Unlike Justice (Retd.) Ashok Kumar Ganguly, Tarun Tejpal’s defenders cannot cry innocence given that Tejpal has confessed to his crime, albeit disputing the degree of it. He has even confessed having told his colleague that suffering the sexual assault was the “easiest way of keeping your job”.
Even his two decade-old comrade Shoma Choudhury is unable to defend him beyond saying that he has his versions. Nobody buys Tejpal’s ludicrous retractions.
This put Tejpal’s friends, fellow molesters and self-defeating secularists in a bind.
Many of his friends have chosen silence, which is understandable. It is only human to recuse oneself from the difficult choice between principle and friendship.
Though some like Arundhati Roy and Sankarshan Thakur have admirably chosen principle over personal association. But those who wanted to come out and actually defend Tejpal were at a loss for words.
How do they defend a crime whose perpetrator has confessed to it? So they came up with a few sly defenses which pretend to be nuances. Some like BG Verghese are writing as though they were ghostwriting Shoma Choudhury’s defense.
So let us lacerate these defenses one by one.
‘Trial by Media’
The one that we heard the most by the time Mr Tejpal entered a police lock-up was that it was a ‘trial by media’ and those wanting Tejpal punished were like a ‘lynch mob’. Let us quote the scriptures to the devil. Managing editor and fellow shareholder Shoma Choudhury told an interviewer in June 2012, “I believe that trial by media is quite important in India, largely because many justice systems are fairly derelict in the country.
There are lots of times when justice can get waylaid because of empirical evidence not being there. Take Gujarat, for example.
So it is important to fight some issues at a level of public perception.” She did go on to say that trial by media becomes a problem sometimes, such as when she disagrees with the media narrative, on, say, the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case.
That is exactly what Madhu Kishwar and her Hindutva friends say in defence of Narendra Modi: even though Mr Modi been given a ‘clean chit’ by a Supreme Court-appointed investigation committee, he has been vilified for years by the media and the left-liberals. It amounts to a ‘trial by media’ by a ‘lynch mob’, they argue.
In other words, we are fine with ‘trial by media’ and ‘lynch mobs’ as long as they are fighting for our cause. Rapists, mass murders, honour killers, anti-corruption activists – you name it, and the ‘trial by media’ argument comes out as a sly defence by those who the media is going after.
The media did go after Tarun Tejpal and gave the case minute-to-minute coverage. But that is how the beast called the media is. And Tehelka is part of this beast, chasing the big story of the week. Having gone big with the Tarun Tejpal story, it couldn’t have given up on it until Tejpal got arrested.
There was a real fear that with his wealth and influence na dbattery of lawyers, Tejpal may be able to get away. The media made sure he does not.
We should commend the media for this because the Indian media does not go after its own. By going after Tarun Tejpal the media has also disproved the notion that only when the rapists are poor labourers that the media goes into outrage mode.
Let us not kick a man when he’s down, we are told. But he was being kicked at for refusing to go down, for giving us the bullshit of a great sacrifice of a six-month ‘recusal’ to ‘atone’ for his sins, to inflict upon himself the ‘penance’ that he decided would ‘lacerate’ him, for refusing to subject himself to an internal Tehelka investigation, let alone the law of the land.
It cannot be emphasised enough that Tehelka and Shoma Choudhury refused the aggrieved staffer’s demand to set up an internal Vishakha committee.
They agreed to do so only after the story blew up in the media. That is what this ‘trial by media’ achieved -– it took Shoma Choudhury from refusing to set up an internal inquiry to defending her ‘feminist principles’ on TV.
Before the ‘trial by media’ began, Shoma Chaudhury was negotiating with the aggrieved staffer whether Tejpal’s apology would be sent to all Tehelka staffers or only the top editors.
After the ‘trial by media’, Choudhury started calling up feminists in town to head the Tehelka sexual harassment complaints committee. That is what the so-called ‘trial by media’ achieved.
As part of more such spurious media criticism, we were told that the media did not even spare Tejpal’s family and its privacy, TV cameras shooting them in the airport and the flight from Delhi to a Goa court. But a TV anchor said on live news that he’d just heard from a Tejpal associate that Tejpal was taking a flight at such and such time.
In other words, Tejpal carefully orchestrated these family visuals for the media so as to evoke sympathy. Oh what a happy family about to be ruined by a lynch mob! Thereafter his defenders could claim further sympathy by accusing the media of invading the family’s privacy.
Since the woman journalist must try and keep save her anonymity –- a task made more difficult by every passing day – remember that you are not going to see any visuals of her hugging her family. Don’t let a Shoma Choudhury crying on TV or a Tarun Tejpal hugging his daughter at the airport make you forget who the perpetrator is and who the victim is.
