A crime, a vindication
Two very remarkable events happened this week. Editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka, a portal that champions the cause of unearthing corruption, has been in the news for sexual assault on his colleague. Weird still is the fact that Tarun Tejpal having accepted the crime applied for interim bail (of 2 days!) even before his bail plea came for hearing. And Jayendra Saraswati Swami, the Kanchi Seer and the junior Swami who were accused of abetting a murder were acquitted of the charges for lack of corroborative evidence.
Both are weird because here is a Swami, who heads a 2000-year- old Institution, was accused to be an abettor to a murder. In an obviously political maneuver in 2004, he was summarily airlifted on a Deepavali day from Mahabubnagar in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai and was kept in prison for about two months.
Jayendra Saraswati Swami is an ascetic of the highest order. He was arrested in connection with the murder of A Sanakararaman, manager of Kancheepuram Varadaraja Perumal Temple, who was hacked to death on September 3, 2004. Tarun Tejpal - no doubt - is a champion of anti-corruption of the highest order.
His portal Tehelka was known for unearthing the sensational match fixing case of 2000 in a sting operation and against the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman as also several others. It is known for ‘sting journalism’ in the mainstream media and started a tabloid newspaper in 2004.
Several travails faced by the organisation consequent to the exposures by the prejudiced establishment became history and the country stood by Tehelka and its chief Tarun Tejpal for his singular resilience and bravery. And now this scandal. The victim - of his daughter’s age - complained of sexual harassment. Is it a case of some disgruntled member using the victim’s shoulders to shoot their guns? One never knows.
The Principal District and Sessions Court of Puducherry pronounced the verdict (on Kanchi Seers) stating that 23 of 24 accused in the sensational murder case stood acquitted of charges for lack of incriminating evidence. Why only 23? Because the 24th accused Kathiravan was hacked to death on March 21, 2013, nine years after the incident. (Remember, the victim Sankararaman was also hacked to death. Does the modus operandi of the two murders ring a bell?) The entire country was scandalised when the Kanchi Seer was arrested.
The Seer silently took it in with a cool demeanor in his stride and the grief was compounded when he was granted bail after one hundred days (February 10, 2005), when the junior Pontiff Vijayendra Saraswati was arrested. He was also granted bail 25 days later. The interesting fact was Ravi Subrahmaniam, who turned approver, was not among the arraigned. And then, as an anti-climax Ravi Subramaiam turned hostile in the Puducherry court on January 21, 2010 exactly five years later. This vivid narration is only to impress the attempt to implicate a great institution.
Here is a relatively younger institution, but with great fanfare – Tehelka - for upholding the values in a trouble-torn society. His moral compass has since become crooked and he destroyed himself as also his brainchild Tehelka. The victim, in her letter to Shoma Chaudhary, the managing editor of the magazine, has said that she was molested by Tarun Tejpal twice on November 7 and 8 at ThinkFest event of Tehelka Group at Grand Hyatt Hotel located at Bambolim beach of South Goa.
The CCTV footage in the hotel lobby clearly shows the duo walking towards the lift after coming out of Hollywood star Robert De Nero’s room at 10-30 in the night with his hands on the shoulders of the young journalist and after two minutes the woman journalist was seen coming out of the elevator adjusting her clothes and running down the steps with Tejpal following her. According to the victim’s statement to the police, Tejpal was drunk when he molested her.
Tejpal chose to describe it as a bad lapse of judgment, saying, “I must do penance that lacerates me.” And he recused himself from his official duty for six months. Obviously this is a typical case of sham morality. Editors Guild of India reacted saying that self-proclaimed atonement and recusal for a period are hardly the remedies for what the allegations show to be outright criminality. This is a shocking incident of challenger becoming the offender, a typical case of fence eating the crop. It is very gratifying that the media is giving the girl a voice and a platform. Time has come when the justice not only productive but also prescriptive in handling these cases of deviant morality.
Religious bigotry is a fashion in this country. Religion has been often misused as a political tool by leadership. The so-called protagonist Tarun Tejpal’s incident must have shaken the sensitivities of the ‘cosy’ club, which is still standing by him riding on a high moral ground. We hear umpteen voices and weird explanations from Tarun Tejpal & co, even coercing the victim’s mother through his family members- a maneuver that establishes the guilt much more than it absolves him of it. It is time to stop this shame.
Citing these two events is not to anticipate a similar dénouement of the later case. After all, it is the court that eventually judges the veracity of the crime. This attempt is not to champion the culpability of the later, rather to focus the vindication of the former.