Let’s be fair to Tarun Tejpal. Let us listen to his side of the story

A number of people are saying that Tarun Tejpal has been held guilty and convicted by a media trial. They are saying that the media and public have both chosen to not hear “the other side of the story”.

That claim, put simply, is incorrect. From day one of the story, “the other side” was heard. We read Tejpal’s emails and those of his lieutenant Shoma Choudhary. We heard Choudhury speak and defend herself endlessly on TV. On news channels, in print and on the web, we’ve heard a long list of luminaries defend Tejpal: Sanjoy Roy, Alyque Padamsee, Namita Devidayal, Dilip Tahil, Rahul Singh, Prem Shankar Jha, Roger Cohen, Anusha Rizvi, Manisha Sethi, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Charu Nivedita, BG Verghese, Bina Ramani, Nirupama Sekhri, Madhu Trehan, Rahul Da Cunha and then some. Latest additions to the list are Seema Mustafa, Manu Joseph and Anurag Kashyap.

All of these people tell us the other side of the story, which is incoherent and constantly changing. Let’s be fair to them. Let’s listen to what Tarun Tejpal has to say.

Let us read, once again, what Tejpal had to say when he was first confronted with the allegations.

 

1.

Excerpts from the informal email Tejpal purportedly sent the woman on November 19, 2013 a day after she formally complained to Shoma Chaudhury of the sexual assault

The context that ill-fated evening, of our conversation, as you will recall, was heavily loaded. We were playfully and flirtatiously talking about desire, sex; you were telling me the Bob Geldof story in graphic detail, and about XXX (her male friend), and the near-impossibility of fidelity…

(You were telling me) of the aftermath of meeting me one stormy evening in my office when I was sitting watching the thunderclouds.

I also want to clarify that yes, you did say at one point that I was your boss, and I did reply “that makes it simpler” but in the very same breath and sentence I said to you “I withdraw that straight away – no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that”. It was in this frivolous, laughing mood that the encounter took place.

I had no idea that you were upset, or felt I had been even remotely non-consensual, until XXX (his daughter) came and spoke to me the next night. I was shocked and devastated at the time. Both because you felt I had imposed on you (which had neither been my reading or intention), and because I felt I had been totally irresponsible and foolish to have anything furtive to do with my daughter’s intimate friend. At that very moment I was filled with shame, and still am.

You have made it clear that I read it all wrong, and I will not dispute it, nor underplay your anger and hurt. This is easily the worst moment of my life – something ostensibly playful gone so horribly wrong, damaging of all that I hold dear in life, from people to principles. I ask you to forgive and forget it. I will meet your mom and apologise to her too – and (the male friend) if you so wish.

2.

Tejpal’s ‘unconditional apology’ to the victim

Dear…..

This is the hardest thing I will ever do in my life. You are a young woman I have been very proud of, as a colleague’s daughter, and then as a colleague in my own office. I have watched you grow and mature professionally into a journalist of great integrity and promise.

It wrenches me beyond describing, therefore, to accept that I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me.

I understand the extreme distress you have been feeling and if regret could turn time back, the force of mine would surely place us all back in a space and time before this terrible lapse.

I know you feel I used my position as Editor, Tehelka to force my attention on you, and I acknowledge that I did at one point say to your contention that I was your boss, “That makes it simpler,” but I do want to put on record that the moment those words escaped my lips, I retracted them saying “I withdraw that straight away – no relationship of mine has anything at all, ever, to do with that”. I want to reiterate that again today: despite my colossal lapse, working and succeeding in Tehelka will never be predicated on anyone acquiescing to anything untoward. It never has and never will.

Having said that though, I acknowledge that there is an inherent disbalance of power in my position as editor-in-chief and you as an employee of Tehelka and there is absolutely no ground or circumstance in which I should have violated the propriety and trust embedded in that relationship.

Tehelka has a proud legacy and body of work, to which you yourself and legions of other journalists have contributed. As the founder and editor-in-chief, I have helmed and nurtured this proud institution, and I cannot imagine what insanity drove me to compromise these long, proud years of trust and public work.

