T’hell’ka: of men in power

Published: November 21, 2013
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The writer is a journalist in Delhi whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. He tweets @DilliDurAst

The writer is a journalist in Delhi whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. He tweets @DilliDurAst

The most shocking thing about the revelation that the iconic editor, Tarun Tejpal, had sexually assaulted a woman journalist his daughter’s age, was that nobody was shocked. In the Indian media, we know these things happen. Through word of mouth, those in the fraternity know which editors have a ‘glad eye’. Some are more infamous than others.

“This may come as a rude surprise to many of you,” wrote Tehelka magazine’s managing editor in an email to all its journalists, prefacing a note by editor-in-chief Tarun Jit Tejpal. The note said that Tejpal had made a mistake in an untoward incident with a journalist and he was not only unconditionally apologising, but was also going on a six-month leave.

In a few hours, it was all over the Indian media that it was a case of grave and repeated sexual assault of a woman staffer, who also happened to be a friend of his own daughter. A confidant of the victim told NDTV that the victim had been emotionally scarred, that her pleas to not be assaulted were ignored, that a half-hearted apology that did not even acknowledge the sexual assault wasn’t enough. And what a penance! A self-imposed six month leave — to write another book?

In the Indian media, we hear ever so often of such cases but nothing happens. That’s because sleazy male editors lead a male-dominated profession where sexual harassment and assault of women journalists is an act of power. Such is this power that women are forced to submit quietly. Will they get another job? Won’t the editor tell other editors she goes around making ‘false’ allegations of sexual harassment? Won’t she be seen as a troublemaker?

In saying that he had ‘misread’ the situation that led to the ‘incident’, Tejpal is doing the same victim-blaming. This is an issue far more serious than one editor or one incident. The way some male editors behave in the office leads to a sexual politics that vitiates the office environment and hurts the practice of journalism. One reputed editor makes it very clear by being rude to male journalists and extra nice to women staffers.

It is clear that the male order will be preserved. As Tejpal hands over charge to his woman colleague Shoma Chaudhury, the latter has refused to follow the Supreme Court judgment that says every organisation in India has to have an internal anti-sexual harassment committee. Chaudhury has told the rest of the media that this is Tehelka’s internal matter. The same Chaudhury had tweeted in April this year, “Most rapes are by family or neighbours. They are mostly not reported to protect honour.” Perhaps, that is what she is trying to protect, rather than women’s right to bodily autonomy, when she refuses to institute an internal inquiry.

Very few Indian media organisations have the mandatory anti-sexual harassment committee as mandated by the Supreme Court. Why, the Supreme Court doesn’t have one for itself! A law graduate recently revealed she had been molested by a Supreme Court judge she was interning with.

Institutions that the people have some faith in, institutions that have been standing up for women’s rights, such as the media and the judiciary, are themselves keen to protect the ‘honour’ of sleazy old powerful men, who think it’s their right to molest women colleagues.

Meanwhile, audio tapes have been put out showing the former home minister of a state ordering policemen to organise complete surveillance of a young woman. She was followed by the police everywhere she went. In the flight, in the malls, everywhere. Every phone conversation she was having was tapped. Why? For ‘saheb’. The saheb in question could be India’s next prime minister!

Despite having strict laws at their disposal, women are afraid of these men in power. Of long-drawn legal battles and social stigma. It may be easy for a man to say this, but changing the situation needs more women coming out and taking on the sleazy men in power, legally or just by naming and shaming. Every example will tell these men, it’s an equal world. And every example will inspire other women to speak up.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Lala Gee
    Nov 22, 2013 - 12:20AM

    “Meanwhile, audio tapes have been put out showing the former home minister of a state ordering policemen to organise complete surveillance of a young woman. She was followed by the police everywhere she went. In the flight, in the malls, everywhere. Every phone conversation she was having was tapped. Why? For ‘saheb’. The saheb in question could be India’s next prime minister!”

    Was he NaMo? He also used to be the Home Minister of a state (Gujarat), and now is the BJP’s candidate for India’s Prime Ministership.

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  • Raghav
    Nov 22, 2013 - 12:26AM

    Nice to see that you managed to punch in “Saheb” in the end. Totally shows how “non-biased” you are.

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  • Karla
    Nov 22, 2013 - 1:08AM

    the entire situation presents such a gloomy scenario. It is suffocating to think perverted men would actually be given cover and their ‘honor’ (which i have a hard time believing they have) protected. Such a mindset makes countries like ours the worst places to be for women.

