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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 50, November 30, 2013

Beyond the Sordid Events at Home

Sunday 1 December 2013, by SC



If the conviction and life sentence awarded by a special CBI court in Ghaziabad this week to the dentist couple, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, for the double murder of their only 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj five-and-a-half years after they were found dead in the couple’s NOIDA apartment have been met with a sense of disbelief by not just the Talwar’s relatives but even some of Aarushi’s close friends, the sexual assault case involving the Tehelka editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal, has snowballed into a major issue with manifold implications impinging on the safety of women at workplaces across professions.

The developments around the Tejpal episode are moving fast. On November 26 the Tehelka journalist, who levelled the allegation of sexual assaults by Tajpal at a starred hotel during the ‘Thinkfest’ organised by the publication in Goa on November 7 and 8 in her detailed e-mail communication to the journal’s Managing Editor (who has since resigned from the post), deposed before the Goa Police corroborating her complaint. Thereafter the Goa Police ordered Tejpal to present himself before the Crime Branch P.S. in Panaji’s Dona Paula by 3 pm today, failing which a non-bailable arrest warrant would be issued. Tejpal had filed a bail petition in the Delhi High Court and the hearing on that was to come up tomorrow. However, according to latest reports, the Tehelka editor-in-chief has withdrawn the plea for anticipatory bail but he did not appear before the Goa Police at the appointed time. So he is facing imminent arrest.

What is most unfortunate, politics has crept into this high-profile case. It began with the BJP’s Rajya Sabha Opposition Leader Arun Jaitley assailing Congress leaders for shielding Tejpal given the anti-BJP reports that regularly appeared in Tehelka. Some specific charges against a few Union Ministers were levelled and the latter refuted those vociferously. Then Tejpal himself, while seeking anticipatory bail in the Delhi High Court, denied the rape charge by calling it a “figment of imagination” and a result of the “wrath of vengeance” of Goa’s BJP Government for exposes published in his magazine. And today former Managing Editor Shoma Choudhury’s house in the Capital has been vandalised by a mob led by a former BJP MLA even if senior leaders of the principal Opposition party sought to dissociate themselves from the exercise.

Tejpal and his journal no doubt played a vital role in exposing several misdoings of the BJP and NDA Government in the past. He had thus earned the BJP’s hostility. But that politics should not be injected into the present episode around Tejpal. Regardless of whatever the Tehelka founder may claim now (that is, after his ‘unconditional apology’ to his victim), what he did in Goa was absolutely indefensible because his acts constituted nothing short of “outright criminality” as the Editors Guild President, N. Ravi, unequivocally conveyed in his statement. And that is why the law should be allowed to take its own course. At the same time one must unambiguously decry the ongoing media trial of Tejpal in TV channels that has the potentiality of derailing public opinion, if not the legal process itself.

However, despite all the anger and indignation voiced in the media over the Tejpal affair, it is a bitter fact that instances of sexual harassment and assault are on the rise. Even a retired Supreme Court judge has been accused of sexually harassing an intern in his office which is why the Apex Court has set up a committee to look into the matter. And this, as we approach the first anniversary of the Nirbhaya rape case that shamed the Capital city’s citizens who came out on the streets in large numbers to express their sense of revulsion over the incident that eventually snuffed out the promising life of a young working woman. The latest grotesque case of gangrape and murder of a woman in Assam has engendered outrage among the public in the State but the perpetrators have yet to be nabbed. These incidents only underscore the distance we have to traverse before we are able to register just a decline in such acts.

While the national scenario does not promise any turn for the better as of now, the historic interim nuclear accord between Iran and the international community has unveiled a new vista of hope for the world at large and a unique opportunity for India. As The Times of India has pointed out, Iran’s rapprochement with the US is bound to lead to a new balance of forces between Shias and Sunnis and Muslims and Jews, give foreign forces in Afghanistan another exit route and, by that same token, lessen America’s dependence on Pakistan, its double-dealing strategic partner. That, in turn, offers New Delhi space to manoeuvre and an opportunity to engage even more firmly than in the past with the countries that will be impacted, directly or otherwise, by the deal in Geneva. The only question is: does New Delhi have the will and political imagination to seize the opportunity offered?

On the answer to that question depends the future course the country is expected to take in the global arena. At this moment, however, it is this welcome happening in world affairs that overshadows all the sordid events within the nation.

November 28 S.C.

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