BUILD UP RESISTANCE AND SUSTAINED AGITATIONS AGAINST ALL SIMILAR CASES
The unfolding of Tarun Tejpal’s deeds and the attempted cover up have again raised the question of incessant rapes and sexual assaults on women all over India. Radical Socialist severely condemn the Tejpal case which exposes thatTehelka, for all its supposedly upright stance and “feminist” managing editor, had not been complying with the 1997 Vishakha guidelines of the Supreme Court of India. It did not have an internal committee in place, to which women could turn in cases of sexual harassment. Only after the charges against Tejpal became public did the Managing Editor go through motions of creating a committee, by which time few people, including above all the woman concerned seemed to have any faith in any such internal process.
Tarun Tejpal, former Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka, stands accused of having misused his position of power to sexually assault a young woman employee working under him, in a way that tantamounts to rape as per the new definition. Against the objections of the woman, he allegedly violated her bodily integrity twice in two consecutive days. His text messages to her showed an arrogant use of his power. The journalist informed a few of her colleagues soon after the first assault, and since then, her version of the incidents have remained the same. Tejpal by contrast has moved from one explanation to another, in an attempt to protect himself. He attacked the victim for having spoken out to his daughter, who was her friend. After the woman complained formally to Tehelka, he talked about a “lapse of judgement” and an “unfortunate incident”. He proceeded to try and act as his own prosecutor and judge, deciding he should “atone” by “recusing” for six months. When, as a result of the young woman standing firmly by her stance and a considerable amount of public outcry, the Goa police moved into action, Tejpal declared that it was he who was being victimised by the BJP. He also openly accused the woman of being a liar, claiming there had been a single ‘incredibly fleeting consensual sexual encounter’.
Tehelka Management, represented by Shoma Chaudhury, tried a clear case of cover up. When the complaint was first made, she did not accept the complainant’s demand for a public acknowledgement of the sexual assault and the setting up of a Committee against Sexual Harassment, something Tehelka had to do in accordance with the Supreme Court judgement. Nor did she report the matter to the police, as she was supposed to do. Instead, she backed Tejpal’s story in practice, by accepting his misleading ‘apology’. Her memo to employees called the action an unfortunate incident. When the matter was finally leaked to the media, she tried to claim the complainant was satisfied. The media was accused of being more aggrieved than the victim – a posture that is familiar, from governments seeking to cover up or play down rape cases. On television, the Managing Editor urged that Tejpal’s ‘version’ should be considered. Only when the exposure became too great she resigned, but again, claiming that she had all the while stood by the woman: “Since the devastating allegation was first brought to my notice on 18th November, I have taken a series of actions in response to this complaint. To my mind, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for our colleague as a woman and co-worker”.
This entire narrative as it has unfolded shows that all workplaces in India continue to be extremely skewed against women employees. Even today, the Vishakha Guidelines continue to be flouted. The Supreme Court itself did not have the mandatory committee. Every democratic Indian, every Indian at all sensitized to the demands for women’s equality and their right to work, has to recognise how difficult the situation continues to be for women at home and outside.
Cases of rapes and sexual assaults continue with impunity. The media coverage of the case has also been dubious, with graphic details of the complaint leaked and even re-enacted on television under the pretext of exposing the crime. It is precisely the fear of the publication of these details, or the traumatic event, that deters women from complaining. The publication of the details violates them as much as the incident itself. This is not about stigma or the fear of losing one’s job, but about the fear of losing one’s own dignity. All the while, the media has been less than forthcoming on the reality that sexual harassment is rampant in many media houses.
The politics around the Tehelka case is also significant. Tejpal’s argument about BJP trying to frame him is no different from the claim of Asaram that the Congress government in Delhi was hostile to him. The political motivations of different sections of India’s elite are not difficult to see. The BJP, which had tried to get Asaram off the hook, and which has been covering up for the Gujarat Chief Minister, who is implicated in using the ATS to illegally spy on a woman’s private life, has been issuing statements about Tehelka. That Tejpal is part of the Indian elite can be seen from both his opulence, and the relative gentleness with which he was treated. An ordinary person, accused of similar crimes, would have been arrested much earlier, and the bail plea would have been heard when he was already in custody. There can be no doubt that when members of the elite are charged in cases of this kind, they do have opponents within the elite who would like to bring them down a little. But that does not in the least mean that the woman who complained is lying. It simply means that Tejpal is complaining that if others are getting away, why should he be prosecuted. But the conduct of political parties, including the mainstream left (e.g., the CPIM) as well as the Congress and BJP when their own leaders have been accused of violence against women, means they have no moral standing to display “outrage” on the Tehelka case.
- Expresses complete support and solidarity to the survivor and her courage to speak out.
- Demands control over women’s bodies which should neither be the sites for power play nor for contest among political parties.
- Demands due legal process and prompt action by the Tehelka management and the government.
- Rejects the self-serving claims of the management.
- Condemns the mob attack orchestrated by the BJP on Shoma Chaudhury’s residence
- Demands that the state must carry out the task of ensuring the safety for women and create conducive conditions where they can go out to work without being under constant threat.
- Demands for the immediate formation of the committees at all work places as per the Vishakha Guidelines announced by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 for prevention and redressal of sexual harassment.
- Demands immediate framing and notification of the rules and effective implementation of the recently passed “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.
Given the National Crime Records Bureau data and the continuous rise in cases of rape and sexual violence in India, only a handful of cases are taken seriously. Even in such cases, sustained public agitations, campaigns and mobilisations can only push the governments to take prompt actions. We believe that the legal processes give meaningful results when mobilisations and campaigns are carried out. We urge all democratic minded organisations and people to build such mobilisations, including as parts of the ongoing International Fortnight on Violence against Women.
Soma Marik and Trupti Shah
On behalf of
2 December 2013