The regressive mindset behind the Tarun Tejpal judgment

Updated on May 28, 2021 02:24 PM IST

The Tejpal judgment could have stopped with an acquittal on reasonable doubt due to lack of police evidence. Instead, there are insinuations about the woman’s credibility, including the fact that she admittedly had no physical injuries after the assault

Former journalist Tarun Tejpal. (AFP) PREMIUM
Former journalist Tarun Tejpal. (AFP)

When the trial of Tarun Tejpal finally began six years after a junior colleague accused him of sexual crimes, including rape, questions put to the woman were so incendiary that she had to ask the Bombay High Court to restrain Tejpal’s lawyers from asking irrelevant and — following the 2013 rape law amendment — illegal questions.

Despite that, many of those questions, and replies, are now on public record thanks to a 527-page judgment by Kshama Joshi, the additional sessions judge at Mapusa who acquitted Tejpal of all charges.

With its unrelenting focus on the complainant, the judgment tells you less about the sexual crimes Tejpal was accused of and more about his accuser, including her name, email address and identity of her parents and husband (the Bombay High Court has ordered a redaction).

We know now her attitude to smoking, drinking and consensual sex; that she had consulted two senior women advocates; had written an article on compensation for rape survivors; is educated, intelligent and aware of the country’s rape laws — though in what way this impacts the credibility of her complaint is not clear.

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

What she wore when she says Tejpal first assaulted her (chiffon floor-length green and black dress with lining that ended above her knees and thong underwear); her purported sexual history; and conversations with friends, sometimes of a sexual nature, are there in graphic, lurid detail.

The law assures rape survivors that their past sexual history is irrelevant. And yet, since the 1977 Mathura verdict, judges continue to shame women who speak up. In March this year, advocate Aparna Bhat moved the Supreme Court to expunge a lower court order that asked a rape survivor to tie a rakhi on her rapist. Justice Ravinder Bhat went a step further and asked the judges to also undergo gender sensitisation training.

The Tejpal judgment could have stopped with an acquittal on reasonable doubt due to lack of police evidence. Instead, there are insinuations about the woman’s credibility, including the fact that she admittedly had no physical injuries after the assault. It finds “glaring contradictions”, for instance, in her email complaint to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury where she mentions “picking up” her panties while her police statement records that she “pulled” them up. Really?

This level of scrutiny seems to be missing from an examination of Tejpal’s defence. It buys into his argument that he apologised, twice, under pressure from the woman who promptly went public once he had — though how she would gain from such disclosure is unclear. It doesn’t question whether the “drunken banter”, claimed by Tejpal, could really be consensual given that he was her boss and 30 years older. And, if it was “banter”, why was he so furious that the woman had told his daughter about it?

Ultimately, the Tarun Tejpal verdict is not so much on a man’s alleged crime as it is on his accuser’s behaviour, conduct and beliefs. It tells you why women remain reluctant to speak up.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender

The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Namita Bhandare writes on gender and other social issues and has 25 years of experience in journalism. She has edited books and features in a documentary on sexual violence. She tweets as @namitabhandare

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