Tarun Tejpal: Fall Of A Rising Star

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By John Basho Pou

Tarun Tejpal is a buzzword in media, this time, not on account of his rise but his Waterloo. Like any other personality in the history of fame, power and control, Tejpal has revealed his Achilles’ heels in the public domain. He has sexually assaulted a female colleague in a hotel during Think Fest at Goa and later resigned as Editor-in Chief, Tehelka. His fall marks the lowest point in the tale of man who has excelled in creating his own mythology and shaping true investigative journalism for his peers and aspirants in the profession.

It’s a shock to everyone at why an editor and icon- in the making, well-known for his crusade for truth, rights and justice of the people through Tehalka, would have outraged the modesty of a woman. Bricks bats pour in from all quarters in favour of befitting penalty on the accused. Tejpal has now been booked for rape (IPC Section 376), rape by a person in a position of control or dominance (IPC Section 376(2)(k), and outraging the modesty of a woman (IPC Section 354). The conviction for rape by a person in authority carries a minimum punishment of 10 years in jail.  

Before Tejpal shoot into limelight with Tehelka, he has worked for The Financial Times, Indian Express, India Today and The Outlook. However, so as to spread wings of his inner ambition and passion to be trail-blazer and curved his own niche in the field of investigative journalism, Tehelka.com was launched along with a bunch of journalists and broke stories like Snoopgate and Operation West End, to name a few, which rocked the nation.  

He is a talented, ambitious and flamboyant editor and writer. He has authored the novels The Alchemy of Desire, Story of my Assassins, and Valley of Masks which were reviewed in the world leading newspapers. ‘At last – a new and brilliantly original novel from India’, V.S.Naipaul puts it on the Alchemy of Desire. Khushwant Singh also commented ‘The Alchemy of Desire’ puts Tarun in the front rank of Indian novelists. I am inclined to agree with Naipaul: his book is a masterpiece.’ And when his one-time friend Arundhadi Roy was looking for a publisher of her novel “The God of small things”, Tejpal, along with few friends, established IndiaInk and published her Booker Prize award winning novel. Therefore, whatever Tarun Tejpal touches, it seems to have turned into gold.

Tejpal erred with the girl, but the good thing he did was he bravely confessed the wrongdoing and stood up to face consequences of his action. His brave gesture reflects the image of Tehelka that stands for truth. The big blunder may cause Tehelka’s exit without his presence, but he maintain the paper’s identity. In a promotional poster of Tehelka, Tejpal is seen staring at eternity with a catchy tagline – ‘Truth can change you. But you can’t change the truth’. Living up to his ideal, truth has obviously changed him into an accused. And truth lands him in jail as he can’t change it no matter what. But god knows, the mistake might add another feather to his cap of success after the law freed him.

In such reports on such sexual violence, there is a curiosity among the readers to know in detail. And in Tejpal’s case, readers are more curious to know more than what reporters present on many counts. However, the name of the victim has been withheld, so far, by the media to protect her privacy although readers have every right to know the details of the case. It is important to remind the readers that, especially in such cases, protection of victim’s privacy, dignity and future civil life is more important than letting readers know every detail, although the seriousness and nature of the crime could be made public. Reporters follow this check and balance rule without detailing the intensity and superficiality of the act. And this is the ethical and moral responsibility of a mature journalism. Considering the media trial in the aftermath of the episode, senior news editors and journalists across the country share their views on how, as a socially and morally responsible professional, should tackle such violence.

Lawlessness silents the victims in our society. Tejpal’s case serves as a wake-up call for many who falls prey to control and dominance in the work place. There is an urgent need to take up precautionary measures aiming at creating a healthy work environment that enables all employees to work without fear of prejudice, gender bias and sexual harassment. The Centre has passed Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 which has already come into effect from Dec.1, 2013 although the Act was not yet drafted. It should be properly sensitised among the employees, employers and the public for smooth and idyllic working environment.

The drama of Tejpal’s sexual assault may not be scripted by political echelons for revenge on Tehelka’s expose of Scoopgate, Westend or Gujarat 2001. But it’s the law of the land that gives her courage to fight back Tejpal, her boss without being feared of losing her job and salary that supports her poor family. The law is with her. And the law shall take its course of action inspite of his stature, fame and influence

How many victims of such cases, if any, could stand up bravely and fight back in our society? I am not quite sure. The answer is blowing in the wind.

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