In my first comments on the apparent accusation that Tarun Tejpal, one of India’s most high profile editors, sexually assaulted a female colleague and his subsequent statement I said the following yesterday:
“Tejpal also speaks of “an awful misreading of the situation.” That is a baffling explanation.It means there was a situation, involving the young woman, to be misread. Is it his case that the young woman might have conducted herself in a manner that she had opened herself to be misread? What situation is he talking about?”
The situation that he was implicitly talking about and the one that I suspected as much that he was talking about may have to do with whether the young journalist had opened herself to be misread. In his first official statement Tejpal said the following:
“There have been serious allegations cast on me in this last week, and unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict. In this case this anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.
For four days, as demanded by Shoma Chaudhury, the managing editor, and the recipient of the complaint, I have tried to do what was honorably demanded of me. On Tuesday I issued an apology for the alleged misconduct, as desired by the journalist through Shoma Chaudhury. On Wednesday I stepped down from the editorship of Tehelka and removed myself from the office premises. On Thursday I learnt of the formation of the complaints committee.
I offer my fullest cooperation to the police and all other authorities, and look to presenting all the facts of this incident to it. I also urge the committee and the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed.”
It is the last contention that the police should examine and release the CCTV footage “so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed” that is loaded with the suggestion that there is another side to the story that might cast a very different light on the incident. The purpose of this contention, and I am consciously second-guessing Tejpal here, seems to be that there was something in the young woman’s conduct in the elevator that the man twice her age felt it acceptable to act fresh with her.
The Hoot, a respected Indian media watchdog, has published this brief on its site under the headline “Tejpal’s version”:
“After the sustained TV onslaught, Tarun Tejpal’s version sent to friends, is now circulating. It says that the truth is that out of an attempt to preserve the girl’s dignity and on "Shoma’s adamantine feminist-principle insistence" that he keep correct form by apologising, he did so. But, he says, the girl’s version is a total lie, as the CCTV footage will establish. According to him it was a less than a minute long fleeting, totally consensual encounter in the lift of a two-storey building.”
If one reads Tejpal’s official statement and the version he has reportedly sent to friends as quoted by The Hoot together, the pushback from his side would be propelled by the claim that she was as much a willing party to what transpired in the elevator as he was.
At the risk of taking an uncharacteristically absolutist stand I would say irrespective of the optics of the situation it was unbecoming of a 50-year-old man to play along with whatever he presumed was going on. It is not my case even for a second that the young woman was a willing party to it. Her response ex post facto, as reported in the media, is compelling enough to suggest that she was traumatized by whatever it is that Tejpal did. That she shared her trauma with friends and family almost immediately is a testament to that. To me that alone should make Tejpal’s conduct wholly unacceptable simply because he should have exercised better judgment.
Now that Tejpal has been officially charged with rape by the police from the state of Goa where the incident happened, the matter is squarely in the legal domain. All opining, second-guessing and pontificating should cease until the matter has been settled. Tejpal has been charged suo moto under Sections 354 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deal, respectively, with criminal use of force on a woman and rape.