There are many, many reasons, therefore, why I am smothered with regret. But I want you to know that foremost among them is the fact that I have hurt you and broken your trust in me, and that of many others around me.

I have often spoken for the absolute rights and freedoms of women, and it shames me beyond words, to find myself located in this awful context. I would say it was a moment of insanity, except that would mean evading responsibility for it, and that I will not do. I hold myself, first and last, accountable.

I know Shoma has urged you not to leave Tehelka, and even as I acknowledge that I have lost the right to say this to you, I would urge you not to leave either. At the very least, I would like to assure you that the space to do your work proudly and freely, without worrying about fear or favour, will always be available to you here.

For long years, you have known a different man, a man and editor you trusted and were proud to know. In extreme contrition, I would like you to know that but for this unconscionable lapse, that man still exists and holds you in highest regard.

If an apology can heal, please consider this an unconditional.

Tarun

3.

 

Full text of the email written by Tejpal to Shoma Chaudhary

My dear Shoma,

The last few days have been most testing, and I squarely take the blame for this. A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for. I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further. Tehelka has been born and built, day on day, with my blood, toil, tears and sweat, and that of many others, against near-insurmountable odds.

It has lived for and fought the big battles of our time, always on the side of the oppressed and the wronged, always on the side of equity and justice. Its voice has travelled the world and changed policy and perceptions. It has been a beacon for those who would do the right thing. Through bad, and worse, times I have protected Tehelka and its journalists from the inevitable demands of power and corporations. I have always allowed every journalist’s sense of the right to flower and express itself. No one has ever been asked to do what they don’t believe in.

I have always held that Tehelka the institution, and its work, have always been infinitely more important than any of us individuals. It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles.

Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words.

I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months. You have always been stellar, Shoma, and even as I apologise to you and all my other colleagues, for this unfortunate incident, I leave Tehelka in your more than capable and safe hands.

In apology,

Tarun

4.

Following is Tejpal’s full statement on the case on November 22, 2013

There have been serious allegations cast on me in this last week, and unfortunately as sometimes happens in life, the complete truth and the need to do the honorable thing can come into conflict. In this case this anguish was accentuated by the fact that very many intimate people, professional and personal, were involved.

For four days, as demanded by Shoma Chaudhury, the managing editor, and the recipient of the complaint, I have tried to do what was honorably demanded of me. On Tuesday I issued an apology for the alleged misconduct, as desired by the journalist through Shoma Chaudhury. On Wednesday I stepped down from the editorship of Tehelka and removed myself from the office premises. On Thursday I learnt of the formation of the complaints committee.

I offer my fullest cooperation to the police and all other authorities, and look to presenting all the facts of this incident to it. I also urge the committee and the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed.

5.

This is an excerpt from a statement Tejpal purportedly sent to his friends, on Novemver 22

All my actions so far were out of an attempt to preserve the girl’s dignity and on Shoma’s adamantine feminist-principle insistence that I keep correct form by apologising. The truth is it was a fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!) Now that a committee has been announced the truth will come out. As will the CCTV footage. My life and work have been trashed on a total lie.

6.

Tejpal’s account of what happened to Ritu Sarin of The Indian Express

“It is a totally mendacious account of what happened, in its details, in its tonalities, in its very suggestion of non-consensus,” Tejpal said. “In cold light of day, much of it will sound unsavoury, but now the inquiry will reveal it all,” he told The Indian Express. The Express quoted Tejpal as saying that the allegation by the journalist that he told her the best way to keep her job was by not resisting his advances, was a “half-truth”. “This is one of the half-truths she’s voiced. Nothing of this, as she states, was said or intended,” he said. “My lawyers know I am being framed, and are also aware of the political forces driving much of it now,” he added.

13 thoughts on “Let’s be fair to Tarun Tejpal. Let us listen to his side of the story”

  1. Thank you for publishing Tarun Tejpal side of story. I think some of it has already appeared in news papers. But no harm in putting on this site too. But the final decision should be that of the court if Tejpal is innocent or guilty. His supporters may not like it, but Mr Tejpal should be subjected to the same judicial process as any other person. His only advantage could be to hire a top defense attorney.

