Sex assault case: Shoma failed to separate Tehelka from Tejpal

Shoma Chaudhury might be questioning the media on whether they were the 'aggrieved party' in the sexual harassment case involving Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal, but the truth is that there has been a complete negation and disapproval of the conduct of both Shoma, who is the managing editor, and Tejpal himself from among the journalistic fraternity et al.

Madhu Trehan, editor of Newslaundry, said that if she would have been in their position she would have ensured that the perpetrators were not shielded. "Confusing the issue is the worst thing they (Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury) can do. It doesn't look like Shoma is being straight forward, they are looking like they are putting a spin. This spin is making it worse. And now..the events are such that it appears like a leak war is going on between the woman and Tehelka, she told CNN-IBN.

 Sex assault case: Shoma failed to separate Tehelka from Tejpal

Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury. AFP/Youtube

After the girl's leaked email generated a wide range of protests and the girl made it clear that she was not satisfied with the institutional action, Shoma Chaudhury has instituted a committee that will look into the allegation of sexual harassment. The committee has among other members noted feminist and publisher Urvashi Butalia - though she is seen as being a close friend of Tarun Tejpal, and therefore according to many, not impartial in the case.

However, the committee has only been set up after this incident, pointed out social activist Kavita Srivastava. "It is serious lapse that even after 16 years of the Vishakha judgement the committee wasn't there. However, I would not write away any committee," also adding that if the case is of a criminal nature then the organisational head (in this case, Shoma Chaudhury herself) should facilitate criminal proceedings.

However, Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising said this committee will not have the power to go into the two versions of the case. Shoma Chaudhury had mentioned in her interview to Rajdeep Sardesai in CNN-IBN that there is also a version of the incident from Tejpal. "This committee has no jurisdiction to go into the two versions of the case. Only the police can do that...the committee don't have investigative skills. The committee is for the future on whether the organisation is going to be compliant with the guidelines of the Vishakha judgement or not," said Jaising.

Moreover, she noted that it is critical that the members are completely independent and they have no professional or personal relationship with Tehelka editors or management at any given point in time - something that Tehelka appears to have breached by appointing Butalia in the committee.

According to Jaising, the police will act on an FIR and may pursue investigation irrespective of whether the woman files a sexual harassment charge against Tejpal or not. She said, "Police are empowered to make an investigation once an information is there and they can access that information. Police may have no option but to summon the case. The law says regardless of the source from where the information of the cognizable offence has been released, the police have to act, " according to the amended Criminal Justice Act in accordance with Justice Verma Committee's report after the December 16 gangrape in Delhi.

"If the police do not begin an investigation then they would have to face legal scrutiny. The Supreme Court has reiterated this stance on a two-week old judgement on Lalita Kumari that information is information regardless of the source," Jaising said.

Apart from all this, what seems to have got everybody outraged is the conduct of Shoma Chaudhury as a journalist, as the managaing editor of Tehelka and also as a noted feminist herself who does speak out on women's issues on every platform.

"She (Shoma Chaudhury) is not being able to separate the institution from the person. Protecting the institution and the woman should have been Shoma's priority," said Sagarika Ghose, Deputy Editor of CNN-IBN. She also said that under the changed circumstances in India crimes such as these cannot be hushed up and neither can Shoma Chaudhury take on the tone of righteous acknowledgement in the emails that have been leaked in the public domain.

Senior journalist Ashok Malik agreed with Sagarika Ghose when he said, "There has been a lot of contradiction in what she writes and how she acts. This case is unique because it is so well documented. Their fundamental failing has been not to understand the power of media in the 21st century," referring to the widely reported view that Tehelka might have wanted to keep this incident an 'internal matter'.

However, all the panelists in the discussion agreed that criminal proceedings was the way forward for this case. There could be two versions (referring to the public statement put out by Tarun Tejpal) - but why would that not be unveiled on day one? There should be more than three do-gooders sitting and doing justice. There should be criminal complaint," said Malik, summing up the opinion of all the panelists.

The bottom line is that this case has moved beyond the ambit of Tehelka's 'internal matter'. So far, Tarun Tejpal was doing it on his own terms including the decision to step down for six months. "But here the woman has changed his terms. The girl's narrative will lead the case," said Kavita Srivastava.

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2013 08:48:15 IST