The Goa bench of the Bombay High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to former Tehelka magazine editor Tarun Tejpal in the 2013 sexual assault case against him, reported Bar and Bench. The court sought a reply by June 24.
Tejpal was accused of raping a junior colleague in an elevator in 2013. A sessions court acquitted him in the case on May 21. On May 25, the Goa government moved the Bombay High Court against the verdict.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Goa government, said the lower court’s judgement lacked sensitivity regarding crimes against women and awareness of the sections of criminal laws.
Mehta also said that the court order contained instances of the trial court’s attempts to define the conduct of the woman, her reaction to the crime, and her past sexual conduct. Insensitive remarks were also passed regarding the complainant’s intelligence and knowledge, the Goa government counsel pointed out, according to Bar and Bench.
As Mehta read out parts of the lower court’s order, Justice SC Gupte said that the verdict seemed like a manual for a rape survivor. He also sought records and proceedings of the sessions court case.
The court also said there was a “prima facie case for leave”.
“There is a reference that the accused consulted senior lawyers Indira Jaising and Rebecca John,” Mehta said, according to Live Law. “This conduct has seriously gone against the victim. If this girl would have approached me I would have asked her to consult them. They are feminists.”
During a hearing in the same bench of the High Court on May 27, it had ordered the sessions court to remove all references disclosing the identity of the woman in the judgement before uploading it. The sessions court order had contained the complainant’s identity and email address, as well as her mother and husband’s.
At the May 27 hearing, Mehta had also disapproved of the observations made about the involvement of Jaising in the case.
In its order on May 21, the district and sessions court of Mapusa in Goa said the complainant had not shown the “kind of normative behaviour” expected from her, among other things. In her 527-page judgment, 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.
In its appeal, the Goa government has said that the trial court’s judgement was “coloured by prejudice and patriarchy”.
- The Tejpal rape case verdict and the Goa court quest for the ‘ideal’ sexual assault victim
- Tarun Tejpal case: Complainant did not behave like victim of sexual assault, says court
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 on 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.