  2. And your point in rehashing this is?

    I don’t know Mr. Tejpal or the young journalist – so I apologise in advance if he feels I am being unjust. But going by the usual office behaviour of middle-aged men, who begin to believe in themselves to such an extent that was used to be moxi turns into arrogance – this is what I concluded – rather speculated. Mr. Tejpal did make an impact by taking risks and doing unsavory things perhaps others wouldn’t do – and got impressive results. Moreover, his books were very well-written – and the one on desire – a subject most people are unable to write about – did capture the topic very well. I was impressed that he could write about it as if it was just another facet of our lives and barring a little prudishness the book was very well penned and was difficult to either put down or forget.

    I’m speculating here – but he must have concluded that he should be considered to be a sophisticated man of the world and was quite sure that most young women who worked for him developed a crush on him (I’ve always wondered if men are in the closet about reading and believing romantic trash like M&B) – and some may have for all we know. He seemed to have known the young journalist very well and had by her accounts mentored her, advised her, provided her with opportunities and introduced her to many new experiences. I gather he just wanted to introduce her to one other. Besides he wasn’t looking to take something, he was instead trying to satisfy her. How touching, he even went down on his knees – full marks for unstinting effort.

    As to the part where she asked him to stop and he carried on as if he was deaf, I think she is mistaken when she thinks he wasn’t listening to what she said at all. In fact, I think he was selectively listening to what she said and drawing the wrong conclusions. Arrogance usually distorts one’s view. Since she provided him with a list of reasons as to why it was wrong he decided that it wasn’t that she didn’t want him – as in “I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last man on earth”, simply that she was inhibited because of the reasons she provided. Deep down she really really desired him. – This is how molesters and rapists reason so as to be able to turn a no into an yes.

    A word of advise to Mr.Tejpal – you aren’t a character in a book or movie. In the real world smart young women, like men, focus on their job, and do not behave like Jane Eyre. Also, good manners dictate that you ask a person before you launch yourself on them. Otherwise unfortunately your fantasy turns into their nightmare. And – oh yes at her age I would have been traumatised, grossed out and shocked to the core. At my age – and I am Mr. Tejpal’s age – either I would have found his behaviour to be extremly annoying and would not have left before I hurt him where it actually hurts – or I would have burst out laughing at his delusions about himself. I am not making this up – I have actually done so – to the shock, embarrassement and horror of the perpetrator who immediately stopped. But then again – I am Mr. tejpal’s contemporary.

    And a word of advise to the courageous young woman – never, never start a conversation with your molester – especially one which sounds reasonable to yourself. And also – I know you were trying to push him off and leave – do try and learn how to kick men in the b…s. I know you were in shock – but you had surmised correctly that he would do it again. A handy pepper spray would have cured him instantly – but if you didn’t have it handy and were scared to use it in case you lost your job – it would be perfectly reasonable to kick him in the groin. And please please find a good therapist unless you want to land up with PTSD – in which case this boor would have won.

    I have no doubt that people will accuse me of bad taste, and say I am trying to trivialize this etc etc. I am not -trying to do anything of the sort. It is true that maybe I don’t know how tough it is for women in the workplace in India – I’ve been working outside for too long. But I am certain that the above scenario is fairly common and a large number of such boors inhabit the workplace and have inflated ideas about themselves and how hot they are. And it is worth trying to understand what kind of idiotic thought process would lead an otherwise intelligent man to so misuse his power – so that we can start the process of making them step out from their fantasy world.

