Sexual Assault

Yes, it's time for a re-think – by people trying to deflect charges of sex crimes by their friends

An item in a Mumbai tabloid on Thursday said that journalist Tarun Tejpal, who is facing rape charges, had merely committed a 'grave error'.

Normally, the dozens of ill-informed and vacuous comments that find space in the “diary” sections of some newspapers are best ignored. Yet sometimes a response is needed.

I am referring to an absurd diary item in the Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day on June 9. As I said, it could be ignored as the newspaper is published only in one city, Mumbai, and has a limited circulation. Yet, in these days of Internet and social media, the reach of such publications is amplified.

So Malavika Sanghvi, in her column “Malavika’s Mumbai: The Daily Dish” (last item) that appears on page 8 of Mid-Day has taken up the case of Tarun Tejpal, former editor of Tehelka, who was charged with rape by a colleague, is currently facing trial in a court in Goa and is out on bail.

Under the headline, “Time for a RE-THINK?” Sanghvi refers to the serious rape charge against Tejpal as “a grave error”. And because this so-called error apparently gave “his detractors ammunition to demolish him” through an “excessive” and “relentless media campaign”, she suggests that it is time for “strong liberal voices” to speak out.

As Tejpal was not in a position “to fight the good fight”, says Sanghvi, “liberal voices” had to intervene at a time when “regressive thoughts and actions seem to rule.”

She then goes on to inform us that Tejpal’s rehabilitation is underway and that he might well resurrect the ThinkFest, an event that featured several leading thinkers and writers, which stopped after he was charged with rape during the 2013 edition of the festival.

Sanghvi is also clearly in favour of rehabilitating this “once darling of the intelligentsia” because “everyone makes a comeback in India”.

Why should it matter if some people want to rehabilitate Tejpal? After all, the so-called excessive media campaign that Sanghvi finds so troubling was countered not long ago by some of Tejpal’s friends who found space in mainstream media to project him as the victim, rather than the perpetrator of an alleged crime.

It matters because first, comments like this remind us that this is how those with power, or connections, can get away with crimes.

It is precisely this attitude that allowed someone like RK Pachauri, the former head of The Energy and Resources Institute, charged with sexual harassment by a colleague, to continue in his position for many months. People of his class simply refused to accept the gravity of the crime with which he was charged.

The second reason for concern is the attempt to link liberalism with accepting and tolerating a crime. This is a strange twist to the concept of liberalism.

We do live in a time when “strong liberal voices” need to be heard. But not to defend a person, irrespective of his celebrity credentials, who has been charged with a crime.

These voices are needed to speak up for those who have no voice. People like the family of Mohammed Akhlaq, who was beaten to death in Dadri for allegedly eating beef. Today, his family is being targeted by the mahapanchayat of Dadri that demands that they be prosecuted for consuming beef.

They need to speak up for men like Mohammed Amir Khan, who was picked up in 1998 and charged with being a terrorist, tortured, denied bail, kept in jail for the major part of his growing up years, only to be released after 14 years after he was proved innocent.

There are many more instances where “strong liberal voices” need to be heard because those paying the price for the “regressive thoughts and actions” at work today are not the Tejpals or the Pachauris, but people like Akhlaq and Khan.

Yes, a “RE-THINK” is needed. Not to rehabilitate Tejpal or anyone else like him. But in the class of people to which he belongs, who justify grave crimes as grave errors.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

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