Former journalist Tarun Tejpal (R) arrives for the verdict hearing of the sexual assault case in which he is accused of raping a female journalist in the lift of a five-star hotel in Goa in November 2013, at the district court of Mapusa in Goa on May 21, 2021. (AFP)
Former journalist Tarun Tejpal (R) arrives for the verdict hearing of the sexual assault case in which he is accused of raping a female journalist in the lift of a five-star hotel in Goa in November 2013, at the district court of Mapusa in Goa on May 21, 2021. (AFP)

‘No template of apt behaviour after assault’: Experts on Tarun Tejpal verdict

The former editor of Tehelka magazine was accused of raping a junior colleague in an elevator of a five-star hotel in Goa during the THiNK festival in November 2013.
By Gerard de Souza, Panaji
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2021 02:52 AM IST

The Mapusa sessions court acquitted journalist Tarun Tejpal, who was being tried for raping a junior colleague, and contended that the survivor’s account “neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show, nor does it demonstrate any such behaviour on the part of the accused.”

In the judgment, a copy of which was made available on Wednesday, Additional Sessions judge Kshama Joshi said that the prosecutrix did not prove herself a sterling witness, and pulled up the Goa police, which was investigating the case, for destroying evidence that was “inconvenient” to the investigation and would have proved Tejpal’s defence.

The former editor of Tehelka magazine was accused of raping a junior colleague in an elevator of a five-star hotel in Goa during the THiNK festival in November 2013. The complainant alleged that Tejpal had 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 on Tuesday.

Admitting that the sole testimony of a rape survivor is enough to put an accused behind bars if her deposition is of “sterling quality”, the judge went on to note that the complainant’s behaviour after the purported rape was inconsistent with the charges.

“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.

“The circumstances’ plausibility and above all, the requirement of the prosecutrix to prove herself a sterling witness are essential in law before lending absolute credence to her word. Yet, at every stage, anomalies, discrepancies, wild inaccuracies, improvements, omissions, contradictions and sheer impossibilities mark the narrative of the prosecutrix and yet the IO [investigating officer] and the prosecution have turned a blind eye to them at every stage,” the 527-page judgement stated.

Experts point out that there is no template of correct behaviour after or even during an incident of sexual assault, rape and harassment. Often survivors feel the need to appear “normal” out of fear of retribution by the assailant, women’s rights activists said.

“There is a belief that a woman should react in a certain way to be worthy of justice. However, there cannot be a standard operating procedure of how a woman should behave after sexual assault,” Mumbai-based women’s rights lawyer Veena Gowda said.

In an internal email sent in the days following the incident, Tejpal had said: “I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me.”

However, the judge said that the email did not constitute an admission of guilt.

“If the email titled ‘personal’ is looked at... it will reveal that there is absolutely no admission or confession of any incriminating fact even remotely suggesting sexual assault by the accused on the prosecutrix in the email. the word sexual assault or any of its attributes are neither implicitly nor explicitly stated in the said personal email… Even assuming that the personal email was sent to the prosecutrix, the contention of the accused that the said email had been sent involuntarily and against his wish and therefore would not be admissible against the accused has to be accepted,” the court said.

The court further noted that the investigating officer in the case collected the footage from the ground floor, first and second floors of the hotel but failed to produce footage for the first floor which the judge called a “material lapse by the investigation officer”.

“It can be said that because the footage of the First Floor would have wholly destroyed the prosecution’s case, the IO sought to keep out the relevant footage for the First Floor and render it unavailable,” the court said.

“If the first-floor footage was viewed on 29.11.2013 where did it disappear and there is absolutely no explanation for the same from the prosecution,” the court noted.

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