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Tejpal case: litmus test of rape laws

comment Updated: Feb 19, 2014 10:56 IST
Hindustan Times
Tejpal sexual assault

When the newsman becomes the newsmaker, he cannot escape the scrutiny that he subjected others to. Three months after Tarun Tejpal, one of India’s most high profile investigative journalists and former editor in-chief of Tehelka magazine, was accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague, he has been officially charged with rape by the Goa Police in a chargesheet that runs into 2,846 pages. Besides rape, he has also been charged under Section 376 (2)(k) — rape by a person in a position of control or dominance over a woman — that is punishable with 10 years in jail. Mr Tejpal being one of the few accused who has been booked under the amended rape laws that were enacted in the wake of the December 16, 2012 gang rape, this case will be closely watched and is a litmus test for the effectiveness of the laws.

After December 16, 2012 there have been several assaults on women and young girls but the change is that more and more women are emboldened and are speaking out against their alleged tormentors, including a former Supreme Court judge. However, this particular case highlights that it is still difficult for women to speak against sexual wrongdoing by those in positions of power. But the police has done a meticulous job. The outcome of this case depends on the accused being able to prove his innocence and not the victim. This is in accordance with the new law. This case will also set a benchmark in the police investigation — the watertight chargesheet was filed within 80 days of the registration of the FIR. While cases of rape and assault drag on for years, it took nine months for the December 12 gang rape to come to a conclusion despite being fast-tracked.

In a country that was ranked the highest in ‘reported employee workplace assault’ and sexual harassment (according to a survey by Ipsos, a market research firm, and Reuters India released in 2010), this case will go a long way towards making workplaces safer for women and sending a strong message to men that inappropriate behaviour with a female colleague will cost them dearly.