Millennium Post

Charging Tejpal is a sign we’re changing

Now that Tarun Tejpal, former Tehelka editor-in-chief, has been officially charged of rape, in a chargesheet that notably enough runs into 2,846 pages, what next for the Indian public sphere and the question of sexual predation? For one, rejecting Tejpal’s bail plea (which explained the aggressive act on the part of the tainted media baron as one that assumed consent because the victim was a ‘modern, sexually active woman’) and actually slapping the offence of rape on him indicates that perhaps the law is playing catchup with the rich and powerful, often upper caste, men, who have been hitherto used to treating women, particularly their younger colleagues and relatives, as disposable objects of momentary pleasure. Witness records and official testimonies have established sufficient evidence for the police to charge the man of rape, thereby pointing at the movement, albeit painfully slow, towards a semblance of parity in legal redressal for all. Most telling of all the sections and clauses that Tejpal has been charged with are Section 376 (2) (f) – person in position of trust for authority over women commits rape on such women – and Section 376 (2) (k) – rape of women by a person in position of control or dominance over the women. Both underscore the delicate and extremely volatile issue of consent, which can vary from situation to situation even between the same set of people and cannot be established indisputably in any case, without considering all the circumstantial evidence in hand.

Much like Justice A K Ganguly, Tarun Tejpal’s ultimate folly and transgression was in assuming consent because the young woman was familiar to him. The permission to proceed is a shadowy facet of the sexual act, and increasingly the thin line between romantic pursuit, courting affection as well as persuasion and rape, molestation and sexual harassment are getting blurred. Often, the entire gamut of gestures connoting affirmation cannot be distinguished from those politely refusing the overtures. The shadow falls between the meanings derived thereby. However, in Tejpal’s case, there seems to be clear violation of the young woman’s wishes and her bodily integrity was literally punctured by the editor’s penetrative aggression, exposing therefore a sense of impunity that is the result of male sexual-cultural entitlements handed down over centuries. More starkly, the glaring irony in Tehelka editor alleged committing this offence when the magazine has been at the forefront of left-liberal politics and voices of sanity, making itself heard on every roaring issue of the day, is doubly debilitating. Tejpal’s fall from grace indicates how the bastions of free thought, sexual liberation and champions of equality too nurse the rot within, with tentacles of the giant octopus that is neoliberal patriarchy still corrupting the biggest and the mightiest of defenders of fair play.
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