Mumbai: A sessions court in Mapusa, Goa has acquitted the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, Tarun Tejpal, 58, in a sexual harassment and rape case filed by his colleague in 2013.
Public Prosecutor Francisco Tavera said the state was ‘seriously aggrieved’ by the judgment and would be challenging it.
Tejpal faced trial under IPC sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty), 354-A (sexual harassment), 354-B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376(2)(f) (person in a position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)k) (rape by a person in a position of control). The Goa crime branch had filed a charge sheet against Tejpal, who has been out on bail since May 2014.
The survivor had alleged that he had sexually assaulted her inside a lift in Goa while they were both attending an event. The verdict was delivered by Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi.
While the charge in the case was framed in 2014, it was only in 2018 that the trial began. The prosecution had examined 71 witnesses, while the defence examined four, some of whom had been present at the event where the incident took place. It was in September 2020 that the trial picked up pace when the court began to hear the matter on a day-to-day basis.
The survivor had gone through extensive cross-examination, which ran into 700 pages. The process had begun in March 2020, but was interrupted by the pandemic. The court had then directed her to come back to Goa in September for the cross-examination to continue, but because of professional commitments in another city, she was unable to do so. Thereafter, the examination continued, going on for a month, proceeding on a day-to-day basis from December 7 last year. Tejpal’s lead lawyer Rajeev Gomes, who had conducted the cross-examination, succumbed to Covid-19 recently.
Tejpal had, over the years, hired top lawyers including Shrikant Shivade, whose clientele includes actor Salman Khan whom he had defended in the hit-and-run case. The former editor was arrested on November 30, 2013, and had been granted bail by the top court on July 1 of the following year.
Several women's rights activists on Friday questioned the grounds of Tejpal’s acquittal and said the Goa court’s verdict would deter other women from coming forward to report cases of sexual assault and abuse.Some activists pointed out that Tejpal had himself admitted to attempting to assault the woman and tendered an apology, and said the judgment was disappointing and demotivating.
Women’s rights activist and cyber safety expert Akanksha Srivastava said Tejpal had himself admitted that he attempted to assault her. “Half of these cases don’t even go to court and those which reach court and are fought and then to have this judgment is extremely demotivating. When a person has already accepted that he has misbehaved, then on what grounds has he been let off? If he is saying he did it, then he did it,” she said.
“When we set a precedent with such verdicts, we deter more and more victims from coming forward to filing cases and fighting them,” she said.
The All India Progressive Women's Association secretary Kavita Krishnan said the judicial system had let down another woman and the survivor had to go through hell. “The judicial system lets down another woman. No wonder women do not want to file a complaint with the police,” she tweeted.
Krishnan said Tejpal had penned several apologies admitting to the incident. “Goa police took suo motu notice, got FIR filed. Since then, the survivor has been dragged through hell,” she tweeted.
"The hell of being yanked around by police, courts, repeatedly to Goa. The hell of having this case tied to her neck like an albatross. The hell of systematic slander campaigns against her by TT (Tarun Tejpal) and Friends. Her integrity being smeared in court and in social parties,” Krishnan said in another tweet.
She said at the end of it all, the courageous woman did not get even a tiny taste of justice. Rape trials are deeply violent towards survivors. “Yet again, a survivor has been demeaned, humiliated, and let down,” she tweeted.
Chhavi Methi of the Bharatiya Samajik Jagritik Sanghatan said the judgment was disappointing. “It is disappointing for all of humanity because it sets the precedent that someone who has power can get away with anything without any repercussions for their actions,” Methi said.
Talking about the amended law, human rights lawyer Shilpi Jain said the new law expanded the ambit of rape to include cases of sexual assault other than sexual intercourse. “Tejpal's case was included in this expanded definition of law (IPC Section 376). Because of this new law which has been brought in as a knee-jerk reaction to the 2012 Nirbhaya case, we will have more and more cases like that of Tarun Tejpal which will end up nowhere. This verdict was the writing on the wall as this law is bound to become a tool to blackmail men...as in the case of sexual intercourse there is some kind of corroborative evidence,” she said.
“I feel the previous law was proper and the only thing they needed to do was Section 354, which is outraging the modesty of a woman. Instead of making it bailable they should have increased punishment and made it non-bailable. Now, with this amendment they have gone from one extreme to the other,” she said.