    1. Ms Aziz, you are right that sexual harassment or romance is not uncommon in a work place where men and women are employed. But is that relevant in determining the severity of Tejpal’s offence towards his accuser is the question. Sexual harassment is unforgivable and criminal, and perpetrator should be punished as per law. Romance between two independently working employees is not a crime, but it can impact performance of the individuals involved and pollute the environment. Therefore, it should be handled administratively, based on the work place policies. However, romance between a boss and subordinate does not fall in that category, as consent may not mean willingness. In Tejpal case, he is accused of rape as defined by law, and not sexual harassment/misconduct or forced romance which are less serious offences. It would be grossly unfair to victim, and against the morals of a society, if argued in public domain in any other way. Only courts can decide if it was rape or not. It is a paradox that the very people who speak for justice in all other cases want to make Tejpal an exception. I have looked at earlier blogs in Kafila on this issue, and wish to compliment Shivam for his uprightness and fairness.

      1. I wasn’t claiming that he did not rape her. I am just trying to figure out how one can molest somebody and then either just lie and in public say that it was consensual – or actually believe that it was..kind of..not very obvious … was drunk..blah blah… and other such lame excuses.

        How can a) someone be that delusional and b) actually just initiate and carry on molesting someone when the person is not only not responding but actively resisting it. How did he justify this to himself. I specifically said that there must be many others who do this and get away with it. He is certainly not exceptional (what would constitute being exceptional anyway).
        The reason why I keep referring to it as molestation is not to imply it is not rape – as long as the person does not consent of course it is rape – and like all rapes is an act of violence perpetrated on the individual. I am just trying to look into his head – what did he describe the incident to himself as …making love? Making out? Canoodling? What?
        In the graduate school I went to , since we were TAs and graded the students, and in some cases offered tutorials or became instructors – one of the first booklets handed to you was one that very clearly stated that you could not have a relationship with – a student/employee – or your adviser-. Whether it was consensual was immaterial. If the student did consent amd later on said that they were coerced – it would be treated as rape. In other words the concept of consensual sex with someone in a position of power over you did not exist.
        In my workplace it is clearly stated in the staff rules of conduct that any sexual relationship between a member of the staff and someone who either directly or indirectly reports to the staff member or is their direct or indirect manager/supervisor is considered to be a de facto conflict of interest and will be treated as such. It is incumbent on the manager to resolve this conflict if needs be with the help of management and failure to do so ‘promptly’ could result in a finding of misconduct. This is not unique to where I work – in all offices around me, the exact same guidelines are used. So how is it that well read and ‘man of the world’ Mr. Tejpal not realise that the minute he crossed that line – he would be committing a crime. (I am being purposely sarcastic).
        And I do agree with Shobhna – looking at his photographs in the thinkfest (I don’t know whether it was before or after), his body language is extremly revealing – he looks cocky and smug at the same time.
        While I like reading what Shivam writes – i’m not sure that he added anything to what has been rehashed over and over again.
        I gather like me he was indulging in sarcasm or irony – or reminding us. Bery timely.

      2. I do take exception to the statement – ‘not uncommon in a place where men and women are employed”. First of all it can happen even when there are men & men or women &women – secondly it is uncommon in some parts of the world.

  3. This is rubbish. Going by this logic all instances of sexual assault and abuse can be rationalized as a lapse of judgement. Any perpetrator who is caught can claim to do penance that lacerates them and of course ‘recuse’ (thanks to Tejpal I got this one now into my vocabulary) themselves to a sabbatical. I just hope that the legal process would not be fooled by this clever word play.

  4. If Narendra Modi says his alleged actions in 2002 were “a momentary lapse of reason” and occured out of “an awful misreading of situation”, will Tarun Tejpal and other “luminaries” listed above, forgive him, certify his secular credentials and endorse his PM candidature, since nothing else really disqualifies him? :)

  5. Tejpal’s arrogance has done him in. He is or rather was too presumptuous nd yes,his body language itself is of a man out for a kill

  6. so after a lot of browbatting by the so called feminists ..some sense seems to prevail….very timely article

  7. Kudos to the brave journalist who has been so dignified. I hope she has been able to go on with her life without any slur to her professional credentials and character. Cannot be easy being from a city like Mumbai with the line-up of celebrities stacked up against her. Sad to see Madhu Trehan and Anurag Kashyap in the rogues gallery.

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