Since the fatal 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old medical school student in Delhi, India has grappled with the issue of sexual violence against women. Despite toughening laws and public awareness campaigns, graphic accounts of rape and political chauvinism continue to dominate the national news.
Last November, Tehelka magazine – renowned for its investigative journalism and coverage of women’s issues – ironically found itself in the headlines. A young female journalist alleged that the editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted her on two separate occasions in a hotel elevator.
Tejpal, who has been in custody since November 30, was finally charged with rape by a Goa court yesterday. He was denied bail and faces a minimum of 10 years behind bars if found guilty.
Goa’s Chief Judicial Magistrate, Anuja Prabhudesai, released nearly 2,700 pages of charges detailed by the prosecution. It contains testimony from more than 150 witnesses.
“It can be concluded that the victim of sexual assault in the present case is a young woman journalist who was raped, sexually harassed and her modesty outraged by Tarun Tejpal; a person whom she trusted as a fatherly figure and respected as a senior colleague,” read the charges. “This incident has caused serious psychological injury to the dignity, self-esteem and overall personality of [the] victim – young woman journalist – who has made a mark for herself in the field of journalism.”
The victim claims that Tejpal, 50, attacked her during the magazine’s annual “Think Fest” – a party attended by Indian leaders, newsmakers and international celebrities. She had been tasked with escorting American actor Robert De Niro and his daughters to various events.
“The magazine has reported forcefully on gender inequality in India recently, highlighting police and judicial insensitivity to rape victims as well as the misogynistic attitudes of many Indian men,” wrote AFP. “It has been accused of hypocrisy and trying to cover up a serious crime after staff were sent an email last week saying Tejpal was stepping down for six months for ‘misconduct.’”
The Times of India also said the charge sheet indicates that Tejpal admitted to the rape via emailed apologies to the victim.
Tejpal had initially described the incident as a “bad lapse of judgment,” but later changed his tone – accusing the victim of a “political conspiracy” and insisting that their encounter was “consensual.”
Six Tehelka journalists, including the magazine’s managing editor, have resigned since November. Tejpal’s next court appearance is scheduled for February 24.