing that the emails were leaked with the girl’s knowledge and as a warped kind of press release series. There is a reason I am calling it a press release. They seem to have been circulated mostly to journalists and media professionals very rapidly and they do not seem to have any kind of selective audience in terms of a private email updating a trusted friend of what is going on. They were very clearly for release as a campaign, because they hit the media almost simultaneously from multiple sources – something that would be more uncertain if journalists were not sure that they could use the emails for reporting.

Is it rape, sexual harassment, molestation or sexual misconduct?

This question is really important, because the victim describes a rape in her letter of complaint to Shoma. She calls it molestation. And she demands an apology for sexual misconduct. And this is one letter so far. I am not a lawyer, but to the best of my knowledge, sexual misconduct is sexually offensive behavior that is not exactly illegal. I imagine many don’t know the distinction, but would a journalist reporting on women’s rights know the difference? I cannot imagine how she wouldn’t know unless she was really bad at her job – which all indications are she was good. I also don’t believe this discrepancy was accidental from someone used to reporting using precise terms writing an official letter stating the wrongs against her.

Why is there no complaint against her senior who took no action against her rape?

Unless the victim is deliberately targeting Shoma, I cannot understand why her senior, whom she confided in is not accused, but apparently actually on her side. For all intents and purposes, this senior heard her complaint and did not find it serious enough to take action. Unless of course any action he took was beyond the requirements of his role and can’t be disclosed in media for fear of weakening her case in the media court – for example helping the victim get confessions she could take to court.

Were Shoma and Tejpal’s daughter special targets?

Senior not taking action immediately, when the alleged crime was raw did not bother her and in fact, he continues to be “on her side” including resigning with a letter accusing Shoma of doing what he did, but the criticism on Shoma is for exactly that – avoiding doing anything.

When in fact, Shoma had, at the very least done far more than any actions this senior took, as is evidenced by the flurry of emails being leaked. Regardless of accusations about motives – which in my view are not substantiated in any conclusive way – it cannot be disputed that immediately after getting the victim’s email, Shoma did indeed make Tejpal write that letter of apology – which would at least involve confronting him and forcing him to toe the line – as I can’t imagine a rapist or honest man with any sense of self preservation blithely giving it in writing that he violated a girl. This is not exactly ignoring the complaint.

What apology was requested?

What the victim puts in writing describes rape, calls it molestation/sexual harassment, asks for unconditional apology for misconduct – which is what she got. Tejpal’s email acknowledges and apologizes for misconduct and neither rape nor molestation. The victim herself states in writing that she agreed to the euphemism:

In a phone conversation with me, you asked that he be recused from doing so because he had already admitted to sexual molestation in his emails, and because we needed to “protect the institution”. In this conversation, I said, “I trust you to do the right thing”.

But the problem apparently was that the “right thing” was not doing as she had asked and agreed to. What she wanted was an admission of guilt – which too she has stated in some letter, I forget where.

Did she want the apology or not?

That the victim had asked for an apology is clear from the leaked emails. Tarun Tejpal made an informal apology to her as well as a formal one following it. To which she replied

The only people you owe an apology to are your employees at Tehelka, for desecrating their and my faith in you. Please do not attempt any further personal correspondence with me – you lost that privilege when you violated my trust and body.

So if Tejpal did not owe her an apology, or should not attempt “further personal correspondence” with her, then what exactly was she asking for?

What was hushed?

The only hushing here seems to be on the victim’s side. Her supporters concealed the sexual assault, did not independently take adequate measures to protect her and continued to do nothing even on hearing that she had been harassed again. She did not seem to have a problem with this. She confided to Tejpal’s daughter who did not have a problem confronting her father whether festival or not – same daughter is now accused of intimidating the victim. Shoma got Tejpal to make her an apology that was copied to the journalists she had confided in. Tejpal’s stepping down could not be kept secret anyway, but the action was chosen and circulated with a limited explanation that raised more questions than it answered and couldn’t possibly be “controlled” anyway – as also seen from the immediate leak of the letter.

If the “hushing” is about prefering to deal with it within the organization, it is hardly a new thing in organizations to not want to court justice. As for hushing, this case has got more publicity than any other case of workplace sexual harassment I have heard recently. And the publicity was engineered by the victim or her supporters and not prevented in any way.

