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Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal steps down as he faces sexual molestation charge

The young, female Tehelka reporter has charged her boss for sexually harassing and molesting her during ‘Think’, a literary fest held in Goa earlier this month

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | November 21, 2013

Tarun Tejpal

Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka’s editor-in-chief, has been caught with his pants down! At a time when public opinion and anger is reaching a pitch, and even a retired Supreme Court judge is facing a probe, the media, which has been playing a proactive role in giving a voice to the public’s resentment against the treatment meted out to women, comes this sordid incident when a senior and respected editor has got in the act. Following charges leveled against him by a young, female Tehelka reporter for sexually harassing and molesting her during ‘Think’, a literary fest held in Goa earlier this month, Tejpal has stepped down from the magazine for a period of six months.

Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury has sent an email to all Tehelka employees informing them of Tejpal “recusing himself as the editor of Tehelka for the next six months” (see mails reproduced below). Chaudhury’s email also said that Tejpal had rendered an “unconditional apology to the colleague involved”.

While Tejpal has admitted to his guilt, it is bizarre that he has tried to dilute his action in fine prose saying it was “a bad lapse of judgment”! Tejpal wrote in a mail to Shoma Chaudhury: “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. I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further.”

The truth is that Tejpal’s sexual misconduct goes far beyond a “lapse of judgment” as is evident from the email that was sent by the victim to Shoma Chaudhury that said that what Tejpal did was a “serious sexual assault”. She says that Tejpal tried to disrobe her and extensively groped her twice during the Think festival.

What is baffling is the inexplicable silence and quiet acceptance of Tehelka’s female managing editor Shoma Chaudhury. As a woman herself, and Tejpal’s right hand, she appears to have completely accepted the reasoning of Tejpal that it was a lapse of judgment and that his going on six months leave is atonement. Why not raise your voice louder, is what many are asking.

The last has not been heard in the Tejpal sexcapade. The mainline media has strongly picked up this sordid incident involving one of its own. Vitriol is being poured on Twitter and Facebook against Tejpal.

We reproduce below the mail written by the victim to Shoma Chaudhury about what happened in Goa, and also the mails exchanged by Shoma and Tejpal.

Victims’s email to Shoma Chaudhury:

Dear Shoma, It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you - I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn't one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me - but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father's ex colleague and friend, Tiya's dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years.

Both times, I returned to my room in a completely distraught condition, trembling and crying. I went straight to Shougat and Ishan's room, where I called G Vishnu and told them what had been done to me. (All three of them are copied on this email. You can contact them for any clarifications you see necessary). The second time he molested me, I even told Tiya what happened. When he heard I'd told Tiya (she confronted him), he lashed out at me, and I became truly terrified of what he would do. I avoided him in all situations except in rooms full of people, until I checked out of Think on Sunday.

As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued "a drunken banter". That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop. As you read through the details of what happened in the attachment to this mail, I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.

Read Tarun Tejpal’s mail to Shoma Chaudhury:

-----Original Message-----

From: Tarun J Tejpal

Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 2:58 PM

To: Shoma Chaudhury

Subject: Atonement

My dear Shoma,

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.

I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further. Tehelka has been born and built, day on day, with my blood, toil, tears and sweat, and that of many others, against near-insurmountable odds. It has lived for and fought the big battles of our time, always on the side of the oppressed and the wronged, always on the side of equity and justice. Its voice has travelled the world and changed policy and perceptions. It has been a beacon for those who would do the right thing.

Through bad, and worse, times I have protected Tehelka and its journalists from the inevitable demands of power and corporations. I have always allowed every journalist's sense of the right to flower and express itself. No one has ever been asked to do what they don't believe in.

I have always held that Tehelka the institution, and its work, have always been infinitely more important than any of us individuals. It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles. Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel 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.

You have always been stellar, Shoma, and even as I apologise to you and all my other colleagues, for this unfortunate incident, I leave Tehelka in your more than capable and safe hands.

In apology,

Tarun

Read Shoma Chaudhury’s mail to Tehelka staff:

From: Shoma Chaudhury

Date: 20 Nov 2013 19:03

Subject: FW: Atonement

To: Editors

Cc: Bureau

Dear All,

This may come as a rude surprise to many of you. There is a letter from Tarun appended to this mail. 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.

Tehelka is an institution he has built, and which many journalists both current and former, have contributed to in the most profound ways. Throughout our 13-year career, we have proudly articulated and tried to live by the highest standards. We have also believed that when there is a mistake or lapse of any kind, one can only respond with right thought and action. In keeping with this stated principle, and the collective values we live by, Tarun will be stepping down for the period mentioned.

This is a hard time for all of us, and I hope all of you will stand by the institution.

Best,

shoma

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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