Tarun Tejpal, founder-editor of weekly news magazine Tehelka, was on Thursday accused of trivialising allegations against him of a serious sex crime even as Goa Police planned to begin an enquiry into the incident.
The journalist stepped down from his post on Wednesday for six months after tendering an unconditional apology for what he termed as his misconduct with a female colleague at the THiNK festival in Goa earlier this month.
Tarun Tejpal at a press conference in happier times. (AFP Photo)
"I have asked the police to conduct a preliminary enquiry. Right now, we do not have a clear indication if the incident happened in Goa," chief minister of the state Manohar Parrikar said.
TV news reports also suggested the cops would investigate footage from a CCTV that allegedly recorded the incident.VIDEO: Investigation launched in Tejpal case: Parrikar
In New Delhi, Shoma Chaudhury, the magazine's managing editor, told journalists her priority was for the aggrieved journalist and "I am driven by what she wants".
"My understanding is she wanted an apology and it was given to her. He (Tejpal) stepped down. It was something she had not asked for. It was much more than what she wanted," she said.
Chaudhury said that they were in the process of setting up a three-member committee to go into the incident.
Asked by a reporter whether Tejpal will face law as it was a criminal case, she said, "It is not a case, sir, unless you know more about it than I do."
She sought time to respond in the matter. "Give me time to do the correct thing, under pressure I will falter. Give me the time to prioritise this," she said when journalists asked her if the magazine had responded correctly to the allegations against Tejpal.
Tejpal admitted "misconduct" in an email to Chaudhury and offered to step aside temporarily to atone for his behavior on Wednesday.
"A bad lapse of judgement, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for," Tejpal wrote in his email which was sent to staff at the magazine.
"I must do penance that lacerates me," he added.
But the woman journalist told a news channel that Tehelka's response had "deeply disappointed" her.
"To claim that other journalists in Tehelka are satisfied is also false since my testimony has not been publicly circulated within Tehelka, only Tarun's letter of 'atonement' has," she said.
Tejpal's response and Tehelka's handling of the controversy has evoked sharp criticism from various quarters.
READ: How can companies make work places safer for women?
Mamata Sharma, who heads National Commission for Women, said, "Once the matter is brought to the National Commission for Women, we will investigate and ensure that the accused gets punishment, if found guilty. He will have to face a trial in court. Tarun Tejpal is no god to decide his own course of punishment."
"What penance? What atonement? An apology and offer to step down may be his personal way of pitying himself and feeling remorse, but that doesn't absolve him of his crime," women's activist Ranjana Kumari told AFP.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi termed the "atonement" letter of Tejpal "immensely shocking". "In today's amended definition, the doing of Tarun Tejpal is called rape," she said.
"I would want the home minister to ensure lodging of an FIR and immediate arrest of Tejpal," she said.
The Centre, meanwhile, refused to be drawn into the issue in haste. "It's a very sensitive issue. After scrutinising every detail regarding the Tarun Tejpal issue and if there is any reaction to be given in that issue then we will definitely give our reaction," Union information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari told reporters at the IFFI venue in Goa.
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."
Social media was abuzz with criticism of Tejpal's reaction, terming it insufficient. Some even questioned how the magazine does not have even an internal committee to go into cases of sexual assault against women employees as mandated by a Supreme Court judgment in the Visakha case.
Tehelka magazine was behind undercover sting operations and has published a string of scoops on cricket match-fixing, the involvement of politicians in religious riots in 2002 and bribe-taking.
Lately, it has reported on gender inequality in India, highlighting police and judicial insensitivity to rape victims as well as the misogynistic attitudes of many Indian men.
The magazine scandal broke just after police in New Delhi launched a probe into allegations of sexual harassment against an unnamed retired Supreme Court who was implicated by a young female lawyer.
VIDEO: Politicos demand strong action against Tarun Tejpal
READ: When boss gets too close: movies on sexual misconduct
READ: Tehelka editor steps down after allegations of sexual misconduct