Ladies, the Tehelka sexual assault victim is one we should all learn from

Published: December 10, 2013
Email

Tarum Tejpal, one of the most influential men in Indian Media. Photo: AFP

Last month, a young reporter from the news magazine Tehelka, was boarding a lift when she was followed by her Editor, Tarun Tejpal, and assaulted. This happened again the following night and she escaped the lift on both occasions.

In two weeks time, the girl emailed the Tehelka management and asked Tejpal, one of the most influential men in the Indian media, to issue an apology. He did it twice, once personally and later officially. He admitted to his crime.

The girl’s courage, to over-come the hideous incident and demand her right is commendable; that too despite Tejpal’s attempt to blackmail her earlier.

This apology became an effective legal document, with colleagues as eye-witnesses, all in her favour. Indeed if Tejpal was a slimy, resourceful crook, this girl was a brilliant star in her own right, responding to the ever-changing situation effectively.

The resignation

Firstly, her resignation was not only well-written but was also a sound legal document. She opposed Tejpal’s version and phrase-twisting by stating that,

“In the public acknowledgement sent to the bureau, Mr Tejpal and you referred to his act of sexual violation as ‘an untoward incident’— this was not an attempt to “protect the institution” but in fact, an attempt to cover up what had really happened… In your appearances on national news channels, you first attempted to establish that I was ‘satisfied’ with Tehelka’s actions… his behaviour could not be described as ‘sexual liaison’ and that was in fact an act of sexual molestation and a violation of bodily integrity and trust, since it occurred (by his own admission) despite my refusal. You are now attempting to establish that Mr Tejpal has ‘another version’ of events (as surely as any sexual predator does), and that the ‘encounter’ may have been consensual or non-consensual.”

This stand is rare in our part of the world, where rape victims are often counter-accused and silenced by slandering. Unfortunately, in South Asia, most girls are unclear whether they have been abused or if it was their own fault. Many blame themselves and remain quiet.

She continues,

“Tehelka that has failed women, employees, journalists and feminists collectively. Please consider my resignation effective immediately.”

His apology

Secondly, when Tejpal attempted to visit the girl’s family , she rightly informed the media and stopped him from repeating the offence or putting undue pressure on her.

She also countered Tejpal’s informal apology, saying “there was no ‘aftermath’ of that evening with the thunderclouds” and that she had met him purely for professional purposes of a story. She also sticks it into his face that he was the one always discussing ‘sex’ and ‘desire’ not her.

These emails depict how much she has suffered emotionally. The girl has also outlined through this discourse, how young working women are typified as ‘objects of desire’ rather than serious professionals.

Politically inclined?

Thirdly when she was categorised as a political tool used by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Congress before the impending election, she clarified,

“Suggestions that I am acting at someone else’s behest are only the latest depressing indications that sections of our public discourse are unwilling to acknowledge that women are capable of making decisions about themselves. Perhaps the hardest part of this unrelentingly painful experience has been my struggle with taxonomy. I don’t know if I am ready to see myself as a ‘rape victim’, for my colleagues, friends, supporters and critics to see me thus. It is not the victim that categorises crimes: it is the law. And in this case, the law is clear, what Mr Tejpal did to me falls within the legal definition of rape.”

This indeed is a dilemma for every woman who comes out openly about her abuse. She can be forever tagged as a ‘victim’ and that reputation is hard to shake off. Even more so for a young woman, who has yet to establish herself.

Think of all that Mukhtaran Mai has done — her school, family life and book — yet public memory is forever stuck on the violation she suffered.

The Tehelka assault victim is one helluva girl, whose bravery has made her family, country and women around the world proud. This is precisely the presence of mind and sharpness we need to teach our young women today.

She is the kind of character we need to make films on, not the ones Madhur Bhandarkar projects as “Heroine”. She has risked her career by demanding justice, and in the process, paid the most befitting tribute to the late Delhi gang rape victim.

Tip of the hat to her.

Ammara Ahmad

Ammara Ahmad

The editor of Viewpoint Online. She enjoys blogging and tweets @ammarawrites (twitter.com/ammarawrites)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.