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Tejpal’s apology reads like a distinctly-worded piece by a bookish hero with a God complex. Photo: Manoj Verma/Hindustan Times
Tejpal’s apology reads like a distinctly-worded piece by a bookish hero with a God complex. Photo: Manoj Verma/Hindustan Times

Lounge opinion: The story of his assassins

Or, what the Tarun Tejpal case could teach all of us

Two years back, at a special edition of Barkha Dutt’s NDTV programme We The People recorded at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram college to coincide with International Women’s Day with actor Vidya Balan and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman on its diverse panel, I remember speaking a bit breezily about the interpretation of liberation by city women. My comment was something to the effect: ‘a few urban girls heady with independent lifestyles do not change the reality of the lakhs who live with fettered freedom’. If like a few others of my age, I clung to a presumptively skeptical view about the I, Me, Myself generation, mistaking urban and youthful lifestyles as blinded visions, I stand chastised about such blanket statements.

Two recent events, but mostly the Tarun Tejpal rape accusation has changed my thoughts. While a young law intern purposefully blogged about the sexual harassment she allegedly faced from a retired Supreme Court judge, calling a spade a spade despite being on the abjectly weaker side of the power equation, the complainant in the Tejpal case deserves special categorization. A city woman, sure, but dynamically conscious of her rights and of the direction real independence should lead to. A woman of resolute will with a commitment to fact instead of hysteria. Let’s make way then for the New, New Feminists among us: young women who can teach us a thing or two with their purposefulness.

The Tehelka journalist’s letter of complaint that was unfortunately leaked out, creating a legal anomaly, is one of the most clearly detailed statements against crime and insult of modesty that I have heard of or been witness to. Quite a few women whisper unhappily about the sexual humiliations they commonly face at workplaces, some even cry loudly and repeatedly while others even file police complaints. But if there is a lesson for all of us in the complaint against Tejpal written to Shoma Choudhary by their young colleague, it is how to be factually clear without sounding vendetta-driven or emotionally crippled. Truth and fact may get horribly manipulated from here on in this case but her note, which includes the timings and content of text messages and phone calls, the surrounding facts pinning down the context, details like the lift number and names of those she shared her distress with, is for me a learning. Not only do I find the girl bold like everyone else does (it can’t have been easy after all to stand up against the intelligent glamour, social power and idea domination of a man like Tejpal) but I find her an example we should emulate when we make a point like this in our organisations. Her complaint is like a sound report, with precise arguments only a journalist with a respect for factuality is capable of. On the other hand, Tejpal’s apology too reads like a distinctly worded piece by a bookish-hero with a God complex, intimate with the cynicisms of this world, yet choked by a magnified idea of the self.

Both notes are wonderfully elaborate in their own way. One is focused towards an unambiguous fight against personal violation; the other romantically confesses to violating the boundaries he should have been protecting as the leader of an institutionc.

Besides this telling lesson on how to write legally vigorous accounts, there are other peripheral insights for all of us in the way the controversy of the week is playing out. Why emails will always be prone to leaks—a truism we should never forget even momentarily as journalists. Why it is important to rememorize and harden ways we can prevent our vulnerabilities from getting the better of us, professionally or otherwise. Why even friends and colleagues will attack us when we fall down even if we have been committing obvious wrongs while in power. Why we must investigate more about the reasons behind the disgusting moment of sexual harassment appearing delightful to even seemingly intelligent (and older) men.

Most importantly, we must ask why organisations who hire us with a long list of dos and don’ts of clauses in our appointment letters do not encode the assurance of a sexual harassment committee as per the Vishakha Guidelines in the same contracts. Women looking for new jobs in the media or any sector need to ask a sturdier set of questions from their interviewing employers and HR personnel besides office timings, annual raises and job profiles. The top among them: do you have the Supreme Court mandated sexual harassment committee in place?

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