Accused of sexual assault by staffer, Tehelka founder steps down for 6 months

Facing allegations of sexual assault and intimidation from a junior woman colleague, founder and editor-in-chief of weekly magazine Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal , said Wednesday that he was stepping down from the post for six months to "do the penance that lacerates" him.

Tejpal's decision came after the woman journalist complained to Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor of Tehelka, accusing Tejpal of sexually assaulting her on two occasions during the 'Think fest' event organised by the magazine in Goa earlier this month.

The alleged incident comes close on the heels of the claim of a young woman lawyer that she was sexually harassed last December by a recently-retired Supreme Court judge with whom she was interning, causing the apex court to suo motu launch an inquiry into the allegations.

In an email to Chaudhury, Tejpal claimed "a bad lapse of judgment" and "an awful misreading of the situation" had led to an "unfortunate incident".

"I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further," he wrote in the mail. He also wrote that he had hurt "our own high principles" and that "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."

Announcing the decision to Tehelka's employees, Chaudhury said in her email that there had been an "unfortunate incident" and that Tejpal was recusing himself as the editor for the next six months even though he had extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved.

Reached for comment, Tejpal told The Indian Express: "The matter was taken up internally, and has been addressed and redressed."

Chaudhury told The Indian Express that the woman journalist had not filed a criminal complaint and that she, as well as other staffers, were "satisfied with the action taken".

Chaudhury, however, did not confirm or deny if this was a case of alleged sexual harassment and refused to specify what the "incident" was, claiming it was "an internal matter".

"I don't know how this concerns you...I don't think you can ask me these questions," Chaudhury said.

Sources told The Indian Express that the woman journalist had written a very detailed mail to Chaudhury reconstructing the alleged incidents.

She is also believed to have written to Chaudhury that she had told three of her colleagues at the event in Goa that she had been molested by Tejpal.

In the mail, sources said, she alleged that Tejpal had on one occasion pulled her into a lift at a five-star hotel and pressed buttons to ensure the elevator stayed in circuit and did not stop or open doors while he assaulted her.

When she resisted and the lift came to a halt and she walked out, Tejpal, the woman is said to have alleged, told her that this was the easiest way for her to keep her job.

Tejpal allegedly tried to assault her again the next day, again by pulling her into a lift at the same hotel, the woman is said to have alleged.

The journalist is also believed to have quoted a subsequent series of SMSes exchanged between her and Tejpal about the incidents, the sources said.

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