In other words, what the trial-by-media argument slyly means is that the media should have forgotten the story and without media glare, Tejpal would have been better capable of dodging the law.
‘Let the law take its course’
Tejpal’s defenders brought out this one and hurled it at the so-called lynch mob as if it was those demanding justice who were not letting the law take its course! Once again, what they really meant was that we should just shut up and stop demanding that Tejpal be arrested.
Of course when Asaram Bapu was trying to escape the law nobody said to those demanding his arrest, ‘Oh please, let the law take its course!’ Tarun Tejpal was making all kinds of claims in his defence -– the woman was ‘normal’, it’s a BJP conspiracy, he’s a man of stature, and so on. But we were supposed to just shut up and never comment on it, and let the law take its course.
One person went to the extent of saying that the matter is sub judice so we should not comment on it -– as if a case being sub judice ever prevented Tehelka from trying to influence the courts for causes we espouse, from Binayak Sen and Soni Sori to the Talwar parents and the 16 December Delhi gang-rape and murder. It also needs to be pointed out that the Tejpal case is not sub judice -– the trial hasn’t yet begun.
We all know that the courts are often influenced by media and public opinion, whether we like it it not. Justice in this country is not blind, and it is important for us to make it see from our eyes. Just as Tehelka tried, one cover story after another, to influence the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case!
‘Tejpal is not Tehelka‘
From day one, we were told we should not target Tehelka for the ill acts of just one individual. In the same breath we were told what great work Tehelka has been doing for humanity.
In his own non-apology apology, Tejpal spent more words saying Tehelka is great than actually atoning, apologising or doing the ‘penance that lacerates’.
This is a self-contradictory argument. If the individual and the organisation are different why are we being constantly told how great Tehelka is, in the defence of Tarun Tejpal? What is Tehelka‘s greatness to do with an act of sexual assault by its editor-in-chief?
It was thus Tejpal’s fault that the spotlight turned to Tehelka. You can’t bring Tehelka‘s greatness as a defense for Tarun Tejpal’s crime and then complain about Tehelka‘s financial juggleries being dug out.
The truth is, Tehelka was and is run like a family business, Tarun Tejpal its patriarch. The only outsider who recieved the privilege of becoming de facto family was Shoma Choudhury. Tarun Tejpal is the founder, editor, public face of Tehelka and until not long ago, he owned the majority stake in the company along with his family members.
Virtually his entire family is involved in Tehelka –- not just his sister as publisher but also his wife, brother, nephews, daughters — When the patriarch is tainted, the family business is doomed. How is that the fault of those asking for justice for a woman whose bodily integrity he violated under threat?
The other problem with the Tehelka-is-great argument is that Tehelka‘s greatness had lately become questionable. Tehelka has been accused of killing stories to get ads -– in what amounts to blackmail journalism -– from groups such as Essar, Adani, Goa Tourism and a shady educational institution run by a man who also has a ponytail like Tejpal.
Yet I am all for saving Tehelka if it can save itself. Don’t blame a young journalist seeking justice if Tehelka dies. 99% of the credit for destroying Tehelka should go to Tarun Tejpal for his criminal act and the remaining 1% to Shoma Choudhury for the way she put Tehelka at stake to cover up for Tejpal.
Two investigations into Tehelka‘s financial management have revealed that even as Tejpal and Choudhary built a public interest journalism brand and cried over the lack of money to fund it, they personally profiteered from it at the cost of Tehelka.
Would you still blame the conflation of Tejpal and Tehelka on those asking merely asking for justice for a woman journalist sexually assaulted by founder-editor?
Saving Tehelka requires that its majority shareholder, KD Singh, must wrest control of it from the Tejpal-Choudhury clan.
There is no reason why professional non-shareholding non-family editors and managers can’t be found to reinvent Tehelka. But it is unlikely that KD Singh would do so. He says the Tehelka brand has been irredeemably hurt and he’d rather exit his investment.
“As a friend it’s disturbing, as an investor I am scared,” Singh told a TV channel. In other words, Tehelka might get killed by KD Singh, not by those demanding justice for a sexually assaulted staffer.
Or KD Singh might not yet not kill Tehelka because he’s himself a shady politician-businessman who must owe Tejpal a lot.
* Shivam Vij is an independent journalist based in New Delhi. He has reported and written extensively on caste-based violence, affirmative action and politics. He has also reported on the Kashmir conflict and the India’s Maoist uprising. His work has appeared in Tehelka, Open and Caravan and Himal South Asian, amongst other publications. He is a member of the South Asian team blog, Kafila.
. This article first appeared in Kafila.