The allegations of sexual assault levelled by a young journalist against Tarun Tejpal, editor-in-chief and publisher of Tehelka magazine — allegations that he acknowledged in a bizarrely-worded letter that went viral on social media — presented the Indian media with a test: will it cover the misdemeanours of its own with as much enthusiasm as it did the case of the retired Supreme Court (SC) judge similarly accused by a former intern last week?
The progress in the case of the young lawyer, who alleged in a blog that the judge had sexually harassed her last December, has been unprecedented: for the first time, the SC appointed a panel to hear the charges against a former apex court judge. Another woman lawyer, who had accused a senior advocate of making advances which were “in the nature of an obsessive romantic and sexual interest”, however, declined to make a legal complaint.
The readiness of the judiciary to probe one of its own is laudable but the second lawyer’s unwillingness to file a complaint reveals that it is still difficult for women to speak out against sexual wrongdoing by those in positions of power.
This is mirrored in the case of the newsmagazine, which seems to have no real mechanism to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. However, the media — both print and television — have not shied away from covering the case.
The uproar on social media has been unceasing especially as the senior journalist who stands accused has been a supporter of progressive values.
The enormous outrage that the case has generated has made it clear that men within the media, like their counterparts in the judiciary, and indeed in organisations across the country, need to understand that, given the Indian feminist resurgence post the December 16 gang rape case, the era of loose talk and inappropriate behaviour in the work space has well and truly passed.
Women lawyers have gone some way towards ensuring cases of harassment are dealt with. They have been demanding the implementation of the SC’s 1997 Vishaka judgement in courts, and in August 2013, the Supreme Court recognised the formation of the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSIC) to address sexual harassment of women in the Supreme Court complex.
It’s time now for all organisations to set up committees in compliance with the Vishaka Guidelines and the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which recognise women’s right to work in an environment that’s free of sexual harassment.