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Goa moves HC against Tejpal order

Panaji: The Goa government has called a verdict acquitting journalist Tarun Tejpal of rape and sexual assault by additional sessions judge Kshama Joshi as “perverse” and “influenced by extraneous inadmissible materials and testimonies”, and filed an appeal filed before the Bombay high court at Goa
By Gerard de Souza
PUBLISHED ON JUN 02, 2021 01:03 AM IST

Panaji: The Goa government has called a verdict acquitting journalist Tarun Tejpal of rape and sexual assault by additional sessions judge Kshama Joshi as “perverse” and “influenced by extraneous inadmissible materials and testimonies”, and filed an appeal filed before the Bombay high court at Goa.

The former editor of Tehelka magazine was accused of raping a colleague in an elevator of a five-star hotel in Goa during the THiNK festival in November 2013. The complainant alleged that Tejpal raped her in a lift in the hotel on November 7 and attempted to assault her again on November 8. Tejpal, who refuted the charges in court, was acquitted by the fast-track court on May 21.

The Goa government filed an appeal against the verdict in the Bombay high court last Tuesday. In its amended appeal against the judgment, the Goa Police have said that the verdict was “shocking in its apparent legal bias against the prosecutrix” and that the judgement was “unsustainable in law and is coloured by prejudice and patriarchy” and that “much of the impugned judgment has been consumed by sexual gossip and alleged sexual fantasies related to the prosecutrix which were legally prohibited”.

The appeal is scheduled for hearing on Wednesday.

“The trial court, in its 527-page-judgment, has been influenced by extraneous inadmissible materials and testimonies, graphic details of the past sexual history of the victim, prohibited by law, and has used the same for purposes of censuring her character, and discrediting her evidence. The entire judgment focusses on indicting the complainant witness rather than trying to ascertain the culpable role of the respondent accused (Tejpal),” the appeal stated.

Goa Police also contended that the trial court completely discarded the testimony of the survivor despite the fact that “her statement given in court, gave a clear and cogent account of the incidents of sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, outraging of modesty, use of criminal force, and wrongful restraint and confinement”.

“When it suggests that it is unsafe to rely on her testimony as she is well educated, a good writer, proficient in English and above all conversant with the rape law, and was a capable, intelligent, independent person, the Trial Court, unfortunately, deploys the prosecutrix’s strengths and accomplishments to dispute her testimony,” the appeal said.

The state has sought that the judgment be set aside and Tejpal be convicted on the offences he was charged off since “the court disbelieved the version of the prosecutrix on the basis of a conception of how a victim is expected to behave while being sexually assaulted”.

The state has also argued that the victim was subjected to a rigorous cross examination extending to almost 700 pages, spread over eighteen dates of hearing but which was “nothing short of a brutal attack on her character and alleged past sexual history designed to shame and humiliate her.”

“Not only should these questions have been disallowed while recording evidence, but the trial court has gone so far as to use these very questions and materials to discredit her, although they were neither relevant to the case, nor could they have been put to her under law,” the state has argued.

Tejpal, who was relieved at being acquitted, had thanked judge Kshama Joshi after his acquittal.

“In November 2013 I was falsely accused of sexual assault by a colleague. Today the Hon’ble Trial Court of Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi, in Goa, has honourably acquitted me. In an awfully vitiated age, where ordinary courage has become rare, I thank her for standing by the truth,” he said.

The verdict, among other points, suggested that the woman did not behave in a manner consistent with a victim of sexual assault after the alleged incidents. “The printouts of photographs clearly proves that the prosecutrix was absolutely in a good mood, happy, normal and smiling at the time she… did not look distressed or traumatized in any manner whatsoever though this was immediately a few minutes after she claims to have been sexually assaulted by the accused putting her in a state of panic and trauma,” the court said.

Experts, however, contend that there is no template of correct behaviour after or even during an incident of sexual assault, rape and harassment, and that survivors often feel the need to appear “normal” out of fear of retribution by the assailant.

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