PUCL Statement on Tehelka Sexual Assault Case

[We are publishing below the full text of the statement issued by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, on the Tehelka case, which raises some important issues that have not received public attention yet.]
Press Statement on the Tehelka Sexual Assault Case
 Dated: 2 December 2013
  • Expresses Solidarity with the struggle of the Tehelka Journalist who raised her voice against Rape and Intimidation by the Ex-Editor Tarun Tejpal.
  • Demands fair investigation and early charge sheet into the matter, from the Goa Police.
  • Considers Six Day of Custodial interrogation of Tarun Tejpal granted by the Goa Judicial Magistrate Court unnecessary and invidious.
  • Appeals that police custody and the case not become a tool in the hands of BJP administered Goa police to settle scores with Tejpal.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties from the very beginning has supported the complaint of the woman journalist of Tehelka magazine who accused the editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, of rape and sexual assault. PUCL salutes her courage for breaking the silence on rape and sexual intimidation carried out by her senior colleague and editor. We have also admired the consistent and principled manner in which the young girl stated her case, initially via internal emails within Tehelka, and later on to the media, neither allowing vituperation or anger at the blatant violation of her body to sensationalise her case or to prevaricate about the fact of the offence having been committed. Through her dignified stand she stands as a model to all women who suffer similar sexual violence, that the dignity of a woman’s body cannot be a plaything for anybody howsoever influential and powerful they be. By the same token, we also denounce the vilification campaign carried out by Tarun Tejpal and his lawyers against the complainant by seeking to impute that the entire crime was actually a `consensual’ act or at trying to trivialise the crime by calling it “light hearted banter”.

PUCL wishes to point out that Tehelka, which has extensively covered cases of sexual harassment in the work place and sexual violence, has itself not constituted an independent internal complaints committee as mandated by the Vishakha Guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court to look into allegations of sexual harassment in the work place.  This is most unfortunate and unacceptable. We especially note with concern the response of the Managing Editor, Shoma Choudhury whom the woman journalist first approached with her complaint of rape and sexual assault by Tarun Tejpal. As the Managing Editor, Shoma Choudhury, had an institutional responsibility under the criminal laws as also under the Visakha guidelines to report the crime forthwith; instead the response was one of diverting, diluting and covering up the incident. Such a response akin to how most male dominated institutions respond to such accusations, is not just unfortunate but also unacceptable and to be denounced.
We therefore once again raise our voice in support of the demand for the implementation of Vishakha Guidelines, which are an effort towards enforcing sexual harassment-free workplace norms for all women, particularly for women in the media; as also other sectors, all over India.
Six Days Custodial Interrogation: Unnecessary and a tool to harass Tejpal?
While we support the prosecution of Tarun Tejpal, we at the same time would like to express our concern over the granting of six days police custody of the accused by the Judicial Magistrate to the Goa State police. The grant of PC has to be seen in the background of the complainant having recorded a sec. 164 Criminal Procedure Code statement before the local Magistrate and the police having seized all the relevant emails and other records including CC Video tapes form the hotel. The accused, Tarun Tejpal, has already been questioned by the police.
Considering the very limited frame of reference of the complainant’s case, the legality of granting  days PC is questionable. What causes concern is that some papers report that the 6-days are required to extract a confession out of Tarun Tejpal. Whatever the veracity of this, we are concerned that force may be used to extract an involuntary  confession This is totally against the law and unacceptable.
It is also difficult not to ignore the allegation that the prosecution is using the judicial process as a tool to humiliate and harass the accused. We clarify that in the present  case the evidence that needs to be collected could have been gathered in a day and the accused ought to have been sent into judicial custody. In any case, we hope that no further extension of Police custody is granted at the end of the current remand period. We also call upon the Goa police not to indulge in torture or in any way, maltreatment of the accused Tarun Tejpal.
PUCL would like to stress that the criminal justice system, and the police who are its administrators, are under a constitutional obligation to remain unbiased, independent and committed to the truth. The police are also under a constitutional duty to implement the law without fear or favour of the ruling government. Unfortunately, in the current case, we cannot lose sight of the conflict-ridden and acrimonious relations between the ruling BJP government and the Tehelka magazine.  We are concerned that this specific case of sexual violence and assault on a woman journalist may become politicized and become the basis for settling scores by the ruling BJP government against Tarun Tejpal. If this were to happen, it will seriously weaken the case of the woman journalist, divert attention from the serious nature of such sexual assaults and in the end denigrate the entire criminal justice system.
PUCL condemns and expresses concern over the vandalisation of residence of Shoma Choudhary, former Executive Editor of Tehelka by some members of the BJP last week. This is unacceptable and anti-democratic act.
In conclusion, PUCL calls upon all political parties, organisations and other groups to respect the sensitivities of the victims and the serious nature of the rape case and to desist from creating further controversies.
Prof. Prabhakar Sinha                         Kavita Srivastava                           Dr. V Suresh

