Tehelka Scandal: ‘Six-month Sabbatical’ No Justice

Source: Flickr

When one of my friends didn’t let his wife, a Computer Science post-graduate, to apply for a white-collar job in an organisation in Delhi, I was surprised. At a time when onions were selling at 100 rupees a kilo, how could my friend not let his wife share some of the house expenses, I knew there was more to the story.

A month later, we met in a coffee shop, and I couldn’t stop myself asking him why he did that. He didn’t answer but added that ‘I  will get to know it myself’.

Last night, he called me up saying I should read about Tarun Tejpal’s story. I knew Tejpal as a fearless journalist who always came up with some ground-shaking stories. But when I searched over the Internet, I found that the story, though again ground-shaking, but not the kind I expected from Tejpal. And I was like: Why Tejpal, why?

Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

I always knew, in fact, everyone knows, how rampant sexual harassment is in our offices here. Of course, there are lots of instances when girls (read over-ambitious girls) charm their bosses to make their way ahead. They sleep with their bosses just to use them as a ladder to their success. Barring those cases, we have people (mostly uncle types) who use words with double meanings and crack misogynist jokes when they are around girls who are around the age of their daughters.

Coming back to the Tehelka scandal, one of Tejpal’s woman colleagues, who has not been named, has alleged that he forced himself on her, tried to disrobe her and even penetrated his fingers into her private parts despite her pleas to stop, reported Delhidurbar.in.

She revealed this in a letter, which she reportedly wrote to Shoma Choudhary, Managing Editor of the Tehelka magazine. The woman journalist, according to one of her friends, hasn’t filed a police complaint against the editor “because she cared for Tehelka as an institution and was conscious the magazine may not survive this jolt.”

We know now that Tejpal has resigned, although temporarily, as editor of the magazine, which he described like this: “I am recusing” himself from his job for the next six months to atone for an unfortunate incident”.

But questions have been raised, not only by his rivals, but also by journalists and rights activists over the ‘atonement letter’. While some have described Tejpal’s action as a ‘six-month sabbatical’, others have put it, and rightly so, as a move to evade the law of the land.

The woman journalist hasn’t approached the police as yet as she wanted “Tehelka (to) constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court of India immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal…”

Far from that, Tehelka has lied on various occasions: one that the complainant or the victim is satisfied with their response; two, this is Tehelka’s ‘internal matter’.

This is a criminal offence, if proved, and women’s rights activists have rightly described Tejpal’s decision to “recuse himself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for six months” as inappropriate and grossly insufficient.

The incident has reportedly happened when the woman journalist was chaperoning Hollywood actor Robert Di Niro and his daughter while they were attending Tehelka’s Think festival on November 8 and 10 in Goa, India’s tourism capital.

She said to her friends that Tejpal even threatened to sack her if she didn’t play along. “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job,” he allegedly told her as she walked away from him after he allegedly assaulted her in the elevator.

For many professionals, this is the hitch; they can’t lose their jobs, which are anyway hard to get hold of, these days. This might be the reason the woman journalist has so far chosen not to go to the police.

The issue has, nonetheless, snowballed into a major controversy with politicians from the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP adding their weight against the magazine editor. In Tejpal’s shameless act, the BJP has found the fodder to avenge the embarrassment it had to face following a sting operation “Operation West End’ by the magazine in 2001. BJP politicians and several bureaucrats were purportedly shown discussing and accepting bribes.

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