Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of weekly news magazine Tehelka, stepped down from his post on Wednesday for six months after tendering an unconditional apology for “misconduct” with a female colleague during the magazine’s THiNK festival in Goa earlier this month. The matter went viral on Wednesday evening with many accusing Tejpal of being let off easily.
“A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident…” wrote Tejpal in an email to Shoma Chaudhury, Tehelka’s managing editor.
“I feel atonement cannot be just words… I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka… for the next six months.”
But as his email and Chaudhury’s subsequent email to Tehelka staff informing them of Tejpal’s decision spread across social media, many expressed outrage at the tone of his ‘atonement’ email and at the fact that he had been let off so easily; some called it a “six-month holiday.”
This, especially since the woman concerned is believed to have written an email to Chaudhury in which she narrates details of the assault. In the email, the woman has alleged that Tejpal physically assaulted her at least twice during the festival and that she informed three colleagues about the incidents when they happened.
The female staffer said that she couldn’t inform Chaudhury at the time because it was impossible for her to get a minute alone with the managing editor given the demands of the festival on her senior colleague’s time.
In her email, the female staffer has asked that “Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal...”
Top journalists described Tejpal’s letter and apology as grossly inadequate and demanded more accountability from the magazine.
“It is meaningless for Tarun Tejpal to "recuse" himself as editor. Sexual harassment at Tehelka has to be dealt with according to law,” Tweeted senior editor Siddharth Varadarajan.
Senior CNN-IBN journalist Bhupendra Chaubey tweeted his dismay at the incident: “absolutely shattered to see what's happened in Tehelka. To the victim, I just want to say, fellow journos are with u. Be brave, take care.”
Women’s activist Kavita Krishnan expressed the thoughts of many others when she called for the formation of a proper sexual harassment cell according to the Visakha guidelines, a proper enquiry and appropriate punishment for Tejpal in a series of tweets.
The Supreme Court in 1997 laid down guidelines in a case involving a social worker in Rajasthan, pending formal legislation, for dealing with sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
The Vishakha case guidelines defined what sexual harassment was, mentioned duties of employers in dealing with such complaints and stipulated formation of committees to dispose of harassment complaints.
Tejpal confirmed the contents of the leaked e-mail. In response to an SMS sent to him by HT, he said:“Yes that’s right. I think my self-explanatory letter has been put by someone in the public domain.”
Criminality can't be shielded: BJP
The BJP said that the molestation act is tantamount to rape according to law and its criminality can't be shielded.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, addressing a press conference a day after Tejpal stepped down for six months over the incident, said : "In today's amended definition, the doing of Tarun Tejpal is called rape."
"Sexual harassment is what has happened to the innocent girl."
Lekhi termed the "atonement" letter of Tejpal announcing he was recusing himself for six months as "immensely shocking".