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The fuss about Tarun Tejpal and sexual harassment ..




Sexual harassment is a problem the world over, and seems to be more so in societies that are culturally more male-oriented (and India fits perfectly in that description – a society that is male oriented and where women who work or otherwise step out of their homes can be in some amount of danger). Over a period of time, there has been some development in terms of women’s rights, but at the same time, as more and more women step out of homes and join the working population, there are more incidents where women are attacked, some of it in the streets (which make the streets of India very dangerous, especially when it gets dark), and others in the workplace (where some friendship and familiarity can be seen as an invitation to have a relationship).
Incidents in the office have been reported on an increasing basis in the last many years, and given the traditional dominance of males in the office environment, there was a need to have mechanisms where women can be assured of their safety. This is particularly problematic where the lady in question is in a junior role and has been harassed by a person who is in a superior position or is the boss. In such cases, there is already a large amount of inequality, and to protect women who are being harassed, there was the need for a mechanism to go through this complaint process and ensure a fair investigation. Since the Government had not really done anything in this regard, the standing law in this regard is through the Vishaka case decided by the Supreme Court where a set of guidelines were listed by the Court and are now the law of the land.
Now, we come to this case of Tarun Tejpal (who really cannot be separated from Tehelka in the popular mindset). The details of the case cannot be pre-judged, and the level of what was criminal, whether a crime was committed or not is a matter for the police to investigate and then for a court to decide. However, the entire process so far has left a bad taste in the mouth. And it is bad enough when some politician is involved of such harassment (but then you can expect anything from politicians), but the fact that somebody who has done a lot of investigative journalism and would not hesitate to rip an offender to shreds behaves in this way strikes one of rampant hypocrisy.
All this came to the limelight just a few days back, and the details of what has happened since then has been shocking to say the least. First, there was the shock when the managing editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury, essentially tried to keep the lid of a scandal involving sexual harassment. As per law, if there is a complaint regarding sexual harassment, then a sexual harassment committee needs to be setup which would investigate the case and then come out with a decision. However, instead of this, what came out was a situation where Tarun Tejpal did a mea culpa, and in a statement of true sacrifice, claimed that he was was doing penance for what he did by stepping down from his post for the long period of 6 months. And Madam Chaudhury pronounced that the complainant was satisfied with the action and everything should end there.

When somebody who has struck at others for so long suddenly shows up with a bulls eye painted on them, people are going to start shooting at them. And media and others saw this as a major attempt to push a criminal act under the carpet, and these statements by Tehelka’s managing editor only added fuel to the fire, especially when she tried to angrily defend her actions, and also tried to question the reporters about why they were interested, after all they were not harassed (which would have meant that by this standard, any dowry case or other cases where the victim cannot complain should not be acted upon). This attitude really caused a lot of uproar and she had to start backing down. The interesting part about his uproar was that others who tried to defend Tejpal to some degree also got bruised, with even the celebrity Javed Akhtar apparently defending the values of Tejpal getting badly hit upon for his tweet, to the extent that he had to delete this tweet.
Now, the case is under investigation by the Goa police, and if there are not really too many direct supporting evidence (there were apparently no CCTV’s inside the elevators where this sexual harassment happened), then it comes down to his word vs. hers. And this is where Tarun Tejpal seems to be heading, since he now is taking the position that nothing happened, and if something happened, then it was with the consent of the girl. Anyhow, everybody knows that he has hit the BJP hard, and since this happened in a BJP ruled state, they are doing a conspiracy against him. However, except for his lawyer, he will not really get anybody to support him in this; given that he had initially written a damning letter where he claimed that he had done something wrong, it is hard for him to suddenly claim conspiracy. And the victim seems to have been angered even more by the attitude of Tehelka and Tejpal, since she seems to be now interacting with the Goa police.
One thing is clear, there will be politics involved in this. Tarun Tejpal was a nuisance to the BJP, and is apparently also supposed to be related to a top Congress minister, and hence, he has given a golden opportunity for the BJP to remove him from the political table and bury him under sexual harassment and other dangerous cases and send him to jail. And they seem to be acting smartly so far, not yet confronting him, instead getting evidence (including testimony of others in whom the victim had confided) and then throwing the book at Tejpal. And Ms. Chaudhury is not off the hook, since she was supposed to set up the sexual harassment committee after receipt of the complaint instead of trying to hush it up.




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