Tehelka scandal renews debate on gender crimes

Tehelka scandal renews debate on gender crimes

Had Tarun Tejpal not been the founder of Tehelka magazine, the sexual scandal involving him would not have hit the headlines.
Tejpal has been accused of physically abusing a female colleague. His alleged crime, for which he has been taken into police custody, demands analysis from different angles. Though through intra-office communication, Tejpal has accepted his offense and also apologized for the same, he has not made any public statement. The alleged victim is reportedly a friend of Tejpal’s daughter and of the same age.
In an e-mail to the Managing Editor of Tehelka on Nov. 18, the female journalist accused Tejpal of sexually assaulting her twice in Goa on Nov. 7 and 8. It took the victim 10 days to speak out against her boss. Subsequently, Tejpal was held on Nov. 30 more than 20 days after he allegedly committed the offense. The day the news broke, this incident has become talk of the town and is being given more coverage than the ongoing electoral campaign.
The District and Sessions Court in Panaji (Goa) does not view the inordinate delay on part of the victim in filing charges against Tejpal as “material” at this stage. While rejecting Tejpal’s anticipatory bail plea, District and Sessions Judge Anuja Prabhudesai noted, “It has to be borne in mind that delay in lodging the report is not necessarily fatal and can always be explained. The yardstick of unexplained delay in filing an FIR, which usually goes in favor of the accused, cannot be applied in cases involving sexual offenses.” In her 25-page order, the judge observed, “The statement of the victim and the documents in the form of e-mails, etc., details of which need not be reproduced here, prima facie indicate that the applicant, who was her mentor and father figure, had not only outraged her modesty but had misused his position, betrayed her trust and violated her body.”
If media waves are to be believed, it is not going to be an easy task for Tejpal to deny the charges levelled against him. If he is proven guilty by this court, he has the option to file appeal against in higher courts.
Irrespective of whether Tejpal succeeds in the long run in higher courts in denying charges against him or not, this case demands deliberation on yet another aspect. This shows the degree to which women in India still face discrimination, are abused and are treated as second-class citizens. The case allegedly involving Tejpal is just the tip of the iceberg.
Observers may recall the Dec. 16 Delhi gang rape case that led to nationwide protests. A 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, traveling in a private bus with a male friend, was beaten and gang-raped. She died 13 days later while undergoing treatment in Singapore. Considering the criticism and protest provoked by this incident, it was hoped that there would be a decline in such incidents. Statistics, however, depict a different picture. In Delhi alone, the number of such cases has doubled since January 2013. Compared to 706 cases in 2012, 1,300 rape cases have so far been reported during the first 10 months of the current year. The city has witnessed a hike in sexual assualt cases from 727 in 2012 to 2,844 in 2013.
Negative attitude toward women is also indicated by the continuation of the practice of female infanticide and its impact. In 2001, female child population in age group of 0-6 years was 78.83 million. It declined to 75.84 million in 2011, according to a study conducted by Central Statistical Organization.
Crimes against women increased across the country by 7.1 percent since 2011, according to National Crime Record Bureau statistics. In the preceding year, the number of crimes against women jumped by nine percent. In more than 90 percent of those cases, offenders were known to victims as their family members, relatives or neighbors. A new case is reported every 22 minutes. Due to family and social pressure, most cases go unreported. There is a view that number of unreported cases of sexual assault is much higher.
These statistics have been highlighted primarily to indicate the degree to which Indian society is affected by this malaise. Only time and judicial process will indicate whether Tejpal should be held guilty of being one of the many promoters of this malaise. There is a possibility that social apprehension and related risks may have prevented the victim from promptly filing charges against Tejpal. But after some delay, she finally went ahead. Yet, the delay may have a negative impact. The delay may prevent total verification of charges levelled against Tejpal. The point made about political pressure being responsible for cornering Tejpal has not been well received in most circles. Tejpal has certainly been cornered as one of the many responsible for abusing women and according them a secondary status. The case filed against him only suggests that he cared little for professional stature of his colleague and more about her gender. Now we must wait and watch.
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