On the Tehelka case: Stand by the victim

Photo: Mine.
Photo: Mine.

For the past week, the story of Tarun Tejpal being accused of sexual assault has been a raging topic of discussion. Tejpal is the editor in chief of Tehelka, a news magazine with a solid reputation for hard-hitting journalism. The accusation against him is that he sexually assaulted a journalist who works with Tehelka during an event called THINK, which is organised by a company owned by Tejpal, his sister Neena and Shoma Chaudhury, who is also the managing editor at Tehelka. As things stand now, a criminal case has been lodged suo moto against Tejpal. (Suo moto means that the legal process has been started without any case being filed by either the victim or anyone else involved in the case. The victim has, however, said that she will cooperate with the investigation.)

I wrote this piece on the limitations of the Vishaka guidelines before the criminal case started or before Chaudhury started tying herself up in knots of “different versions”.

It’s worth noting that although there is now a law that deems sexual harassment a criminal offense, it isn’t yet enforce-able (the rules under it haven’t yet been framed).

Usually, the cases of sexual assault and harassment that appear in the media and get discussed freely are those in which the perpetrator is a stranger. It strengthens the illusion that women need to be protected when they’re out in the big, bad world when the reality is that the overwhelming majority of sexual crimes against women are committed by people who know them and are familiars. They’re committed by relatives, family friends and other people that women and girls are conditioned to trust. People like Tejpal, as it turns out.

The Tehelka staffer’s decision to not suffer Tejpal’s unwanted attentions in silence has brought to light some very uncomfortable facts. One is the assumption that women will show solidarity with other women who have been victimised. However, empathy on the basis of one’s gender isn’t a given. In this particular case, it seems some of the journalist’s male peers have been more helpful than her female superiors. More problematically, the Vishakha judgement sounds good on paper, but in reality, it can be reduced to a toothless directive. As a result, regardless of how privileged a position you may be in, if you’re a victim of sexual harassment, your actual chances of getting a fair hearing and justice may be limited.

Read the entire piece here.

There’s a lot that’s very disturbing about this case, and one of them has been the response of those who have with a staggering sense of irresponsibility disclosed personal details of the victim and her experience on social and news media. Madhu Kishwar went so far as to actually tweet the victim’s name (though she did delete the tweet soon after). There’s been a strange sense of self-importance with which many have tried to defend their decision to put the emails from the victim to Chaudhury out in the public domain. I don’t think that I could put my point of view any better than Supriya Sharma has in this post.

If you’re interested in the topic of reporting responsibly, take a look at this Tumblr and this conversation on Genderlog.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for some black humour, I’m compiling a Dictionary of Misunderstood Words via Twitter and Storify. Tweet or leave a suggested entry in the comments to this post, and I’ll add it if it makes sense.

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