President                                                    National Secretary                       General Secretary

9 thoughts on “PUCL Statement on Tehelka Sexual Assault Case”

  1. Rape is a non-bailable offence and as such the court is following the normal procedure. If any other ordinary man had done this the court would have not granted him bail, likewise in Tarun’s case also. They cannot make an exception. We cannot try to browbeat the courts with the boogyman of the BJP and use that as an excuse to let him roam free. He has tried to influence and intimidate the victim’s mother and therefore in the interest of a fair trial and justice he should remain in jail until investigation is completed. He is an influential man and the police and courts will naturally tread cautiously so there is no danger of him being maltreated or tortured, he can and will be monitored on a day to day basis by his lawyer so even the slightest aggression by the police or investigating authority will be brought out immediately, so rest assured the police will never risk it.


    1. My impression was that the letter above suggests that he should be in “judicial custody” not “police custody” and not that he should “get bail” as you seem to assume. To quote:

      “We clarify that in the present case the evidence that needs to be collected could have been gathered in a day and the accused ought to have been sent into judicial custody.”

      In my impression, this may come from PUCL’s experience of dealing with cases of custodial violence. Hopefully I am not missing something.

      Btw: “If any other ordinary man had done this the court would have not granted him bail, likewise in Tarun’s case also.” is perhaps not entirely correct considering the realities of our legal system, where power equations play a significant role away from the media scrutiny.


    2. Meera,

      The point is not about granting the accused bail. It is about the number of days of Police Remand/ Police custody which a court must grant, before sending the person to Jail, also called judicial custody. Read our statement carefully “………We clarify that in the present case the evidence that needs to be collected could have been gathered in a day and the accused thereafter sent into judicial custody”. Even Asaram got one day police remand in the Jodhpur case of sexual assault of a minor and Babu Lal Nagar, Minister in Ashok Gehlot’s Government, who was arrested for rape, was remanded for three days with the poice.

      Six days is just too high, when nothing had to be recovered. All the internal mails exchanged within Tehelka were in place and most importantly the CCTV footage and the girls’ statement which is in place.

      Our stand is a principled one, about the rights of the accused, whoever he / she be. While standing totally with the woman journalist who was raped and sexually assaulted. Please remember the Indian police is one of the most brutal police force in the world, custodial torture is pretty much there, let us not forget that the biscuit king, Pillai, who was also very influential, died in custody. The PUCL undertakes fact findings of several custodial violence and deaths in Jails and Police station, and we have found that torture is galore, from emotional, to mental to physical and those died have belonged to all classes the rich, poor and the middle class.

      More clarification can be made if needed.

      Kavita Srivastava, Jaipur


      1. The biscuit king had died in judicial custody. It would appear, then, that apprehension of custodial violence is no less if the custody is judicial.


  2. Hopefully they do not politicize it because it takes focus away from the real issue. Also does give the impression that the journalist is trying to capitalise on this which I am very sure she is not.


