Tehelka, Think & the Coffin-Maker

By Prabhakar Timble
03 December 2013 03:33 IST

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister quit his post as head of the International Monetary Fund in 2011 after being accused of raping a maid in a New York hotel, a charge that was later dropped after reaching a settlement with the maid. He was also charged in another matter for ‘aggravated pimping’ and dubbed as the ‘king of the party’ and the ‘linchpin’ of the orgies. This dashed his hopes of elevation as the French President.  Much earlier, the IMF Board was constrained to appoint an independent investigator following allegations that Strauss-Kahn had an affair with a subordinate.  The IMF board recorded that the affair was "regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director" and cleared Strauss-Kahn of harassment, favoritism or abuse of power, and indicated that he would remain in his post. Strauss-Kahn issued a public apology. French media dubbed him as "le grand séducteur" (the Great Seducer). It looks like Tarun Tejpal borrowed the same vocabulary as defence to downplay the sexual assault against the Tehelka journalist. The spin of events corroborates the sexual advances as rape in the technical and legal sense. For the girl in her twenties, Tarun Tejpal was not just a boss. It was a quasi-parental relationship as the victim was a close friend of his daughter and the families were bonded intimately. It is this which compounds the offence of the Tehelka Editor-in-Chief, if not legally but undoubtedly ethically and morally. To think of a teasing sojourn and a short sexual stopover is grossly erroneous even if the same is consensual.

Break the silence

Sexual assault and molestation is not uncommon, however, silence to battering and abuse is common. Sexual assaults at workplace, public spaces and homes are possibly found with the same frequency like crabs on the Juhu beach. As 2012 comes to close, the national media is engaged with stories of victims who have decided to stand up and speak loudly. It started with the unholy assaults of the likes of Asaram Bapu under the strong cover of spiritual curtains.  The explosive story of surveillance of a young woman in Gujarat under instructions from the Chief Minister has come under public domain, however no investigation is ordered.  A law intern has alleged about the surreptitious advances amounting to sexual assault by a former judge of the Supreme Court. A student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University on an assignment at the 44th International Film Festival of India held at Goa filed complaint of covert sexual demands made by security officials. A lady employee at the Mormugao Port Trust, Goa has alleged sexual harassment at workplace.  

Tehelka and Thinkfest should not be smeared with black paint. They are great institutions.  Tehelka carved a name in the field of investigative, fearless and progressive journalism. The annual event Thinkfest provides a virtual feast of ideas and brings the best of the best experiments in all spears of human endeavor in India and worldwide. The punch on Tarun Tejpal does not need blows to be traded on these organisations. The BJP brigade derives vicarious pleasure by sly references to secularists. This is expected from those who fail to realize that secularism is the salt of democracy and humanism. Swapan Das Gupta, who holds the cudgel for the BJP as a political commentator descended on Goa and Goans through his regular Sunday column in a national daily. To quote “Goa may well be a place where inhibitions are supposedly abandoned and where it all hangs loose…..”. This is ridiculous and unfair but still my pen trembles to castigate the writer as Goa is officially affirmed as a land of women, wine, casinos and song.

Pre-trial punishment

A student of law will find the denial of bail to Tarun Tejpal difficult to understand, though the general public would term the rejection as courageous. Undoubtedly, the issue of sexual assault amounting to rape is grave. However, the facts in the matter are already a part of written records. We are told that there is also CCTV footage available. Tarun Tejpal was ready to surrender his passport, stay in Goa for three months to ease questioning and investigation and be at the back and call of the Goa criminal investigation department.

Reasonableness did not demand custodial investigation. However, of late, jail and pre-trial punishment seems to be the rule with the judiciary. This could be because of pressures for pretrial confinement emanating from the social media and the ruthless manner of debates in national electronic media. The subordinate judiciary is also caught in the maze of fear of strictures from the high court. Law would be better served if judges do not cross the established principles of law and buckle under pressure. Such precedents send signals that the Courts are ill-equipped to guard the independence of the judiciary.

Punishment should follow the conviction and precede only under very exceptional circumstances. Hard law and even harder interpretation could defeat the purpose of the protection provided to women at workplace. The clouds that it is “difficult” to work with women on the rolls should not be allowed to gather. The threat of sexual harassment at workplace exists and the probability is also very high. Hence, every organization should strengthen the internal redressal machinery. This mechanism needs to be pro-active; providing Information, Education and Counseling to men and women rather than only reactive and punitive.

An allegation of sexual assault, forget rape could slide a person to an object worse than a street dog. Street dogs have godfathers under the prevention of cruelty to animals. A person alleged to have committed sexual assault stands single and futureless. If occupying a high office would turn infamous worldwide in fraction of a second. This deterrence is multiplier times more than what courts can impose. Tehelka and Thinkfest has suffered irreparable damage, looks the dent is irreversible.

For Tarun Tejpal, it could be a jail term of seven to ten years if convicted. The aggravating factors seem to be more than the mitigating parts. The delay in the complaint by the journalist gets checkmated with the power and position of the Editor-in-Chief and that the victim had to also consider the career implications. This case would go on record as a tombstone of moral collapse of Tarun Tejpal who steered and headed an organization which achieved exceptional standards and heights in media.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

I have not noticed an abysmal difference among Indians(Irrespective of North or South). Southerners are more compassionate compared to northerners but frugal(cheap). Northerners are really dirt bags and will hide their women from other men but will consider women from liberal societies as loose character women. So Indians as a whole are like roaches that will invade all aspects of your culture. This comes from a Goan who sees a lot of domestic tourist come to Goa looking for free Sex and drugs.

- Zeloran, Timbuktu | 07 th December 2013 00:25


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