This will be known as the year rapists, sexual molesters, perverts, predators and assorted other Indian creeps realized they can no longer count on that one big assumption that makes them so brazen: Indian women don’t like sharing horror stories.
Gone are the days when we harboured our scars for 20 years, so what if our intimate selves were devastated for the rest of our lives. This year has seen several examples of women speaking up against rape and sexual harassment at the workplace. Since I’m being optimistic these days, I believe it’s time to brace yourselves, the tales are set to tumble out.
The latest horror story unfolded in swift waves on Twitter, BBM, emails and, finally, television starting Wednesday night when it was revealed that a bright young journalist at Tehelka, a magazine whose managing editor Shoma Chaudhury has always championed women’s rights (I still remember the stunning cover story on Dalit rape survivors earlier this year titled simply: How to fight back) had accused editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal of sexual harassment.
When the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director was recently accused of trivializing rape when he used it as a metaphor to discuss the issue of legalizing betting, Chaudhury tweeted: “Ranjit Sinha should lose his job for his remark on enjoying rape. Is appalling that he can even think of defending such a remark.”
In an email to the magazine’s staffers, Chaudhury said: “There has been an untoward incident, and though he has extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved, Tarun will be recusing himself as the editor of Tehelka for the next six months.”
She attached a note from Tejpal which began, “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.”
Tehelka, which has over the years positioned itself as a fierce champion of the rights of all kinds of less empowered groups, didn’t extend this courtesy to its staffer. The magazine has said it is an “internal” matter; the official response doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the Vishaka guidelines which clearly define sexual harassment in the Indian workplace as a) Physical contact and advances; b) A demand or request for sexual favours; c) Sexually coloured remarks; d) Showing pornography; e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The sordid, detailed account of the complainant in this case, which landed in my inbox on Thursday morning, checks most of the points listed above. It’s also the story of an Indian woman who shared her trauma immediately with her male and female friends and colleagues, one who was smart enough to share and save messages from her attacker, and who shortly after, wrote a coherent account of the horror.
Javed Akhtar tweeted: “It is a shame that someone with such impeccable values has committed such an act but unlike some he has the guts to accept and repent.” It’s a shame that someone with the feminist sensibility of Akhtar thought it worthy to find excuses for an employer who has allegedly committed a serious crime and then coolly “punished” himself by announcing a six-month sabbatical.On Thursday, poet and lyricist
Akhtar’s reaction is most disappointing but it doesn’t matter what he and the 168 people who retweeted this statement believe. It’s only a matter of time before the voices of abused Indian women, supported by people from both genders, will be too loud to block out.