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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