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  • water bottle
    Nov 22, 2013 - 4:20AM

    For god’s sakes, please stop using the word sexual assault.

    Call it as rape if it is a rape or molestation, if it is.

    ‘Sexual assault’ is a dirty phrase that elevates an utterly ugly despicable crime to the level of an assault.

    A molestation or rape should not be dignified with the term ‘sexual assault’. Shame on all you reporters for using this term to hide the actual crime.

    As far as this guy is concerned, there should be a criminal case registered and he should be prosecuted to the full extent of law.

    These buggers (I want to use harsh expletives) expose the mistakes and crimes of others while they themselves are rotten to the core.

    I will not be surprised to learn if these buggers are corrupt people planting and manipulating news for money or political gain. If a man can base himself to the level of a rapist/molester, why shouldn’t one be corrupt?

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  • Rakib
    Nov 22, 2013 - 8:20AM

    I(n saying that he had ‘misread’ the situation that led to the ‘incident’, Tejpal is doing the same victim-blaming. This is an issue far more serious than one editor or one incident.)

    This is an obvious ploy-blame the victim! The young lady mentions in her letter (available in public domain) that Tejpal’s daughter, who happens to be her friend, confided that this was not the first time that he was up to such behaviour & that when she was thirteen she had seen her father attempting something similar with another woman. Obviously the man is likely to repeat such offenses if he is not put away.

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  • Gratgy
    Nov 22, 2013 - 9:05AM

    Meanwhile, audio tapes have been put out showing the former home minister of a state ordering policemen to organise complete surveillance of a young woman.

    You conveniently forget to mention the fact that the surveillance was requested by the girl herself and her father as they feared harassment by a powerful bureaucrat. I wish all other states were as proactive in protecting their women.

    By presenting half truths, you sir, kill the credibility of your own articles

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  • devoted paki
    Nov 22, 2013 - 9:26AM

    Similar practices go largely unchecked in public and private sector offices of our country, because here the victims are more vulnerable. And even if the perpetarator has any chance of getting penalized, the victim is bound to suffer much more. Like all decadent societies, the scales always tilt for the powerful.

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  • Adeel Pathan
    Nov 22, 2013 - 11:07AM

    A very reflective piece by a journalist critiquing own fraternity. These anti sexual harassment committees should be made mandatory. Also, the word victim itself is showing the woman as weaker person therefore suggestive word is survivor instead of victim because this word is normally used for those who died in such situations. Pakistan is also no difference when we talk about media houses but systems should be in place to respond to such complaints within media houses

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  • Gratgy
    Nov 22, 2013 - 11:25AM

    In saying that he had ‘misread’ the situation that led to the ‘incident’,

    To improve his reading skills, the police must throw the book at him

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  • x
    Nov 22, 2013 - 6:17PM

    @water bottle:
    For once, I totally agree with you. Sexual assault, as a term, seems in line with his stance that he ‘misread’ the situation. Rape is the word, no frills attached, in all its brutal, inhuman, violent and loathsome magnitude.

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  • Rakib
    Nov 22, 2013 - 8:16PM

    @x: Not to miss the purport of your post or to disregard your sentiments but to set the record straight, the Author has used the exact words from the victim’s letter (“The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me.”). Legally rpt legally the word “rape” has certain connotations & the victim, a trained journalist specialising, with sad irony, in stories on violence against women, may well know the subtleties involved. If wrong word is used in case papers & she has not undergone medical examination then it’s her word against his. The letter will now be dissected in the court & at that time the terminology used will be made more contentious by prosecution & defense.

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  • Ankit
    Nov 24, 2013 - 12:35AM

    Modi had to be part of this.

    Just to balance the argument

    Modi had to part to this.

    Just when you had won everyone over.

    Modi had to be part of this, too.

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  • Rakib
    Nov 24, 2013 - 10:33AM

    @Ankit:
    Either as Leader of the House or Leader of Opposition Modi will become part of every negativity on all-India basis.You will read, hear & see some terrible things. Acolyte of RSS-Guru Rasputin is no longer confined to Gujarat. Get used to it.

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  • Gratgy
    Nov 26, 2013 - 2:04PM

    @Rakib
    Either as Leader of the House or Leader of Opposition Modi will become part of every negativity on all-India basis.You will read, hear & see some terrible things.

    Especially from one particular community

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  • abhi
    Dec 5, 2013 - 11:26PM

    When congress started Modi bashing in 2008 they were thinking this way they can keep BJP down. Now the whole thing has become opposite. Modi’s chance of becoming PM are brighter day by day and Congress and its supporters are main reason for it.

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