This actually was the part that angered me, because Shoma and Tejpal – whether guilty or not – were clearly acting on an assumption of confidentiality that the victim had explicitly stated a preference for and confirms even in her resignation letter, while publicity was deliberately seeked once the “apology” was in writing. This is deception and I am fine with it (so sue me) if it helps victims get justice, and kicks up a shitstorm. I am uneasy when the deception serves to completely wipe out what one side has to say. Or rather, I’m fine with deception helping give voice to someone who would find it difficult otherwise. I am not fine deception being the basis of establishing a “truth” version to the point that others are not allowed.

If we are to believe media, no sexual harassment happens in other media houses, and if it happens, it is immediately made public and sexual harassment committees deal with it with due process and eploitative seniors go to jail. So someone point out some news reports for the organizations talking loudest at the moment about an organization that was able to issue an apology and get the person to step down to allow for better investigation within days of receiving complaint.

Is Tejpal guilty or innocent? I have no idea. Is Tehelka trying to hide something? It doesn’t look so at the moment, though the first interviews pointed in that direction. They make perfect sense if you consider that the victim had stated a preference for an internal process as well as not wanting an FIR – something her supporters independently confirmed and defended as well at that time.

Did she want a sexual harassment committee?

As Shoma points out in her letter, the victim may have wanted a sexual harassment committee, but did not submit her nominations for who she trusted. This is a fact not “leaked” to media. Not just that she did not suggest anyone she trusted, but that she was actually asked to provide names she trusted, because it breaks the bubble of yet another accusation – that a sexual harassemnt committee would have been controlled by Tejpal to discredit her. Check Niti Central for a script of what such a committee would to.

And so on.

I didn’t really want to bring this up, because it goes against my grain to question claims of a victim of sexual abuse. At the same time, it is abundantly clear in this whole saga that “feminist defaults” have been used excellently to influence public opinion and that kind of exploits feminism as well. Here are some:

  1. Do not question the victim when she claims rape. But this was not a court of law, victim actually did not claim rape – you’d have to question her to establish it was rape if she claimed sexual molestation – and the process of dispensing justice had started well before the emails were done leaking.
  2. Use of language to convey guilt. “You are now attempting to establish that Mr Tejpal has “another version” of events (as surely, any sexual predator does)…” in the victim’s resignation letter, for example. The thing here is every person on the planet involved in anything has their own version. Having another version is not something exclusive to sexual predators or those somehow guilty. On the other hand, establishing one version as right and discrediting any other from even being stated is an indication of suppressing one side – not its invalidity.

Anyway, this is now turning into a mud slinging thing, which was not my objective. At the same time, I think unpleasant and counterproductive to the victim’s credibility as these questions are, the need to ask them has been born out of the magnitude of “truth” that is being assigned to them.

I also accept that a victim sees things from a unique perspective and cannot be expected to be neutral. This does not mean that everything she perceives is fact. Nor does it mean that every wrong she believes is done to her was intentional or even about her at all. A classic example being the stormy night crap from Tejpal’s letter that she replies to with cutting feminist outrage that sounds more like Tejpal fixated on her boobs instead of a thunderstorm he was already listening to. And it probably feels really unfair to her that her purpose of visiting him didn’t register on him, but the fact of life is that we do a lot of work without it having any impact on us in terms of being a long term memory. Would I remember the reason for someone who routinely meets me for work visiting on a day I remember sharing something beautiful with them? I wouldn’t. I would probably remember it in detail when something relevant to the work came up – which wouldn’t be the weather.

This isn’t rocket science and I bet all the people outraging don’t remember why their subbordinates visited them in some moment they remember either – something that a media that was actually making an effort to understand the situation would realize and form their own responses instead of parroting accusations.

The problem is when an entire news media industry adopts the same bias – by accident or design – and magnifies a cry for justice to the point that it becomes a holy cow that can’t be questioned and goes on a rampage of accusations and slander and not just against the person accused of the crime, but (ironically) women associated with him, organizations associated with him and questions start coming up whether an organization employing hundreds will survive the scandal, then this is very dangerous. It is also an alarming lack of critical thinking in media.

The victim can change her mind, want one thing at one moment and another at another as long as they all lead to her perpetrator being nailed. And it is normal for a troubled mind to be thus. The media cannot abdicate their own neutrality or claim a collective trauma to accept all she says as the complete truth and proceed to accuse people on the basis of not doing what she would want done later as a criticism of their doing what she asked for. Among other irrational things.

I am frankly scared at the implications on women’s rights with this, because women at large do not have the power to deal with men if they choose to be paranoid about what women can do to them and it cannot be long before people realize that they have not heard Tejpal being listened to fairly at all. Hell, *I* would worry about professionally asking any man to have unchaperoned interactions with women if I couldn’t even guarantee all parties a fair hearing if an issue arose.