By asking to make the CCTV footage public, Tejpal hopes to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character
By Kavita Krishnan
Tarun Tejpal’s demand to make the CCTV footage public is, in fact, a call to the general public to be voyeurs, examine the woman (complainant), place her smile, her demeanour and her gait on trial, ready to declare her guilty if her conduct does not conform to the 70s Hindi film stereotype of the ‘raped woman’.
Tejpal wants the public (through media) to try and declare him innocent. He wants to use the media, including social media, to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character. A step towards this has already been taken by his friends who have sent mails with her photos asking – “Check out her pose! Is she traumatised? No! Is she happy? Yes!”
We, in the women’s movement, can only hope that the courts will not behave like the ‘court of public opinion’.
For, if a woman is brutalised, her bloodied body/corpse available as incontestable proof of her victimhood — in conformity with those Hindi movie images we just talked about — then a court MIGHT hand out the death sentence based on ‘public opinion’. I use the word ‘MIGHT’ because here too, for a Bhotmange or a Manorama or a Soni Sori, the brutalised body is no guarantee of public opinion or courts perceiving the heinousness of the crime.
In cases where the victim doesn’t have a brutalised body to display to gratify voyeurs — the ‘peanut-crunching crowd’ — the courts are again all too likely to mirror public opinion and declare that the woman doesn’t really look or behave ‘raped’ enough.
Even when courts appear to be ‘sensitive’ to women, there’s a catch. There is one landmark verdict of the Supreme Court which holds that a conviction can take place even on the ‘sole testimony’ of the complainant. However, what the verdict actually said was: “It is conceivable in Western society that a female may level a false accusation as regards sexual molestation against a male”. However, “A girl or a woman in the tradition bound non-permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred” and therefore isn’t likely to lie about rape! The detailed argument in this verdict has sickeningly sexist imaginings of why ‘Western’ women are likely to lie about rape
Not surprisingly, this notion of ‘chaste Indian woman’ versus ‘loose Westernised woman’ is what Tejpal’s defence is relying on. In his bail plea, lawyer quoted this verdict to argue that she could not be raped, the sex must be consensual because the complainant is “a liberated, emancipated modern woman”.
So, women can only HOPE — against hope — that courts will stand aloof from public opinion, and will deliver justice on merits of the case rather than on jaundiced notions about how raped Indian women are supposed to behave, as opposed to the loose, liberated, modern women…
Tejpal claims there’s no evidence against him, that the charges are flimsy. The charges are by no means flimsy as he suggests but rather, there’s an embarrassment of weighty facts — straight from Tejpal’s own words — enough to make this a very serious case.
Tejpal claimed in an email to his friends that the whole thing was “an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!)”. However, based on the CCTV footage, the charge sheet establishes that the lift took much longer than usual to make the two-storey climb, certainly much longer than the ‘less than a minute’ claimed by Tejpal.
This unwarranted time in the lift the first time and the footage of him taking her into the lift on a second occasion (a second encounter which Tejpal’s email to friends didn’t mention) is certainly grounds for invoking Sections 341 (wrongful restrain) and 342 (wrong confinement) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Moreover, his own ‘apology’ email established his admitting to invoking his status as her boss — though he claims to have retracted it. The very fact that he admits to invoking it to overcome what HE calls her ‘clear reluctance’, goes to show a strong basis for invoking 376(2) (f) (person in position of trust or authority over women commits rape on such women) and 376(2) (k) (rape of a woman by a person being in position of control or dominance over the woman) IPC.
And the testimony of several of the complainant’s colleagues that she told them immediately after the first episode that she was assaulted, and of course her own complaint that has remained stable and unchanged while Tejpal’s has mutated time and time again, are pretty strong grounds for invoking Sections 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 354-A (outrage modesty).
However, though these are undeniably strong grounds, the matter is sub-judice and it is for the court to pronounce him guilty or not.
Finally, Tejpal claims that his arrest is “an early sign of the inherent fascism of the right-wing that will target its detractors in the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is India is imbued with no tolerance for dissenters and critics, of whom I certainly am one.”
I know neither Mr. Tejpal nor the complainant personally. I know them both from their work as journalists and public intellectuals. And I can say: Mr Tejpal, you don’t have to be male and a senior editor to be a ‘dissenter and critic’ against communal politics. The complainant — a young journalist who has done courageous and forthright journalism — is no less a dissenter and a critic. And we, who stand up for her rights, are no less dissenters and critics.
Tejpal trivialises the anti-fascist struggle by trying to use it to demand impunity from accusations of rape. Being a dissenter and a critic doesn’t provide us with some kind of AFSPA-type shield to being prosecuted for rape.
Can we please keep the word ‘draconian’ confined to laws like AFSPA, MCOCA, sedition and so forth? The new rape law is NOT draconian
The new law very correctly expands the definition of rape and provides graded punishment for different types of sexual violence; and it very correctly states that consent cannot be presumed without a clear YES, ‘by word or gesture’ from the woman. These are not draconian provisions. Ten years, for the compound crimes Tejpal is accused of, is not necessarily excessive. It should jolt us that Tejpal’s friend can refer to what he is accused of as a ‘mere pass’. Even a ‘pass’ is now sexual harassment. And holding a woman against her will in a closed space, disrobing her and forcing your finger or tongue inside her private parts is not a ‘pass’ — and it’s downright scary that some can think of it as such.
The same pal of Tejpal’s said, chillingly, that if this is rape, 50% of editors and CEOs will be in jail for rape. Do editors and CEOs (Tejpal seems to think these are all male) really see it as their entitlement to do these things to their woman employees?! If so, it reminds me of the sense of entitlement that Bihar landlords used to expect, as their due, from Dalit woman workers in their fields in the 1980s. Those bosses who think women have to submit to such treatment must indeed be in jail.
