Let the law

The crime that Tarun Tejpal, founder and now former editor of Tehelka magazine, is accused of is rape. Days after he and his deputy, Shoma Chaudhury, issued e-mails regretting, evasively and outrageously, an "unfortunate incident", it is important to keep the focus on the charge that the police investigation is now proceeding on. Remember that it is a charge of rape.

This is arguably India's most high profile case of sexual assault. Given the reach and network of the magazine's top editors, the story is being sought to be reframed as a he-said-she-said, two-sides-of-every-report tale. An accused person, Tejpal in this instance, has the right of defence. Equally, with the law bolstered this year by legislation to define rape and update procedures for cases of violence against women, there is a due process. The manner in which Tehelka's management has proceeded on an employee's written complaint of "sexual assault" inhibits that due process. The case will ultimately be settled in court. But cognisance must be taken of the ways in which Tehelka has been in breach of procedure. First, there was the refusal to respond to the journalist's complaint with an inquiry by a Vishakha committee, as she had sought and as Supreme Court guidelines demand. The complaint came to Chaudhury, as managing editor the senior-most after the accused, and her initial stonewalling must be addressed as the grave misdemeanour it is. Once it became clear that, under the Nirbhaya legislation, the allegations against Tejpal constituted a case of rape, a committee was hastily announced. While the rape investigation naturally acquires greater importance, this committee's conduct will be keenly scrutinised too, not least as a public tutorial in best practices.

Meanwhile, prose continues to flow from Tejpal's keyboard and it's been duly leaked offering another "version" and obviously trying to confuse the victim's. The investigation will interrogate the inconsistencies. But it is the victim's disclosure that Tejpal's family made contact with her mother, pleading for help for him as well as demanding to know her course of action, that indicates outright intimidation. It takes immense courage to speak up as the young journalist has done. It could, however, make countless other victims wary of speaking up, if such intimidation is allowed to pass.

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