The district and sessions court of Mapusa in Goa has said that Tarun Tejpal was acquitted in the sexual assault case filed against him as the complainant did not show the “kind of normative behaviour” expected from her, The Indian Express reported.
“It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s (victim) account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused,” the court observed.
Tejpal, the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, was accused of raping a junior colleague in an elevator in 2013. The sessions acquitted Tejpal in the case on May 21. The Goa government has, however, challenged the verdict in the Bombay High Court.
In her 527-page judgment made available on Tuesday, Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi noted that Tejpal was granted “benefit of doubt” in the absence of corroborative evidence to support the allegations made by the complainant.
On lack of evidence
The judge held that Goa Police destroyed “clear proof of evidence” by not producing CCTV camera footage of the first floor of the hotel where the alleged rape took place, reported the Times of India.
The court noted that the investigating officer in the case collected the footage from the ground floor and first and second floors of the hotel. However, the footage for the first floor could not be produced in the court, Joshi said in her judgement, observing that it was a “material lapse by the investigation officer”.
In her order, the judge also pointed out other lapses on part of the investigating officer in procuring and preserving releavnt CCTV footage, according to the Times of India.
“Despite the fact that the DVR [digital video recorder] containing CCTV footage could and should have been attached by the IO [investigating officer] at the earliest...the IO appears to have deliberately delayed the seizure of DVR until November 29,2013, and in the meantime, destroyed the CCTV footage of the first floor of November 7, 2013, thereby destroying clear prrof of the accused’s defence,” the court noted.
The court added that the investigating officer did not seal the room where the footage was stored and “destroyed all traces of CCTV footage” from the hotel’s first floor.
For context, the complainant had alleged that Tejpal had sexually assaulted her in a lift in the hotel on November 7 and molested her again on November 8.
‘Doubt on truthfulness’
The court said there were many facts which “create doubt on truthfulness” of the complainant.
The judge said it was “unnatural” for the complainant to inform Tejpal about her location in the hotel over a text message when she had been “sexually assaulted by the accused and was terrified of him and not in a proper state of mind”.
“...Her [complainant] sending the same message thrice in the span of a very few minutes, clearly establishes that the prosecutrix was not traumatised nor terrified of being located or found by the accused,” the order said.
The court took this stand despite holding that the prosecution could prove that Tejpal was a person in a position of trust or authority and in a position of control or dominance over the complainant. However, the court added that the prosecution could not establish that Tejpal had committed rape, used criminal force to outrage the woman’s modesty or whether he had wrongfully restrained her from exiting the lift.
For this, the court observed that the complainant’s lawyers could not prove that the lift could be kept in motion without its doors opening on each floor.
The court also took note that there was no medical evidence to account for the complainant delaying registering a complaint on the matter. The court, in fact, observed that the complainant reached out to prominent lawyers, a member of the National Commission for Women and journalists in the meantime.
“With the help of experts, there may be a possibility of doctoring of events or adding of incidents,” the court said, according to The Indian Express.
On Tejpal’s apology e-mail
In an internal email, in the days that followed the alleged incident, Tejpal had blamed the incident on his “lapse of judgement”.
However, the court refused to consider the letter as an evidence holding it was not sent voluntarily, but due to “explicit pressure and intimidation” by the complainant on Shoma Chaudhary, who was then the managing director of Tehelka.
The court held that the apology was sent “due to the inducement and promise made by the prosecutrix [complainant] to PW45 [prosecution witness 45, Chaudhary] which in turn was communicated to the accused, that the matter would be closed at the institutional level if the accused were to tender an apology”.
The court, thus, did not consider the email as a witness under Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act which renders a confession irrelevant in a criminal proceeding if it is caused by inducement, threat or promise.