In my days of working in corporations, before facebook and twitter, and, even before the banking crash of 2008, I used to encounter many cases of women being harassed in the office. This was taken lightly by my men colleagues, as if it was the norm. I saw a colleague touch the breasts of another, appearing casual as he did so. Another woman colleague was almost molested by a group of my men colleagues before I intervened. Luckily I was the senior in the group, so they couldn’t beat me up.
In India sexual harassment happens as a matter of course, without thinking. Women are molested everywhere: in trains, buses, crowded markets, public places, anywhere. They used to take it lightly as man’s obsession because of his superiority. And, what happened, consequently was the escalation of this in the work environment and then even in homes. However, women now, leaning on the shoulders of support groups, have become bold enough to report such incidents to the police. How can a grandfather rape his granddaughter with the connivance of the girl’s uncle? Yes, this gruesome deed happened. How can a girl get gang raped in a moving bus? Yes, this, too, happened. The media all the while had a sympathetic attitude to the women victims of these crimes, who, now are called “survivors.”
So it was a surprise when The Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case hit me. I was dumbfounded. Here was one of India’s finest journalists, an editor of a magazine known for audacious exposes and revelations accused of sexually molesting his own junior journalist. How could he do that? When the survivor complained to magazine’s managing editor, a woman, he sat on judgement and said he would “recuse” himself from the post of editor to atone for his deed, clearly showing he was guilty as charged. The managing editor of the magazine, in an attempt to hush the incident, called it an internal matter. But news had leaked to the media.
This had the whole country in an outrage and virtually everybody condemned him for his indiscretion, save a few friends. The incident happened at the prestigious Thinkfest organised by the same magazine, and there were repeated sexual assault on two occasions, as detailed by the woman journalist. Incidentally, this journalist is also the best friend of Tejpal’s daughter. The police of Goa, where the assault happened has taken a serious view and filed charges.
If found guilty Tejpal faces jail terms from four to seven years according to amended Indian rape and molestation laws. The amendment considers even penetration with any object as rape. What prompted a leading and celebrated journalist, an author of books and novels, to act in this manner without discretion is not known. Is he a habitual offender, in which case, who were his previous victims? Would he be found guilty? That’s what the whole country, considered by some as the rape capital of the world, is waiting to know.