The molestation charges against Tehelka editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal snowballed into a major controversy with Goa Police initiating a probe into the incident, and the press associations severely condemning the senior journalist’s conduct.
The National Commission for Women took suo moto notice and requested the Press Council of India, the print media ombudsman, to initiate action in the case. The BJP and the Congress condemned the incident and demanded criminal action against Tejpal.
As criticism mounted, Tehelka’s managing editor Shoma Chaudhury said Tejpal had already stepped down, and that she needed time to address the issues that have been raised. “I want to address the issues that have been raised, please give me a chance to do it in a decent way. I am from the fraternity and understand the need for transparency but I do need time to act correctly on it.
“(If) I can’t, I’ll falter, the institution will falter, if you put this amount of pressure to get an immediate reaction on this. It is a difficult situation. I will address all the real questions and issues that are raised. I need time to prioritise it,” Chaudhary added.
She will be heading the magazine in Tarun’s absence, and was one of the founding members of the investigative newsmagazine along with Tejpal over 13 years ago.
The incident is believed to have taken place on November 7 and 8 in Goa, where Tehelka magazine organised its festival - Think 2013.
According to the victim, who works in the magazine, Tejpal “sexually assaulted” her twice in the same week. The female journalist was tasked to act as a guide to hollywood actor Robert De Niro and his daughter who were participating in the festival.
The alleged assault took place in the evening on two days. In her letter to Chaudhary, the victim demanded at least a written apology from Tejpal and constitution of an anti-sexual harassment committee in Tehelka.
However, the incident came to light on Wednesday evening when Chaudhary wrote to her colleagues about the “untoward incident” and Tejpal’s decision to step down from the post for six months.
“There has been an untoward incident, and though he has extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved, Tarun will be recusing himself as the editor of Tehelka for the next six months,” Choudhary wrote in her email, which got leaked within minutes of being sent to Tehelka employees on Wednesday evening.
Tejpal’s letter, also appended to Chaudhary’s internal mail said: “The last few days have been most testing, and I squarely take the blame for this. A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for.”
“I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further...Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words. I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months,” Tejpal wrote.
However, Tejpal’s offer to undergo penance cut no ice with journalist bodies that condemned his act. Editors’ Guild of India in its statement said the allegations were shocking and shameful. “Such incidents anywhere are condemnable in the strongest terms but the Guild is particularly saddened that they should engulf a media organisation”, EGI president N Ravi said. Referring to Tejpal’s act of stepping down, he said, “Self-proclaimed atonement and recusal for a period are hardly the remedies for what the allegations show to be outright criminality. The full force of the law must be brought into its investigation.”
Vice- President Hamid Ansari-led selection panel which had recommended Tejpal’s name for appointment as member of public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati Board, on November 19, decided to cancel his name after the scandal broke out.
The Goa police have asked for CCTV footage of the five star hotel where the incident took place.