Sexual assault case: Tehelka sets up inquiry committee


In the wake of the alleged sexual assault of a Tehelka journalist by her editor, the magazine institutes a Complaint Committee to conduct inquiry

By Team FI

Following media reports and protests regarding the weekly news magazine Tehelka’s response to the accusation of assault and sexual harassment made against its editor Tarun Tejpal, the managing editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury, has released a statement stating that “Tehelka has now constituted a formal complaints committee, in accordance to Vishaka guidelines.”

As per the mail send by an employee to the managing editor of the magazine, Shoma Chaudhary, the assault took place on November 7 and 8 during the Tehelka Think Tank, held in Panaji, Goa. Tejpal had allegedly accosted the employee in a lift while returning from their professional duties. It is clear from the allegations made in the complaint letter that Tarun Tejpal had threatened the employee that complying to him would mean keeping her job, ““Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job,” he had stated when she protested against the assault.

The management had referred to the sexual assault issue as an “internal” matter and Tarun Tejpal had recused himself from the magazine for six months for “atonement and penance.” This despite the fact that the complainant had asked the management for an inquiry to be conducted into the matter.

Organisations such as the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) and the Indian Women’s Press Corps had condemned the incident and the management response to it. NWMI had in a press release stated that Tarun Tejpal’s “actions go beyond sexual harassment and fall under the definition of sexual assault, according the new Criminal Law Amendment, 2013.” The organisation rejecting his offer of atonement demanded that, “Institutional mechanisms must be set in place to investigate the complaint of sexual assault, prosecute the perpetrator, and deal with future cases.”

NWMI stated that according to law the employer is responsible for ensuring an environment free of sexual harassment and is legally bound to assist any employee who wishes to pursue criminal prosecution. A fact that management at Tehelka had failed to do.

A suo moto “preliminary inquiry” has also been ordered by the Goa government on Thursday, 21st November into the allegations. The Goa Police has asked for a copy of this complaint to be handed over to them since that is needed for the FIR to be registered. They also pointed out that Shoma Chaudhary should have brought the complaint to the police as she was “legally bound to”.

Sexual harassment cases have being increasing visible with complaints being made against media houses, politicians and even the judiciary. Pointing out the recent experiences in Sun TV, Doordarshan and All India Radio, which has revealed that not only private media organisations but even the state/public broadcasters were not compliant with the law, the NWMI had demanded that “a Complaints Committee be set up by all media houses, including Tehelka, to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.”

According to Chaudhary’s statement, Tehelka’s complaints committee “is to be presided over by Urvashi Butalia, eminent feminist and publisher, to investigate the matter. The other members of the committee will be announced shortly. In addition to this, Tehelka will ensure setting up a formal complaints committee, according to section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013), an institutional mechanism that was sorely missing in Tehelka.”

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