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A Six Month Holiday As Punishment For Sexual Harassment And A Flawed Alchemy Of Desires!

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By Mahitha Kasireddi:

An investigative news agency, reputed to be the boldest  for ‘truth exposed’ through ‘sting operations’ has been lately stung by its own fangs. Tehelka, which had carved its own niche in journalism down the years through fearless reporting was cited as an epitome of true journalism. The same community which played an active role in covering the Nirbhaya case, went about interviewing the Delhi cops exposing their insensitiveness towards rape victims, has failed to provide a safe working environment to its own women journalists. The Editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal has confessed his misconduct towards a young colleague at the ThinkFest in Goa, who happens to be his ex-colleague’s daughter and his daughter’s best friend.

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Tejpal, in his mail to the Managing editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudary called his condemnable act “a bad lapse of judgement” and “awful misreading of situation” and believes he has paid all that’s needed with an “unconditional apology”. His mail showed no amount of remorse and also went about announcing an atonement of 6 months. His is now succeeded by Shoma Chaudhury, who in her mail called this an “untoward incident”, in a most casual tone under the cover of official code of communication. The victim’s email to Shoma has been leaked into the public domain in which she has expressed her emotional trauma. In her complaint to Shoma, she demanded a written apology from Tejpal to be circulated through the organization which has not been heeded. Shoma, in her interview to Business Standard, called this an ‘internal matter’ of the organization and also claimed that the victim is satisfied with the action taken. Apparently, she seems to be shying away from talking about the crime.

When the victim disclosed the issue to Tejpal’s daughter, he urged the victim to dismiss the incident by calling it a “drunken banter” and went about questioning her understanding of parent-child relationship. A man who threw himself over his daughter’s friend, of his daughter’s age, talks of upholding the sanctity of parent-child relationship. How ironical of him! The way he went about announcing a 6 months leave for himself itself shows his hypocrisy and non-conviction. It is for the courts to decide the penalty rather than he deciding for himself to spend a holiday and get back after the issue dies. He had mentioned in his mail how he has been protecting the Tehelka journalists from corporate demands. His popular ThinkFest, now disparaged as StinkFest by many activists, speaks volumes of the nexus he allegedly indulges in. Ironically, the themes that were discussed at the event were about women safety and empowerment. Can’t be more rhetoric!

Can you dismiss a case of sexual harassment by citing reasons such as “she had misread the situation”? This is a classic case of exploitation of the girl’s powerlessness. Where is the misreading? The girl and the world has deciphered it quite correctly.

It is unfortunate to see another powerful women employee in the organization defending him and not expressing the slightest support to the victim, otherwise an ‘untoward incident’ is vague and an understatement to the magnitude of which it occurred.

Tehelka and Tejpal have received quite a lot of bashing and condemning from the social media but the tight-slap actually came from Tejpal’s daughter who rightly had rebuked him asking him to “pull up his pants”. I pity the girl who had to encounter the double standards of an important man in her life, a person of this stature. It would sadden you to know that this incident did not surprise her since she knew of her father’s immoral ventures since she was thirteen. Her father’s concern for their relationship did not pay off well.

Tarun Tejpal may have the credit for building Tehelka from scratch despite hiccups and impediments, but this societal status and respect will not come to his rescue. He has to face the law. The victim-journalist is a fighter, she has herself reported women issues and surely each time a senior editor of a magazine, a senior journalist, or a head reporter is accused of harassment it turns out to be a testing moment for the media. How do they balance upon not respecting and protecting women journalists and reporters while at the same time condemning violence against women at large? Harassment of women in media is not a less discussed issue, has the media done anything to weed away with this menace rather than sidelining it as an “internal matter”.

The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention and Prohibition Act) 2013, upholds the right of women to a safe working environment and the onus falls on the employer. This law also requires complying by the media houses to set an internal enquiry system. Most media houses, be it private or public, do not comply with the guidelines of Vishaka Judgement. Such media houses should be brought under legal scrutiny. Not surprising that Tehelka does not have any anti sexual harassment cell within the organization, the victim has expressed her hope that it would be constituted soon. An official statement of Shoma published in the Tehelka website says they have appointed a complaints committee as per the Vishaka guidelines headed by Urvashi Butalia, a move that came at the cost of the respect of their staffer. Such incidents in media further lead to discouraging women from opting for journalism as a career.

It is outrageous and depressing that despite strong guidelines and an order from the highest court in the country, sexual harassment at work is still a daily event and has seemingly become very normalized. Sometimes the victim is silent or made silent through violent means. The exposed are powerful, enjoy backing from babus and sahebs and get acquitted. Like time heals pain, it also fades away from people’s memory.

After the Goa CM has announced a suo moto probe in to the case, the Goa police have started investigating the matter. The Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari has decided to drop Tejpal as the member of the Prasar Bharathi panel, but remember Phanish Murthy of iGate? The notorious CEO who had credited himself with repeated attempts to exploit his subordinate women. He made his grand comeback in 2006 after successfully leaving behind the blot on his conduct in 2003. It will not be difficult for people like Tejpal to re-establish themselves at any point they want. What do you expect from a country where a SC judge is also accused of assaulting a law intern?

UPDATE: The complainant journalist has released a statement”

‘On the night of 22nd of November 2013, a member of Mr Tejpal’s immediate family came to my mother’s house in New Delhi, asking my mother to protect Mr Tejpal and demanded to know 1) who I was seeking legal help from and 2) what I “wanted” as the result of my complaint of sexual molestation by Mr Tejpal, that was made to the Tehelka management earlier this week.

‘This visit has placed tremendous emotional pressure on my family and I at an intensely traumatic time. I fear this may be the beginning of a period of further intimidation and harassment.

‘I call upon all persons connected to Mr Tejpal and his associates to refrain from approaching me or my family members.’

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  1. fopdoodler

    Hi Mahitha
    I understand the angst and pique that an incident such as this can cause. Before passing a judgement about Shoma Chaudary’s response, I urge you to take a look at the facts again. It is important to check not just the facts but also the context.
    There are two mails doing rounds on the internet, from which I presume, you have quoted too. One which Shoma writes to her employees. I see it like an email that one gets from the HR. She has to ensure minimum damage and maximum boosting of morale. She obviously cannot say that Tarun is probably a rapist, definitely a bad person and therefore I demanded that he step down.
    Secondly, Tejpal’s email to Shoma in which he is writing to his subordinate telling her he is leaving an institution he built in her very capable hands, for breaking the highest standard of morals that he is required to adhere to. Now you and most other people have written as if this was Tarun’s apology to the journalist concerned. It isn’t. Lets hold it in the context in which it is.
    I am not defending Tejpal’s actions in any way. If he did what he did, he deserves to be punished not allowed to be lacerated in penance.
    We just need to put things in the right context.

  2. Suniti Agarwal

    I seriously wanna strangle Shoma Choudhry for her hypocrisy. When CBI chief had a ‘slip of tongue’ she demanded him to resign and here where Tarun Tejpal had to some extent already confessed, she is ok with his 6 month vacation, now people that is what I would call ‘loyalty’.

  3. Yashashwi Sharma

    It’s n ambiguous situation n as per me we can’t bluntly blame tejpal because case is related to women ,we can’t deny the fact he is senior and experienced Indian and belongs to media field since long time and do not have any ccriminal background so wait for tribunal to decide about this case.

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