Appealing against the acquittal of Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of Tehelka magazine who was accused of sexual assault and rape by a younger colleague, the Goa government has said that the trial court’s judgement is “coloured by prejudice and patriarchy”, Live Law reported on Monday.
On May 21, Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi at the Mapusa District and Sessions Court in Goa acquitted Tejpal in the case registered in 2013. On May 25, the Goa government moved the Bombay High Court against the acquittal of the journalist. In the 527-page judgement, made available on May 25, the judge said the journalist was cleared of all charges as the complainant did not show the “kind of normative behaviour” expected from her.
“The printouts of photographs clearly proves that the prosecutrix was absolutely in a good mood, happy, normal and smiling...she did not look distressed or traumatised in any manner whatsoever though this was immediately a few minutes after she claims to have been sexually assaulted by the accused putting her in a state of panic and trauma,” the order said, while also revealing the identity of the complainant.
On May 27, the Goa bench of the High Court ordered the sessions court to remove all references disclosing the identity of the woman before uploading the order on the website. The court will hear the case against Tejpal’s acquittal on Wednesday.
In its amended appeal, the Goa government has pushed for a retrial, saying the complainant was asked “scandalous, irrelevant and humiliating” questions during the cross-examination. The appeal said Judge Joshi’s adverse inferences on how survivors of sexual assault should behave lacks understanding of post-trauma suffered by women.
The state said that the accused should be on trial, and not the complainant. “The judgement has been influenced by extraneous inadmissible materials and testimonies, graphic details of the past sexual history of the victim, prohibited by law and has used the same for purposes of censuring her character and discrediting her evidence,” the government said. “The entire judgment focuses on indicting the complainant witness rather than trying to ascertain the culpable role of the respondent accused.”
The government said portions of the judgement that are not in conformity with Sections 53A and 146 of the Indian Evidence Act should be expunged. These sections make it inadmissible and impermissible to ask questions in connection with a woman’s past sexual history when matters of consent are involved.
The Pramod Sawant government also said the woman’s qualifications and work in the field of gender was used to discredit her testimony. Calling this “baffling”, the state pointed out that Tejpal was not subjected to such high standard of scrutiny.
“The trial court also failed to appreciate the fact that the respondent accused himself was the editor-in-chief and owner of the Tehelka magazine, highly educated and a man in a position of power and authority,” the Goa government submitted in its appeal.
It said the judge accepted the “farcical, belated and wholly dishonest defence” of Tejpal that he had sent an apology email to the complainant under duress. The lower court had come to the conclusion that it was Tehelka’s then Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary who had drafted the statement and forced Tejpal to send it because she was upset and wanted to protect the reputation of the magazine.
“The trial court has completely ignored the most telling piece of evidence in the case which established the guilt of the respondent accused beyond a shadow of doubt,” the state said, noting that Tejpal had also used the word “atonement” while stepping down from his position as editor-in-chief of Tehelka for six months.
The case has its origins in November 2013, when a company owned by Tejpal and some others organised an event in Goa called THINK fest, featuring discussions with leading figures. The 2013 edition was of particular interest as Hollywood actor Robert De Niro was a guest.
The complainant was then a journalist at Tehelka and had been given the task of taking care of De Niro and his daughter. The complainant alleged that Tejpal, who was then the magazine’s editor-in-chief, assaulted her twice during the festival. Both times, the assault occurred inside elevators. The first assault took place on November 7 and the second the following day.
The woman did not immediately complain to Tehelka’s management, but had on November 18, 2013, sent a detailed account of the incidents to Managing Director Shoma Chaudhary.
Following this, Tejpal sent two emails expressing his regret at the incident: one to the complainant personally and the other to the staff of Tehelka.
After the matter became public, the Goa Police took suo motu cognisance of it and registered an FIR. The police then took statements from the complainant and also got a magistrate to record her statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
It took almost eight years for the trial to conclude. The complainant was cross-examined only in 2019, six years after the incident.