“By this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic”

Excerpts from the FIR lodged against Tarun Tejpal.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: What is common between actor Robert De Niro and media man Tarun Tejpal? Both find mention in a recent police report, specifically in an FIR or First Information Report, by the Goa Police.

And how did this happen?

De Niro was in Goa last week to attend the ‘Think’ which according to the organizers, Tehelka magazine, celebrates the power of thought and ideas as the central driving force of every society. The event is Tehelka’s signature annual event, hosted in partnership with Newsweek magazine.

Now for the revelation – as these lines from the FIR would suggest:

“Let us wake up Bob (De Niro)…..”.

“’The door opened on the second floor, on Mr. De Niro’s floor – and he (Tejpal) said again – ‘The universe is telling us something’ to which I said ‘I’m taking the stairs’ and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria – by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic.”

These excerpts of an FIR, filed by the female victim, a journalist working with the magazine had alleged that Tejpal sexually assaulted her twice during the Goa event — Think. Tejpal who was one of the key founders of Tehelka, which means Sensation, now faces imminent arrest after pressure mounted on him for his conduct by various women’s groups and activists. Tejpal has moved the Delhi High Court for an anticipatory bail. He also recused himself from being the Editor-in-Chief of the organization after the incident.

If proven of guilt or not, what this incident simply reveals is this – which is ironically written in the words of  equal rights activist Harish Iyer on the very  pages of Tehelka itself last year – “As long as human beings exist, the demons in them will also exist.” He adds: “But perpetrators are not just ‘strangers’ or people restricted to only a particular gender or social class.”

Iyer himself is a victim who suffered 11 long years of sexual abuse by a close relative. Ironically, he was one of the speakers for this year’s Think.

Tejpal too,  independently and unconsciously admitted (and to the assault) to what Iyer said when he  wrote the post-incident  apology letter to the victim, “I would say it was a moment of insanity, except that would mean evading responsibility for it, and that I will not do. I hold myself, first and last, accountable.”

The other set of quotes from the letter has the 50-year-old Tejpal regretting the abuse on a friend’s daughter. “You are a young woman I have been very proud of, as a colleague’s daughter, and then as a colleague in my own office. I have watched you grow and mature professionally into a journalist of great integrity and promise. It wrenches me beyond describing, therefore, to accept that I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me.”

The accused, now a formal employee of Tehelka, quit from her job on Monday.

The Tehelka episode comes in the wake of an epidemic of crimes against women in India which had witnessed a 74% increase over the past 15 years, claims a study based on the statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau of India. The rate of increase in cases of domestic violence is highest at 140 %, followed by kidnapping at 117%, rape by 60 % and molestation at 40% between 1998 and 2011.

Many of such crimes either get swept under the carpet or best forgotten. And the Tehelka incident too was on the verge of becoming just another, but for the victim’s courage to speak up. Moreover, what also jolted many was that the victim and the accused came from the crucible of Tehelka itself, a magazine that had brought the ‘sting operation’ into the drawing rooms and courts of India. A magazine that grew up from a portal – feared by foes and respected by friends – it had set a very high standard for integrity and ethics for itself but slipped to the abyss of basic instincts while perpetuating a crime that it so abhorred.

To contact the author, email to editor@americanbazaaronline.com

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