  3. There is absolutely no danger of Mr. Tejpal being ill treated or tortured in the police custody. The police machinery knows of his powerful connections. In fact he may be getting a royal treatment in the police lock-up. Even the arrest itself is only due to the commotion the offense created in the media. However I agree there was no need for 6 days of police custody to get Mr. Tejpal’s statement, he could have been sent to judicial custody (jail) within a day or two.and kept there till the trial is safely on board.


  4. Meera, Vaibhav and Kavita have already clarified that our concern was only grant of `Police Custody’ and that we did not suggest he be released on bail. Both Kavita and Vaibhav have clarified this. But let me add a connected issue, related to the issue of `police custody’. The brutality of the police can generally be seen in 2 stages: between apprehension of person and producing before Judicial magistrate and the days when the Magistarte grants `police custody’ when the accused person is with the police supposedly for gathering more evidence related to the crime – including recovery of objects, identifying locations of crime, medical examination etc. These 2 stages are when maximum force is used – from psychological pressure to physical violence. Unfortunately, across India, our police force do not know to use scientific methods of investigation and resort to violence as the first tool.
    Many times we have raised questions as to why the Magistrate should grant custody to police at all; the Supreme court has said in `Joginder Kumar vs State of UP’ (a very important case which very few people know about unfortunately) that even if the law provides for arresting a person, the accused need not be arrested and remanded if she/he is someone who will appear before police and cooperate with investigation; in which case the person can be summoned to appear. We feel that in such sensational cases as the Tehelka one, we should not allow the specificities of the case to cloud the general principles governing remand, as these checks and balances have been won at great cost and after huge battled in courts and outside. Our fear is that unless we take a more balanced view and stand, demanding `kangaroo court’ justice will only in the end, endanger the citizens’ human rights of `right to life’. Which is why we questioned the grant of 6 days police custody.
    Karina, you are right – the young woman in this case has conducted herself in an exemplary manner. Personally as a lawyer with nearly 30 years standing, I am impressed with the way she has comported herself; she IS a model to all other victims inspiring them not to let fear overpower them in their quest for justice and remain `bound by silence’. It is not easy at all, for victims of sexual assault to fight the system, for the male dominated mindset permeates all levels, institutionally and individually; we have handled numerous cases in which women members of internal committees themselves reflected patriarchal values, silencing women victims. But this is the larger fight to `humanise’ society; to make it `gender sensitive’ and `equal’. This fight has only now begun. Its going to be hard journey, but this young woman remains a symbol of how we all should be – ready to fight a principled battle to assert `right to life!


  5. A common person does not know much difference between Judicial custody and police custody. We understand that Asaram is in jail for a few months. Tejpal is in only since last 4 days. Also do not think that it is the magistrate who allows the police custody and not BJP government. Do not conclude that if it were some other government in Goa, the police custody would have been shorter. The reasons given by magistrate are very clear. Thay have to follow their own rules. And police have not ill-treated Tejpal. They have not tortured him. But they also have to make sure the inquiry is thorough, considering that there are powerful people and lawyers that are backing Tejpal. So what is wrong if a couple of days are required to do the task thoroughly? So fight your battles not on case to case basis, but at Central giovenrment and supreme court level and leave things as they are here. When so much profoof is already there of his invlvement, do you want him to be treated like a king till the trial is over? He is a self confessed criminal. Treating him any other way will send a very wrong signal that a person with his position and power can get royal treatment for any crime. He is not even a victim of situation to be treated with sympathy. Please take an overall view and not politically motivated view, just because there is a BJP government in Goa. The police in Goa is answerable to people of India. If they are not able to put up the case properly, people will blame them. It is not the lowly drivers or cleaners they have to tackle like the Delhi rape case. They have to prepare the case very well to fight the people with powerful connections. I am sorry that PUCL is fighting for their cause in a wrong place.


    1. No of days in police custody is asked by the public procecutor who reports to the govt of the day.Magistrate can only reduce the period asked for or reject the same.Magistrate has no power for increase the period than those sought by PP.Had a congress govt been there no demand for a police custody would have been there by PP or at best for a day to hoodwink the people.”reasons given by magistrate are very clear” would not have hold good to enhance it.


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