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Tejpal splits the media, again

The Tejpal trial raises questions whether journalists should examine evidence before the court gives its judgement

Aparna Kalra  |  New Delhi 

Aparna Kalra

Sexual harassment at the workplace was long open to interpretation, till the law stepped in just a few months ago and laid down clear parameters.

But the discussion hasn’t closed, you know. Not really. It remains wide open.

Manu Joseph, former editor of Open , columnist for International New York Times and best-selling author, has written an emotional story on Tarun Tejpal for Outlook. Joseph allows the reader to feel for Tejpal, who shares a toilet with other inmates, lives in a basement jail cell, and has been destroyed by charges he raped a co-worker.

“Tejpal was celebrated as a journalist and a writer by a network of Delhi’s influential cultural elite who transmitted that sentiment to the vast public. What he was at his core was a gifted entrepreneur in search of one goldmine enterprise that always seemed just within his grasp. Then, in mid-November, a Young Woman, a journalist with much promise, claimed that he had confined her in an elevator and penetrated her with his finger and hence, by law, raped her. And that, the next day, in another elevator, he had behaved in a manner that she construed as sexual assault. The accusation and his arrest on November 30 have destroyed Tejpal.”

Joseph also devotes one paragraph to the journalist who has made the accusation of rape.

The Young Woman is in a delicate mental state. She is consumed by the intense fear that the noise of the nameless public might turn against her, and of the inevitability that what will soon be on trial would be her way of life, her “character”, as it is known. Details of her past are already in the air. According to a person who is close to the Young Woman’s father, the man, who has a medical condition, knows that Tarun Tejpal has raped a young woman, but he does not know that the young woman is his daughter.

So far, so good. What is disturbing is what comes after this.

The writer says Tejpal has repeatedly asked for CCTV footage which will prove that the act which took place in the elevator was consensual. That footage is not available. A member of the prosecution points this out.

So Manu Joseph examines in acute detail the CCTV footage which is available: that of the landings outside the elevator. In doing this, Joseph steps out of line. Not only does he set himself up as judge and jury rolled into one, something journalists are neither allowed to do nor equipped to do, but also lays open to the charge of doing something illegal.

“We are not supposed to see that footage because it reveals the identity of the woman journalist. That is the law. Can we leave some decisions to the court or does the English writing gliterrati want to usurp the role of the Court, much like the khap panchayats”, lawyer Vrinda Grover said in a Facebook post ( Read here) shared with the public.

Inconsistencies

Joseph, on examining the footage, discovers certain verifications, and various inconsistencies, in the victim’s account. He delves longer on the inconsistencies but points out that a rape victim can be inconsistent in details without lying.

He ends with a vague conclusion:

“It is possible that the inconsistencies between the Young Woman’s statements and the hard truth of the video footage are consequences of lapses in memory. When I tried to recount my recent actions for which there were video recordings and when I checked the actual footage, there were surprising inconsistencies between the facts and how I remembered the facts. Also, there is not a moment in the CCTV footage that shows the Young Woman exhibiting anything resembling physical affection for Tejpal.”

Read Manu Joseph’s complete story ‘What The Elevator Saw’

In writing all this, not only has Manu Joseph done a disservice to an ongoing court case, he has done so to his profession. It is one thing as a concerned friend to wish for Tarun Tajpal’s bail, it is another to go about examining evidence.

"The Outlook "Tejpal Tapes" piece is both despicable and epistemically worthless. The editors should be deeply ashamed”, tweeted Jonathan Shainin, who was senior editor of The Caravan in India before returning to The New Yorker.

Read more on this:

Shivam Vij, writing for scroll.in, has rebutted Mr Joseph’s article point-by-point here: Six ways of looking at the tarun tejpal tapes

Watch Vrinda Grover discuss the Outlook piece on NDTV and where it fell foul of the law: Controversy over tejpal tapes

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First Published: Fri, April 04 2014. 13:46 IST
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