Pressure mounted Thursday for action against Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal for allegedly molesting a woman journalist in a Goa hotel.
Pressure mounted Thursday for action against Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal for allegedly molesting a woman journalist in a Goa hotel. The Goa government and the national women’s panel indicated they could act in the case while the magazine announced a panel to probe the incident.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also demanded action in the case while the Congress condemned the incident.
In a statement issued late in the evening, the magazine said it had set up a probe panel, headed by women’s rights activist Urvashi Butalia. Tehelka’s managing editor Shoma Chaudhury had earlier told journalists that a panel was being set up.
The incident, which came to light Wednesday night, has sparked off wide condemnation from media and women activists, who demanded that the matter should be probed and could not be treated as an “internal matter” of the weekly magazine that is known for its investigative articles.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said the victim has to come forward and file a complaint about the incident that allegedly took place in a hotel in north Goa where Tehelka had organised its Think Fest early this month.
“Unless I have a complaint I cannot prove guilt,” he said, also hinting they could hold a preliminary probe as a criminal act has happened in the state’s jurisdiction.
On Wednesday, Chaudhury sent an email to employees, containing an appended letter from Tejpal, Tehelka’s founder and editor-in-chief.
In an email to Chaudhary earlier, Tejpal said: “A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, has led to an unfortunate incident that is against all we believe in and fight for.”
“I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months,” he said.
In her email to the employees, Chaudhary said: “There was an incident which has been dealt with internally. An unconditional apology was extended by Tarun. The journalist concerned was satisfied with the action taken. Tarun voluntarily recusing himself as editor is in keeping with the standards we have espoused as an institution and want to live by.”
But National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Mamta Sharma said Tejpal could not decide his own punishment.
She said once the matter is brought to the panel, “we will investigate the matter and ensure that the accused gets punishment, if found guilty. He will have to face a trial in the court”.
The BJP, which faced embarrassment following a 2001 Tehelka sting operation in which its then president Bangaru Laxman was caught accepting a bribe from purported arms dealers, said the alleged act of molestation was tantamount to rape according to law.
BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said: “In today’s amended definition, the doing of Tarun Tejpal is called rape. He should be arrested.”
Terming Tejpal’s “atonement” letter “immensely shocking”, she said: “Criminality cannot be shielded in this action”.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely said: “The Indian media is on trial. A young intern alleged that a retired judge had made an improper advance towards her. The media reported it extensively.
“A section of the media is outraged that the police in Gujarat was protecting or allegedly keeping an eye on a young lady even with her and her family’s consent.”
“The Goa incident involving Tarun Tejpal and a young journalist is in a different league altogether. The victim’s complaint makes out a clear case of rape,” he said.
The Congress also called it a “serious issue”.
“Be it anyone big or small, the demand for action remains the same…If black sheep are there in the four pillars of democracy, who are not common people but guide them, then it is a very serious issue,” party spokesperson Meem Afzal said.
Condemning the manner in which the organization handled the incident, the Editors Guild of India said: “A self-proclaimed atonement is hardly the remedy for what allegations suggest is outright criminality.”
As the media mounted pressure on Tehelka for the manner in which it treated the sexual harassment charges, Chaudhury told reporters she needed a little time to address all the questions.
“I want to address the issues that have been raised, please give me a chance to do it in a decent way. I am from the fraternity and understand the need for transparency but I do need the time to act correctly on it,” she said, adding that the process of setting up a probe committee was on.
Social activist Kavita Srivastav said even if the victim does not file an FIR, Tejpal should not return as the editor-in-chief of Tehelka.
The Indian Women’s Press Corps said it “strongly condemns” the sexual misconduct by Tejpal.
The Press Club of India described the incident as a “slur” on the name of Indian journalism and hoped the “shocking happening at Tehelka” won’t deter women from wanting to become journalists.
The Delhi Union of Journalists said: “This is not the time to hide behind technicalities and penances but to live by the standards it (Tehelka) has set for others. Inward gazing may cleanse the conscience but a crime deserves and must get its punishment. And what Tejpal has done is a crime.”