I am willing to discuss, in a general context, the need to retain some discretion for the judge in sentencing, but I’ll do so in a context of concern for justice for women, so that courts should not be deterred from convictions and discretion should not move from the judges to the cops. And I’ll discuss these when we have some evidence that the new law is indeed acting against women’s interests in this regard. To use those concerns and debates of the women’s movement to paint Tejpal as a victim is abhorrent.
To those who accuse feminists of defending a draconian law to play ‘media darlings’, allow me to point out that the women’s movement has consistently — on the same media — articulated and defended the UNPOPULAR positions against draconian provisions of death penalty and lowering of the age of juvenility and raising the age of consent.
We have interrupted the media’s self-congratulatory narratives on Tejpal or Asaram to remind them of their own double standards on Manorama, Kunan Poshpora, Soni Sori, countless Bastar rapes, rape of Dalit women in Haryana and so on. The same activists who make use of a few minutes in the media to counter the insidious campaign of vilification that Tejpal and his pals are carrying out against the complainant, have also spoken — again in the face of abuse and hate speeches — against the hanging of Afzal Guru and the conviction of Shehzad in the Batla House case. We have made the women’s movement’s dissent and outrage heard against the custodial killing of the December 16 rape accused Ram Singh inside Tihar jail.
I am one of the handful of people who have, after carefully examining available evidence, rather than the feverish imaginings of a sexist media campaign, questioned the obnoxious, appalling Aarushi verdict, which was a ‘media trial’ if ever there was one. A secular friend, who today accuses me of participating in media trials of ‘secular’ men accused of rape, was only too happy to repeat the prejudiced misinformation peddled by the media in the Aarushi case, warning me to stick with public opinion rather than my own assessment and conscience in that case!
I have also spoken AGAINST ‘potency tests’ for Asaram and Tejpal. I hold potency tests to be just as demeaning, unscientific and humiliating as a two-finger test for rape survivors.
What about bail for Tejpal? I believe bail is a right that all undertrials are entitled to. I, along with many others, have thanklessly struggled for bail for NOIDA workers, Maruti workers, held on far flimsier grounds. Soni Sori got bail after years of incarceration. Many of my own comrades languish in jail without bail on cooked-up charges relating to mass movements led by them.
In the case of those accused of heinous crimes, courts tend to deny bail irrespective of how flimsy the charges are. And this has nothing to do with the new rape law. It has been the case long before last year. Tejpal, therefore, cannot claim he’s being denied bail because of political vendetta or a ‘draconian’ law. Rather, if at all he gets bail, it will be because he has a posse of lawyers and he is viewed as ‘respectable’ and ‘respected’, unlike your average worker or slum-dweller or common man/woman accused. And if he gets bail, I would not oppose it.
The very phrases ‘media darlings’, ‘BBM-ing feminists’ and so on are redolent of rank sexism. We do the cause of democracy and secularism a grave injustice by resorting to this manner of campaign. Tejpal is entitled to a defence, surely. But we cannot allow the complainant to be subjected to a moralistic, voyeuristic pillory on the pretext of his defence. She is being put through hell, has had her mindspace and professional world turn from a zone of comfort and achievement into an ugly space of abuse and jeers, not because of her own actions but because she made the hard decision to complain about rape by her boss. This is the tough, painful world of rape survivors.
For those of us who ask why we activists cannot remain ‘neutral’, survivors and complainants get through this hell by relying on the support of the women’s movement. So, yes, we are not going to stop supporting rape complainants because the accused happens, on occasion, to be part of the secular or democratic camp. That’s because democracy includes women’s rights.
Tarun Tejpal’s Press Statement 18.2.2014:
“If conclusive proof was needed of the political vendetta that has been
unleashed against me, under the guise of a sexual molestation
investigation, it has been emphatically provided today. In a blatant
attempt at twisting and concealing the facts, the Goa police while
filing a 3000 page highly spurious charge sheet, has not presented or
handed over the most crucial piece of evidence in this case, the CCTV
footage of the incident
In my first and only press note of November 22nd 2013 I had urged,
“the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that
the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed”. I said this
at a time, from Delhi, when I had neither accessed nor seen the
footage. But since I was the man on the spot I knew the truth of what
It is violative of due process, to not make all collected evidence
available to the accused at the time of filing the charge sheet. In
fact, receipt of the footage is what we have been impatiently waiting
for since the last three months. This duplicity is in keeping with the
sinister and motivated political vendetta that is being pursued.
I have been in jail since November 30th simply because the goa police,
clearly acting under the orders of their political bosses, have
refused to release this crucial footage of the relevant days, 7th and
8th November. This entire case hinges on the 130 and 45 seconds (as
per the charge sheet) of contested time which can be brought to light
via the CCTV footage. The goa police know their fabricated case will
collapse the moment the footage is revealed and compared with the
‘testimony’ of the alleged victim, on the basis of which the Goa
police filed it’s FIR under draconian provisions.
As it were, I viewed the relevant footage of both days whilst being
‘held’ in police custody and the footage clearly validates me. The
fact is most of the officers in the crime branch know there is no
case, and have said as much to me. Even so the IO has been pursuing an
agenda spelt out for her by her political masters, totally violating
the principle of police neutrality.
I’m afraid what we are witnessing here is an early sign of the
inherent fascism of the right wing that will target its detractors in
the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government
machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of
all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame
that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is
India is imbued with no tolerance of dissenters and critics, of whom I
certainly am one.”